Anna Murphy, fashion director at The Times, on creating evergreen content, bringing fashion to life in all its bonkers-ness and why there is no one better than a great PR.
You previously edited The Sunday Telegraph’s fashion supplement, Stella – a role you held for nearly 10 years. What has the transition to The Times been like?
It is still early days – I only joined The Times in late January – but it has been an entirely positive experience so far. I am thrilled to be here.
The Times has always been a great newspaper, and now it is so much more than that; I believe its iPad app is the best around.
The Times innovated by translating top-notch broadsheet journalism into a compact format – with only gains, not losses. Now it is poised to pull off a similar transformation in the digital arena. As a journalist who has always been interested in quality over quantity, it is a privilege to be a part of their vision.
How does your role as fashion director work?
My job has many different aspects to it, but above all else it is about words, and it is about relationships. The most important words are those I write for the page, be it print or digital, be it my weekly column, a report from the shows, a feature or interview. And the most important relationship is established via those words, between me and the Times reader.
I want Times fashion content to be useful and practical; to help you work out what you want to buy, and where best to buy it. I also want it to be inspiring and entertaining. Fashion, unlike many facets of the world today, is anything but grey (unless grey is in this season, of course). I am here to bring it to life, in all its brilliance and all its bonkers-ness, to celebrate it but also, when necessary, to take it to task.
The other key relationship for me is with the industry itself: the best stories and the best knowledge come from having the best contacts.
Tell us about your team.
It is a small but highly productive team. My deputy is Harriet Walker, who was at neverunderdressed.com and The Independent, and so understands better than anyone the interplay between print and digital. Fran Mullin is the newly promoted junior shopping editor. We are lucky enough also to have at our disposal fabulous writers from across The Times, including Hilary Rose, plus the Saturday Times Magazine’s great stylists Prue White and Jane Taylor-Hayhurst. I work closely with the editor of the magazine, Nicola Jeal, who is an old and dear friend, and a superlative journalist.
What is your vision for the paper’s fashion content?
To put our reader first, giving definitive, user-friendly fashion guidance. To inform, entertain and delight. To offer up insider knowledge, but also, where relevant, the scepticism of someone who loves fashion but hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid (or, at least, has only had a couple of sips, rather than glugged the whole bottle). To create endurable evergreen content as well as exploring the more fly-by-night trends that fashion throws up.
What makes your fashion content stand out from the rest?
Our voice more than anything, I hope. We are intelligent, analytical, approachable, and we don’t take things too seriously. But we are passionate about fashion, and our love of clothes, be it a Gap white shirt or a Prada handbag, is palpable in everything we do.
Is there any crossover with the fashion team at The Sunday Times?
I am friends with a number of key members of the Sunday Times fashion team, and the prospect of working with them more closely was just one of the aspects that excited me about my new role.
How would you describe your relationship with PRs?
There is no one better than a great PR, no one worse than a bad. When I come across a PR who understands my reader and my editorial product, and can help me as much as I can help them, I am delighted. These are the PRs who tend not just to have insights on their particular brand or brands, but to think analytically about the fashion industry more generally, if not the world. There are a few people I know I can call who will get me thinking, and give me ideas. And, it goes without saying, they are the people I will always be happy to talk to when they call me.
What sort of content can PRs help with most?
Telling me things I don’t know about that I should know about, and that The Times reader should know about. It could be a story, a product, a person, or a trend – or all four in one. I am fascinated by the anthropology of fashion, and I love PRs who give me data-driven insights into who is buying what, where and why.
What are your top tips for PRs when pitching?
To know and read my pages, and so understand my journalistic sensibilities and my audience. To pitch a short paragraph or two by email, rather than cold call. Make it bespoke, not generic, if you want to get my attention.
To take no for an answer. If I say it won’t work for me, it’s because it won’t. PRs who try to persuade you they are right and you are wrong aren’t doing themselves any favours long-term. As a former magazine editor, if there is one thing I am good at it is making the correct decision for my reader.
What’s the most important thing a PR should have to hand when you respond to them?
To know what they are talking about, and how best to communicate to me succinctly what I need to know to make a decision.
What’s on the horizon for you and the team for the rest of the year?
We have quite a few things up our very stylish sleeves…none of which I can talk about now. At this point, the focus for me is on consolidating that connection with the readers, and bringing them definitive, and fun, reporting from the shows.
Finally, what will we all be wearing this summer?
I just wrote a piece about the “perma-trends” – the ways to dress to look modern, to look your best, that won’t suddenly, after a couple of months, seem outmoded. I increasingly believe it’s about finding the things that work for you and keep on working, not following whatever happens to be “on-trend” right now.
For me, this summer – and hopefully next summer, and the one after that, if I get it right – this will mean fresh-looking cotton shirts, three quarter length trousers (big on the catwalks of New York last month), a dash of sports-luxe (I am coveting Raey’s grey cashmere sweatshirt and track pants), a bit of transparency (a lace skirt from Finery), some Grenson and Prada brogues and Jimmy Choo flats, plus a few splashes of bright colour – I haven’t decided which ones yet! Well, you did ask!
Anna was talking to Gorkana’s Richard O’Donnell