Five months after the launch of lifestyle website Lovin Dubai, Gorkana’s Jessica Lester talks to editor Devinder Bains about why the title is “BuzzFeed meets Time Out“, the attributes of a good PR relationship and top tips for catching her eye with a good story.
Lovin Dubai launched in November 2015. How did it come about and what does it cover?
The website is for anyone living in Dubai and even for people who are thinking about visiting Dubai. It covers everything from news, opinion, food reviews and we’re pretty good at funny lists about life in the Emirate. It’s kind of a BuzzFeed meets Time Out.
Lovin Dubai is the sister site to Lovin Dublin, which does extremely well in Ireland. Lovin Dubai was set up when an expat from Ireland saw a gap in the market here. That expat is my boss Richard… and the rest is history!
What does the title cover?
We specialise in content about food but we’ve moved into hotel reviews this year and we’re looking at travel too. I have a background in women’s lifestyle magazines, I’ve worked at LOOK and The Sun on Sunday’s Fabulous in the UK and, last of all, as editor at STYLIST Arabia here in Dubai, so there is talk about some fashion and beauty content in the very near future too.
How big is your team?
I have one full-time member of staff who works on social media and sales, and a bank of contributors and freelancers who cover reviews and ‘best of’ lists. They all upload their own content for me to edit and many of the contributors compile reviews for free. As there are so many great restaurants and hotels in Dubai, it is a great way for many of them to try out really expensive places for free!
How does working online differ from print media?
I’m probably not reading pages five or six times like I used to at STYLIST Arabia because there just isn’t the time and we need to post things a lot quicker with online. And things can’t wait. If you spot a good story, you need to do it there and then. It keeps you on your toes! It’s different but enjoyable all the same.
Who is your target demographic?
It’s aimed at men and women of all ages, but we have a very wide spectrum of users with the majority being around the 18-to-35 age group.
Describe your relationship with PRs.
PRs are very important when it comes to news pieces and exclusives. I’ve been in Dubai just over a year but have good relationships – friendships even – with many of the PRs out here. This has helped us secure exclusive announcements over some of our bigger competitors. Lovin Dubai is still growing so we are always fighting to get interviews with celebrities and the exclusive first looks at new hotels etc. but we’re doing well because of the trust I developed with PRs in my job at STYLIST Arabia.
What is the deciding factor in working with a PR?
I think it’s trust and flexibility. I’ve been a journalist for more than 15 years and I like to make cheeky requests. I’ll always ask for an exclusive press release before it’s embargoed to go out – even if it’s just ten minutes before. I’ll push to get a picture with a celebrity even after the PR has said no. If a PR is flexible and friendly (and understands that it’s your job to be a bit annoying to get what you need), I’ll always go back to them for other stories I’m working on. And trust me, a PR who says I’m getting an exclusive, but then I see it elsewhere first, can spend a long time in the bad books!
How do you like to be contacted?
I’m happy to have stuff on e-mail, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, a phone call… If it’s a good story, an exciting new video or set of pictures, I want to hear about it. Other than that, if cake is popped in the post that will always grab my attention!
Do you have time to meet up with PRs?
I like meeting PRs for short quick meetings and usually at our offices. I work with a very small team so don’t have much time to attend events during the day – which are very popular here in Dubai. I do try and attend the odd evening event or try and send someone from the team. I think it’s extremely important to have strong relationships with PRs, especially when you’re working on a start-up.
Finally, with more than 15 years working at women’s consumer magazines and the real life sector, how does that experience help you on your current title?
I’m a stickler for well-written copy. I’ve seen so many news sites that have compromised the quality of their content for the speed at which it goes up, I think my background on magazines means I won’t let this happen at Lovin Dubai. I like to check facts, check again and do the same with spellings and grammar. A couple of times our competitors have posted stories quicker but then had to amend them because the information wasn’t quite right. I think we’ve worked on the perfect balance – excellent content that goes up at a very quick speed too.
Devinder was talking to Gorkana’s Jessica Lester