We had such a fantastic response to our last ‘In Conversation with’ blog post that we wanted to bring you even more Q&A’s with industry professionals. Today we’re very excited to share our conversation with Duncan MacRae, Founder and Chief Editor, Marketing Gazette.
Duncan gave us so many wonderful insights that we just couldn’t fit it into one post! We’ll be splitting our interview with Duncan into two parts and so be sure to keep an eye out for part two coming soon.
What first drew you into journalism?
I wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a wee boy. I loved writing and I’ve always been very inquisitive. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but I did know that I wanted to help people and try to make the world a better place. It sounds so cheesy but that’s what I wanted to do. I had no idea how I could do it but it always seemed to me that, if I became a journalist, I would have the opportunity to reach out to, and communicate with, a large number of people, and that would be a good starting point.
At a very young age I started compiling a news scrapbook. Whenever my mum and dad were finished with their newspapers they would let me have them and I would pore over them, picking out any stories that particularly fascinated me. I would cut out my favourite stories and add them to my scrapbook, which I still have today. For example, there was a story about a girl in India who was saved by a dolphin when her town was flooded. That story definitely made into the scrapbook. I’ve heard journalists say that a new’s story isn’t a good one unless it’s bad, but that’s not right. I love positive, feel-good stories and I would bet that most other people prefer reading those too.
At the age of 11, when I was in Primary 7, I spoke to my teacher about an idea for creating a magazine for the school. She was very receptive and, soon after that, Mega Mag was founded. I was given the role of editor, with plenty of help from the teacher, and everyone in the school was invited to contribute to the magazine. We had a lot of fun creating it, people seemed to enjoy reading it, and all proceeds from selling the magazine to school students went towards buying new books for the school library.
So journalism is something I’ve always loved and, to this day, I find it ridiculous that people have actually paid me to do it over the years.
Marketing Gazette has really interesting origins – could you please tell us a little about them?
My ambition to create a media company, or any kind of publication, goes way back to my time studying journalism at university. At that time, I was desperate to gain work experience in the industry and I contacted everyone and anyone in the business asking for a work placement, offering to work for free to gain the kind of experience I felt I would need in order to gain my first journalism job.
The vast majority of the newspapers, magazines and radio stations I contacted didn’t even reply to me. Out of the ones that did reply, most of them said they were fully booked or that they just had small teams and felt they didn’t have time to deal with an inexperienced student.
I did get some work placements but I found I was having to spend a lot of my savings travelling far and staying in hotels just to work for free at publishing companies. At one point I spent one-and-a-half months staying in the cheapest hotel I could find in London. Although it was the cheapest it still cost me a fortune and it was disgusting, full of cockroaches and smelling of sewage.
It was really at that point I decided that, when I was more experienced, I wanted to create a platform for student journalists like myself to gain work experience, learn and develop new skills, build portfolios and grow their contact books, without having to get into debt in the process.
Four years ago I felt the time was right to launch a publication and, having spent a number of years in journalism covering the marketing sector, I decided to launch Marketing Gazette. It felt like a particularly good topic to cover because, increasingly over the years, as a journalist, you have to be able to promote and market your own content. So the students who get involved with Marketing Gazette not only learn and develop skills in journalism, but they also learn a great deal regarding how best to market their work, connect with readers and grow audiences.
I’ve worked with a number of students on Marketing Gazette since then. In 2020 I offered training to 30 students – many of whom have gone on to work in journalism. I received an email from one of them last week who was writing to tell me she had just completed her first week in her new job as a magazine journalism reporter. She said she had found her experience working on marketing Gazette to be invaluable and wanted to thank me again for providing her with the opportunity to learn and gain that essential experience.
What’s it like working with a multi-national team of future journalists? What have you learnt alongside them and from them?
It’s brilliant. We’ve had students from all over the world working with us, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria, the UAE and the USA. And this year we’re bringing on board a number of students from even further afield – Russia, Argentina, Guyana, India etc.
But we don’t just have a variety of nationalities. We have people from all walks of life, from school students to college and university students who have studied a variety of subjects, and more mature people who want a career change and are keen to break into journalism. They all bring with them different skills, experiences and worldviews, and I think that kind of diversity is important in any business, especially a news publication.
I think, rather than me learning anything from them as such, I find them hugely inspiring. They all have the same kind of passion and enthusiasm for journalism that I’ve had ever since I was a kid. I think, at times, it could be easy for that passion and enthusiasm to be diminished over the years but I don’t want to lose it. Being surrounded by these eager and enthusiastic journalists reminds me why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place.
What keeps you motivated, particularly during the pandemic?
My motivation generally revolves around improvement, be that improving myself or growing a readership, improving a brand reputation and also helping other people to improve, develop new skills, build more confidence, gain more experience etc.
During the pandemic I’ve studied on about six different courses, particularly focusing on marketing and events management.
Helping the students over the past year has also been a fantastic experience. The world really needs more quality journalists who know what they’re doing, work in an ethical way and, perhaps most importantly, care about the readers. If I can help the students to become great journalists and get their first jobs in the industry that’s all the motivation I need.
What do you most enjoy about working within the marketing industry? And least enjoy?
I love that marketing is involved in absolutely every industry, so, although we’re covering marketing, we’re covering so many different topics as well – sports, healthcare, food and drink, technology – you name it.
As a journalist, I used to try to avoid speaking to marketers because they always seemed to be trying to sell something, but now I’m specifically covering the sector I can’t get enough of them. They’re generally very chatty, fun and are happy to talk to journalists, which makes my life easier.
You do, however, have to endure a fairly large amount of marketing jargon and quite a few people pretending to be SEO ninjas, gurus, evangelists etc. It’s a hazard of the job.
A massive thank you to Duncan for his fantastic answers! As we mentioned, there will be a part two coming very soon in which Duncan discusses the future of Marketing Gazette, his writing routine and what advice he would give his younger self. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to find out when that’s posted.
If you’d like to be a part of our ‘In conversation with’ series, don’t hesitate to contact us here. Don’t forget you can also read our last ‘In conversation with’ where we talk to South West Business Insider Deputy Editor, Mike Ribbeck.