WITH Hilary Devey, of Dragons’ Den, heading up The Intern on Channel 4 this month, it got me thinking about my formative years in the magazine business.
When I walked into the 12th-floor offices of 19 magazine back in 1987, I was looking for work experience. The art director, Delilah Lemon, sneered at my work, tutting and shaking her head. As I zipped up my portfolio, crestfallen, she asked when I could start. “But I thought you hated my work?” “Yes, but we need to make you better,” was her answer.
The next two weeks was spent observing the staff produce a best-selling teen magazine. In between, I made countless cups of tea, bought 20 Benson & Hedges for the fashion editors, lunch for the features editors and took photographs to the retouchers.
At one point, I even had to don a pair of Marigolds and clean out the fridge. But I loved every minute. I was working on a magazine.
Some people might say I was exploited. The only bit of design work I did was hand draw the positional marks on the cover artwork to show where the free plastic comb was to be glued on after printing and binding.
It paid off, though. Some weeks later, I was offered paid work at 19, and trusted with real-life layouts which became part of the magazine. I made friends there, and when Delilah moved to Woman’s Journal, she took me with her, starting me on a career in magazine design that has been a blast.
These days, every design course has some kind of work experience/internship attached to it – and with good reason. Who would employ a graduate with no knowledge of the workplace these days?
I try to take students whenever I can at CMYK, as I remember what it was like searching for work experience when I was a student. I try to give them relevant work, and show them why we do things a certain way – as I hope it will sink in somehow, and help them make sense of the crazy world of magazines.
I’ve given lots of students a break over the years, and many of them have gone on to do amazing things. The key is to be enthusiastic, and very quickly make yourself indispensable – that way you stick in your employer’s memory, and hopefully will be offered a job should one arise.
We have two students with us just now, both MSc Publishing students from Edinburgh Napier University.
It’s early days yet, but so far they’ve made the tea, are staying late and asking lots of questions.
Luckily, our fridge is quite clean.
Neil Braidwood is head of CMYK magazine design and publishing company. He is also vice-chair of PPA Scotland.