Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes, and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting. This week we talk to Sam Robson, managing director of audience at publishing powerhouse Future.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?
When I was growing up the internet wasn’t even a thing, so my role at Future didn’t exist back then. I actually wanted to be a musician – a bass player to be specific – but as you can imagine it’s not the easiest industry to break into. However, another thing I always loved was reading magazines – at the age of eight I was already reading several Future magazines, so I’ve definitely come full circle.
As managing director of audience at Future, I have worked on several different music sites, so in some ways, I've been able to combine my passion for music and magazines.
How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.
I started my career at Future a decade ago, in 2011. I joined the company as an SEO executive after being made redundant at a web design agency. The redundancy, although difficult at the time, turned out to be probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It taught me never to be complacent and to always push myself to reach my full potential, whilst also bringing me into an environment at Future that gave me an opportunity to flourish.
Back then SEO was a pretty new field with no training available and absolutely no academic qualifications – so you had to learn on the job. This is a blessing and a curse. It makes SEO hard to learn, however, if you can do so, it puts you in a position where you can have an amazing career no matter your background or education. In my time at Future, I’ve now had seven roles of increasing seniority – a satisfying turn of events, and something I am hugely grateful for. I strongly believe there is a great opportunity for people to build a lifelong career at Future, and in the publishing industry in general, as we never stop learning and developing – so there’s a real chance to flourish.
OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
Normally I start with “I work on the internet, you know, social media, Facebook and stuff.” If they bite and want to know more, I will say “I get stuff to the top of Google”. I work with my team to create content that is not only liked by Google, but also by our readers.
To go into a little more depth, my main goal is to build growth and create a bigger audience for our publications. My day-to-day consists of managing a team of 25, based in numerous locations across the UK and US, to finetune and develop our world-beating SEO program, which is based around industry-leading training, process and feedback loops.
Future’s organic growth has helped fund numerous acquisitions, with acquired brands being integrated into the same SEO framework and seeing similar growth themselves. This is a small part of how Future’s ‘buy and build’ strategy is powered. With this, we have built Future an online audience of over 300 million monthly users. When I started, our online audience was just 10 million.
Do your parents understand what it is you do?
My parents are extremely supportive of what I do but regarding their understanding of it, as you can imagine, SEO is fairly complicated for them to get their heads around. I would say I’ve finally succeeded – it’s just taken us 10 years to get there.
What do you love most about your job?
The thing I love the most is the people I work with. Future has a workforce of extremely talented and creative employees who are passionate about what they do, passionate about our audiences and the content they are writing.
Future’s main goal is to help people find their passions, which is a really nice way to work. With all the team excited about what they do, it creates a happy, supportive working environment, which translates into the content we produce.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
Like I mentioned before, when I started to work in this industry there wasn’t any training available as SEO was so new, but now things are different. The great thing about my job is you can start at any age – if you love consuming content then there’s no reason why you couldn’t start a career in the industry.
Whereas there might be great SEO training available a decade on from where I started, there’s always something new, and right now a great example is TikTok; where creators without specific training are developing unique content and reaching huge audiences. Digital is a playground, but one that lets you make a career from it.
To build a career within a media organisation, what’s most important is that you find a company that will help you develop your skills, whether that be through mentoring or training programmes – then the sky's the limit.
What advice would you offer to others entering the publishing industry, especially at this weird time?
It is a great industry where creativity and diversity are celebrated, so it’s open to anyone. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the industry has adapted and is thriving. With this, the job scope is high – so, it’s a brilliant time to join. A word of advice, however, is that creativity is key – more than ever before. With the rise of Facebook, through to YouTube and now TikTok, creativity has become critical to engaging people as their attention spans get shorter and consumption habits change. My golden rule is to always focus on creating something unique and always providing value of some kind, whether that’s pure entertainment, or educating, or helping the audience to make a decision. Focus on the audience first and give them a great experience, as without that you will get nowhere. And there’s no reason why you can’t boost your creativity through a training session or two.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?
For me, it’s my appetite for change. Not the corporate sense of change, but the change in audiences, trends, and content. To succeed in this role, you can’t be predictable. The digital industry is highly competitive and even more unpredictable, so to be able to adapt quickly to change – seek it out even – is crucial to stay ahead of the game. Problem solving skills also come into play here.
Who should those who want your job read or listen to?
If you want my job, you will need to consume as much media as possible. There isn’t just one book to explain it all. No other industry is quite the same, so whatever experience you have will always need to be developed through media consumption. Then ask yourself, why did I enjoy reading that magazine or article? What was it that really made it stand out? What would I do to make it better? It really is all in your hands.
Last week Paulette Forte, You & Mr Jones’s chief people officer, and formerly ex NBA head of people had her shot in the hotseat.