High Life North founder, Laura Kingston, spoke about her experience in starting up her own digital magazine aimed at women in the North East in a masterclass for students at the University of Sunderland.
After leaving university having studied for a Master’s in politics, Laura discovered that politics wasn’t her calling. “I didn’t like it,” she recalls. “It wasn’t for me, and marketing sounded more glamorous but I didn’t really know what it meant. I saw a job opportunity for an entry role now and just went for it, and that was ten years ago and I just went up the ranks.”
During her time working in marketing, Laura gained writing experience and was able to see a gap in the market for a new venture, which ended up being High Life North.
“I’ve always loved fashion, and I’ve always loved the North East”, she says. “I felt like there was a gap in the market for a younger audience, specifically women. Everything else was so London-based. There’s no reason that shouldn’t be in the North East, because we have the things to shout about, but we just didn’t have anything that was shouting about them.
“I had a bit of money saved up and decided to leave my job, set up High Life North, and see how it went. I don’t actually know what I had in mind, but it’s come together a lot better than I ever thought that it would.”
Despite having to leave her current job, meaning no longer having a steady income, Laura wasn’t fazed at all. Making sure she had enough savings to pay the bills, she took the plunge and started up her own digital magazine.
“To run a magazine, you’ve got to absolutely love it, and you have to not mind living and breathing it all of the time. At the moment, my job is my role as a consultant in marketing, and my life is the magazine. There’s no off button, but it’s really fun. Since we started to get interaction in the last four months, it’s been really encouraging. I’ve been able to go onto the Instagram page and have conversations with readers, and see what people are engaging in.”
Despite Covid putting a spanner in a lot of people’s works, Laura and her magazine have thrived this past year, with their stats going through the roof since the first lockdown hit. “I think the situation with Covid has helped massively. We were really lucky.
“We put a lot of investment into getting new writers so we could get different types of stories. We tried to do about everything current, and the traffic we managed to get went through the roof, and it’s great that we’ve managed to keep readers. It would probably be a completely different story for us if Covid hadn’t happened.”
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High Life North is split into four sections: Look Good, Feel Good, Work Hard, and Play Hard, which attempts to cover all aspects of a woman’s life. “It’s just a bit of a balancing act, and Play Hard will get a lot meatier when things start to open up again. It’s very reflective of a woman’s life, which I hope provides a lot more scope for us in the future, and it should always work.”
For the first six months, the writer concentrated on creating great content, getting engagement, and didn’t worry about advertisers. “Consistency is key. Even if you think no one is reading your work, or you’re only getting five, six, or seven likes on each social media post, you need to be consistent in what you’re doing.
“Now we’re growing, we know that it paid off. In September last year, I did my first hire, who is now our head of sales. She’s been looking at how to monetize our magazine and get it out to advertisers. We then had to hire a writer, as our adverts are in our content, meaning we had an increase in content. So now we have a blend; we have freelancers but we do a lot in-house as well.”
High Life North prides itself on highlighting people, places, and things that readers have never heard of before, and wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the site. Laura explained: “We work with a lot of small businesses which gives them a platform to gain customers from. Our engagement is going up about 36% a month at the moment, which I’m really happy with.
“We chose to do a digital magazine over a printed one mainly due to the cost of it. Then we started thinking about that digital is the future. We’ve worked hard to work on the likes of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and get people into our network in that way. I also had no experience in working in printed publications, but it may be something we consider in the future with autumn/winter prints, or spring/summer.”
With content strategy being an ever-moving process, Laura has developed the ‘High Life North angle’, which is where the publication looks at what is happening in the North East, new shops and products, and ‘in the know’ curated information.
“We have editorial meetings and map out the quarter where we look at trends coming up, where we can include a North East angle, and how we can worth with PR companies,” explains the editor. “I could pay a freelancer £80 to write an article about home workouts, but readers can get that anywhere. That’s why it’s important to get a High Life North angle on it.”
Despite assuming that working for a fashion and lifestyle magazine would be extremely glamorous, Laura spoke about the reality of it. From previously dressing up every day for her role in marketing, to now sometimes not having enough time to brush her hair, she describes the job of an editor as being “fast-paced”.
“Getting things to the right stage to be able to pass it onto someone else is difficult. When you run your own business, you do have to be lean and not just pass everything onto everyone else. If you wanted to launch your own magazine, I’d say you need to do your research, and finding your niche is key.
“I was lucky enough to see a gap in the market, and it was a big gap that we started to fill.”
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High Life North’s long-term plan is to expand into different regions. However, the short-term plan is to add more value to advertisers and our readers. “We want to include everything we can to do with the North East, and advertisers will pay £30 a month or £300 a year to be listed in our directory. When the world starts to open up again, we’ll be doing events. These could be Feel Good events, getting stylists in, having panels, beauty events.”
As well as expanding their coverage, Laura has been considering starting a club for those interested in a career in media and marketing. This will involve seminars, guest speakers, and advice for all those involved. She is also starting up an internship programme, which she hopes will provide interns with a high-quality experience. “We enjoy working with interns, and we got a lot of requests for internships towards the back end of last year. We thought we could have one or two interns on the go over a month, and we have a timetable we would go through with them. We’ll sit in various meetings throughout the week, like our editorial meetings, and they’ll get involved in different elements.
“We thought that there must be a way that both – us and them – will get more value out of it, so we’re looking at starting a longer internship programme where they would have their own projects which can then go into their portfolio, and that’s something we’ll get a lot out of as well. We’re going to launch an internship programme which will involve a proper interview process.
“We’re hoping the first of these will open in June, which will be a summer placement, and then we’ll do another in winter. Having energy and a good attitude are the most important things to make you stand out. Having that can-do attitude is essential.”