'Elle wasn’t just a mag, it was a brand': Lotte Jeffs' transition from deputy editor to creative director

Lotte Jeffs will continue to freelance as a writer / Brendan Freeman

Giving up a glossy life at Elle for the cut and thrust of the agency floor is a bold career move, but Lotte Jeffs has found the jobs of deputy magazine editor and creative director are not as different as you might imagine.

Just two weeks into her job as creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, Jeffs – with her finely honed journalistic perception – has mentally noted the similarities of publishing and advertising. There are the obvious shared traits, such as the importance of good writing, shared ideas and teamwork, but also others that position her old job as deputy editor in a new light.

“When I was at Elle, it wasn’t just a magazine, it was a brand,” she said. “We were [running] the website, we were working on campaigns, we were making videos, we were one of the first magazines to do a podcast, we were doing posters, we were doing an email newsletter.

"It felt like an agency because we were producing so many different types of work.”

Her job in particular naturally aligned itself to the work of an agency creative. A glossy’s deputy editor, she noted, runs the magazine so that the editor-in-chief (Lorraine Candy, for the bulk of Jeffs’ time at Elle) can take on a more ambassadorial role. Jeffs was often stationed in front of InDesign creating mag content and covers – the latter still being the hero advert for a magazine’s brand. Choosing who’s on the cover and why is a strategical decision; writing cover lines is a “craft” similar to copywriting.

“It’s forcing you to sell a story in a really limited number of words,” Jeffs explained.

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The creative is also comfortable with treatments and scripts for video, having worked as a client commissioning production agencies. Now, of course, she’ll be sat at the other side of the table.

Jeffs took up her post at Ogilvy & Mather after 15 years at ES Magazine and Elle, and a short sabbatical writing solo under the bright sun of LA. Her trip stateside led to both A-list interviews and the realisation that she didn’t want to freelance, which is the route often taken by a distinguished editor faced with redundancy.

Back on London soil, the women’s magazine industry wasn’t hiring for senior posts. The sector is struggling to say the least; Glamour, one of the last bastions of the glossy era, announced huge cuts and strategy changes in October last year, and the circulations of Look, Now and Hello all fell by double-digit percentages from 2016-17.

Additionally, Jeffs was looking for a brand she could authentically champion.

“I started thinking, ‘What other magazines would I really love to go and work for?’ and no existing, British mainstream woman’s magazine was really feeling like it was doing anything exciting for me,” she said.

It was a conversation with Elle’s former acting content director that planted the idea of a transition to advertising. Alex Holder, previously executive creative director of Anomaly, had made the career leap in the opposite direction, and now juggles freelance writing with a role as cultural ambassador at her former agency. She connected Jeffs to ad land and, impressed with the calibre of Ogilvy’s work, the deputy editor closed her eyes and jumped.

“I probably could have met with more [agencies] and done more research, but I feel like in life, sometimes things just happen and you end up on a trajectory,” she said. “I was offered this and it just felt really right.”

The feeling of security from an industry she had barely no experience of came from her boss, chief creative officer Mick Mahoney, chief strategy officer Kevin Chesters and chief executive Charlie Rudd. Their initial conversations left Jeffs “feeling energised and intellectually stimulated”.

“I think where Mick and I realised we shared a lot of common values was in the emphasis we both place on social relevance and context,” she said.

At the same time, Mahoney was formulating a plan to hire creatives outside of the advertising bubble, in order to disrupt the conveyer belt of samey ideas and self-congratulation. “We will learn as much from Lotte as she will from us,” he said in a statement. “It’s time we looked further outside the industry gene pool to understand what social relevance means. No industry understands this better than journalism.”

Jeffs has already plugged an ideation device from Elle into Ogilvy – a meeting where attendants are asked to present a piece of the cultural zeitgeist that they’ve come across that day. This could be an argument on Twitter, a new podcast, an article that’s generating buzz, or any piece of content that will help the team be “aware of the conversations that are happening” in the real world.

“I think it’s good to bring some kind of that thinking into an ad agency,” she said. “I think it will create better, more relevant work. You never know what will come from that kind of meeting – it might not instantly spark an idea – but you can bank [the knowledge] in the back of your mind.”

The creative director will also continue to write freelance for nationals and magazines, simultaneously satisfying her desire to write and engaging the outside world with Ogilvy's cultural conversations. Last week she published a piece in the Evening Standard that discussed her career move in the context of Toby Young and Lily Cole’s dubious new jobs.

“Ogilvy has employed me precisely because of my lack of experience in ad land,” she wrote. “I come with no baggage, with no idea what the ‘done thing’ is and an ever-diminishing hope that all desks are fitted with a Don Draper-approved cocktail trolley. I’m not disillusioned or struggling to embrace change — I’m enthusiastic, ready to ask questions and try to challenge the status quo.”

After meeting Jeffs, it’s clear her assured drive, determination and confidence to simply ask “why?” will reinvigorate the team at Ogilvy. It’s the latter quality that perhaps every creative agency is in need of right now.

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