Tom At Work
So you founded The Move magazine in 2016, focusing on music and culture. Love it! What are your biggest learnings from 4 years of working on print media?
If you’re going to put time and money into print, take full advantage of all the wonderful things the medium offers that a website doesn’t. Play around with design, content, even headlines. Read lots of seminal pre- internet magazines and use them as your benchmark for quality. Aim to be better than what’s out there.
Also, print costs money, so find a way to pay for it. Getting money from advertisers can be difficult to begin with. Charging a cover fee can work but the content has to be top level to sustain a readership for more than one or two issues. Maybe I should do a workshop about all this, haha!
Speaking of freelancing, there are growing numbers of us going it alone. Do you have any advice for any newbies going freelance?
Use your downtime to work on personal projects that you’re proud of and show off your best skills.
Can you tell us one of the challenges of your role and if you have any advice to overcome similar situations?
There’s a challenge for me around ethics. To put it bluntly, I don’t want to work on projects that I feel are exploitative of people or culture, but unfortunately I believe a lot of what goes on in the ad industry is. I see a lot of ‘change the world’ rhetoric from companies who I know treat their own employees and suppliers abysmally. I’ve repeatedly seen people’s mental health shattered by toxic agency culture and it’s just not OK. You’re making adverts not saving lives.
I’m trying to supplement my income elsewhere so I can be a bit choosier with what I take on. I’ve been lucky to work with some great clients this year (can I give a shout to Delic!?) and I recently started selling vintage homeware. It may not be the boujie agency life with award ceremonies and posh offices but I know I’m sleeping easier.
When you do in-depth research to inform work for your clients, where do you start?
People! I love chatting to the public and understanding thought processes. My own experience in life has taught me not to be judgmental of anybody and to keep your own biases in check, which obviously helps in a research capacity. And when I say people, I mean people. I’m not comfortable with the word ‘consumer’. I think it’s an attempt by the industry to dehumanise the public and make us easier to exploit. It’s about time we got rid of it. It’s weird.
What key actions/decisions helped get you to where you are today?
I owe my career to a woman named Lowri Ellis-Clarke. I started in the media late, at 22, with no qualifications and in a pretty bad personal situation. Lowri saw drive and potential in me and gave me an opportunity when others wouldn’t. I was so raw at that age, I was just some kid off the street. I didn’t know anything about working in a professional environment, but I was ambitious. Once I had that lifeline I grabbed it with everything I had and grafted solidly until I got where I wanted to be. Similarly my now good friend and mentor James Brown took a chance on launching The Move with me, which became a catalyst in my career.
What are your favourite brands and why?
I’m always on the lookout for small emerging brands run by people who live and breathe their business. Lockdown has certainly been great for that. I love the fact my money goes directly to them and I can chat to the founders on Instagram. Some recent favourites are Pixie Divine (handmade candles), Anemone (vintage furniture), Hartex (second hand clothing) and North Lane Crafts (face coverings). The country’s economic and moral recovery will depend on small businesses like them.
Are there any brands or campaigns that have caught your eye recently?
Ben & Jerrys. Their BLM statement felt like a fourth wall had been broken – a big company actually having people’s backs and trying to better a situation by holding power to account. The sportswear brands and their vapid rhetoric suddenly looked very transparent. That was an eye-opening moment for me, personally and professionally.
What do you think is often a brand’s biggest mistake when it comes to creating content?
Asking the wrong people. Publishers are better at telling stories than marketers. Having worked across both industries, journalists and editors are closer to the public, they’re highly responsive and have storytelling instincts marketers don’t. Where traditional agencies excel is in offering a polished and reliable service, but they can be culturally homogenous, creatively stagnant environments. Of all the clients I’ve worked for, Mundial best represent the sweet spot between publishing and marketing.
What’s the biggest learning you’ve had in your professional life to date? Good or bad.
So many talented people from Working Class backgrounds don’t reach their full potential simply because they lack confidence. The industry is filled with unwritten rules and cultural references that you’re just expected to know. Progression is often more about fitting in than talent. So if you’ve managed to do alright for yourself, use your platform to bring others up. And lastly on that note, can I give a shout to Bilimae Latimer, a wicked photographer I’m mentoring at the moment. Give her a follow!
Tom After Hours
So you’re a Londoner? What are your favourite parts of this magical city? Any secret gems?
Yes! My family roots go back hundreds of years and spread all over the city, from Tottenham to Clerkenwell to the Elephant. I grew up close to Epping Forest. I don’t think many people realise there’s a massive ancient woodland right next to Chingford station. That’s a secret gem.
How much do you think being from London informs the way you approach work and play?
Loads. I don’t think I understood until I got older how lucky I was to have grown up immersed in the buzz of London. Being a part of subculture as it happens in real time, surrounded by influences from all over the world. You can’t get a better start to life than that.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry. Be happy.
What are your tips for showing up as your best self?
Dress the part. Don’t drink shit coffee. Look after your skin.
How do you keep on top of updates in your personal areas of interest? Any podcasts, newsletters, people, places, Instagram accounts, sites or events you follow?
Jed Hallam’s music newsletter Love Will Save The Day provides a list of essential reading and watching from the week, with a playlist and often an essay too. It’s superb. That’s all I need.