To celebrate her recent Editor of the Year award (Business) and several years working together magazine Sub-Editor Jill Boniface stepped up into the driver’s seat and turned the tables on Editor Samantha McLean – and the interviewer got interviewed. The agreement was no question off limits, including centrefolds, goals and how the tough editorial decisions get made. Here is how the conversation went down.
Congratulations on winning Editor of the Year against some stiff competition! How much does it mean for you and for Elite Agent?
I think by now most people know how hard we’ve all worked to bring the pages of Elite Agent to life. Having risked it all to create our own magazine (so to speak) it’s a pretty proud moment to have that publishing industry recognition.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what did you want to be? Did you show any early entrepreneurial tendencies?
I grew up on the Central Coast of NSW, and the only entrepreneurial tendencies I had back then were trading jacks and yo-yos in the school yard! I was much more into drama and bike riding with my cousin Wayne. I did win a couple of primary school awards for writing though, and I did love the School Magazine – so maybe that’s where it came from…
What was the hardest part about launching EA?
I think with every entrepreneurial endeavour it’s about whether or not you’re doing the right thing, so read ‘fear’. Re-launching a print magazine at a time when the publishing industry has been very disrupted (and is still being disrupted) was a bit of a risky move. But I really believed in it, so it was a case of putting one foot in front of the other.
With EA just over a year old, how has the vision evolved over time and do you feel it is still evolving?
Yes, we’re still evolving. We are working hard right now on the digital side of things to make it as engaging as the print magazine. And we’ve just done a survey to find out what our readers would like to see more of, or less of.
I guess because publishing is an industry of disruption it allows us a scope of creativity like never before. People expect new and different ideas from publishers. And of course this year we split Elite Agent into two magazines, Elite Agent and Elite Property Manager. So they will both continue to evolve.
How difficult is it to make the tough decisions? Do you find it hard to say no to people?
It depends on what I am saying no to! I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to say no to is to lots of lovely people who have asked if I would consider putting them on the cover. We made a call right from the start that the main cover of the magazine would always be a practising agent who meets certain criteria: sales, community, education, and service. There are a lot of great people in the industry who we could put on the cover, but the magazine is for agents, which is why we made that a rule pretty early.
Elite Agent also has three brand pillars: educate, elevate, entertain. These are really important to us and guide all decisions on the material we publish. If it doesn’t have a learning component, if its not good for the industry or doesn’t elevate the industry in some way, we don’t publish it. And as far as entertainment goes, everyone loves a good photo shoot, so we make sure we provide those and hopefully entertain a bit on social media. So if I have to make a tough decision I am guided by those three things, then it usually becomes pretty easy. That is why the right values are important. If you believe 100% in them the tough calls become easy.
And of course we say no to plagiarism of any sort – and that’s not difficult ‘no’! If you’re going to write something, write it from scratch; don’t pass someone else’s work off as your own.
What do you love most about what you do?
I’ve worked in corporate sales most of my life, but there is nowhere quite like the real estate industry for its competitiveness, edge and willingness to try new things. Each day is different and I am grateful to be able to serve the hardworking, good people in this industry.
Do you have a mentor?
In the business we have a couple of coaches who help us on the day to day stuff and specifically digital strategy. I don’t have a mentor as such, except for an imaginary one in the great lady Ita Buttrose. She’s a great publishing role model and a great model in general. Often I wonder in certain situations, ‘What would Ita do?’
I heard Ita speak at a Business Chicks event one day; one of the things she quoted was American author Og Mandino, who ironically wrote the bestselling book The Greatest Salesman in the World.
“Life’s rewards appear at the end and not the beginning of the journey. There is no way I can foresee how many steps it will take me to reach my goal; I will perhaps meet failure at the one thousandth step and yet success will be there, hidden behind the last bend in the road. I will never know how close I am to it if I don’t turn the corner. I will always take one more step; if this doesn’t work I will take another and then another. One step at a time is not so very difficult. I will persevere until I succeed.”
The whole time we were creating Elite Agent this was one of the things I thought about a lot. I always told myself ‘Just take one more step, one more step…’ and still to this day when we try something new I think ‘One more step’. Sometimes it’s pressing that print button; when it’s 10,000-plus copies of a magazine that can be nerve-racking enough in itself.
Does the concept of the ideal week work for you?
The ideal week for me works when it’s not the busy deadline time. Oddly, I do follow the real estate framework of ‘mornings in, afternoons out’. I just find that if I get all the administration or writing done when I’m really fresh it works better. Then I save the afternoons for client meetings, interviews and so on. On Friday afternoons when I’m writing ‘The Brief’ everyone avoids me.
Do you have any time management tricks you can share?
I think the best tip I could give is that you will always have time pressures from other people who want you to do things for them. But you need to work out what is important to you and make sure that you don’t drop the ball on those things; they are usually the ones you regret later!
Also, don’t let the deadline drive activity. By that I mean if you have till the end of the month to do something and you have time now, do it now! Allowing the deadline to drive activity is just another term for procrastination, which serves no one.
What other business activities are you involved in outside EA and EPM?
I still ghostwrite newsletters for other people and I am really into education. I work with Tony Rowe from myrealestatetraining.com.au on an online CPD study product (myrealestatecpd.com.au) which has been going great for the past two years.
The old adage warns against working with a spouse or partner. How do you make it work for you and your husband, Mark?
I’m not sure how or why it works it’s one of those ‘mysteries’ based on love and respect and things just click. He runs the business side of things whilst I look after the creative, which are our strengths; one couldn’t do without the other in this game. Plus we can laugh during the stressful deadline times and we support each other, so I think that’s probably why it works.
What do you do to relax? What would be your perfect day?
I love to relax with my family, and maybe make a bit of noise with my guitar. Sydney in summer is amazing; just being able to soak up a sunny day is bliss. I like walking around Cremorne Point these days, being by the water.
What is in your briefcase? What gadgets can’t you live without?
I always have my iPhone, a pen and a small notebook. Kind of like Lois Lane, but I guess she didn’t have an iPhone.
What’s your secret superpower?
There’s always been a bit of magic amongst the women in my family. But only for good, I promise!
How come you always use double quotes when your style guide says single?
“What do you mean???”
(See. Couldn’t have done it without you Jill!)
Do you have any memorable or funny stories?
The story we covered in the last issue with Clinton Knop was very powerful. He’d been through so much and come out stronger. Hard for me to write as I have lost both of my parents to cancer. I procrastinated a fair bit on that one because it got a bit emotional for me.
Then on the humorous side, he messaged me one of his bodybuilding shots to be included in the mag, while my husband was hanging over my shoulder! So, I will admit it’s been awhile since a man sent me a photo of himself in his underwear (thanks, Clint!). There were truly gasps of awe all round.
What is kind of funny, I guess, is out of all the people who have offered to be a centrefold over the years (which proves there are some real characters in the industry) there was nobody until Clint that really qualified for a centrefold. But it’s not that sort of magazine. And then when we do get a man that qualifies I still don’t get to use it. The irony… sorry, ladies!
Any regrets, missed opportunities or anything you would do differently another time?
In 1995 in my final entrepreneurship project at university I developed a business plan for delivering groceries in exact amounts, with recipe cards. I got a High Distinction for it back then, but we didn’t have the internet so much and the only reason I didn’t execute it was because I didn’t have the money for a shopfront! Now look at how many of those services are happening now (eg Hello Fresh) and I think… hmmm I should have done that. But I can’t really can’t regret not doing it; I mightn’t be here today.
Where to from here? What’s your vision for EA and EPM?
To make them both the best and most engaging magazines for the industry, online and offline.
For a full list of Publish 2015 winners, click here.