Vanessa Lawrence is the Publisher of Pedestrian Group, Australia’s largest youth-focused publisher.
She leads the content strategy and native content execution for PEDESTRIAN.TV, Business Insider, POPSUGAR, Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us about your career background and current role?
I actually started out in print, working my way up to acting news editor at Grazia magazine after the requisite 1,000 unpaid internships.
I later left to travel and work in the UK, where I freelanced for a bunch of different publications, like UK Grazia and Stylist, before returning home to work on the relaunch of ELLE Australia into the Australian market as features editor.
I had a couple of amazing years at the magazine before the role of head of editorial at PEDESTRIAN.TV came across my desk. Digital scared the shit out of me at the time so I knew it was something I had to run at.
Fast forward almost three years and the website had reached new heights, tripling its reach.
I left P.TV to join Medium Rare Creative Agency as deputy editor of Qantas magazine and its travel inspiration website, Travel Insider, before I was tapped on the shoulder after about 15 months to return to Pedestrian – now Pedestrian Group, a youth media powerhouse with six incredible brands and an outdoor cinema under its belt (PEDESTRIAN.TV merged with the Fairfax-owned Allure Media at the end of 2018).
I’ve been in my new role for just on a year now. I’m responsible for the content strategy and commercial content execution across our sites – PEDESTRIAN.TV, Business Insider, POPSUGAR, Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku. Together, they have a monthly unique audience of about 4 million Aussies.
2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I plan out my days well in advance but the unpredictability of the news cycle means that my calendar can be upended in the blink of an eye.
I have an incredible team of editorial leaders whose job it is to monitor the news cycle and respond accordingly but if something major happens, like a leadership spill, shock celebrity death, terror attack or natural disaster, it’s all-in to ensure we’re hitting the right angles across all sites.
On days when nothing dramatic happens, I usually have about five to six meetings with 15-minute breaks in between to catch my breath, send and respond to urgent emails or grab food.
Those meetings might be with my direct reports to assess site performance, our audience development manager for a mini dissection of the performance of our sites’ latest growth strategies, our response team for a brainstorm or with any number of clients.
When I’m at my desk, I’m lurking on Slack to see what everyone’s working on and watching Google Analytics out of the corner of one eye (I’m a traffic junkie).
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
The nature of my job requires me to be in the office. That said, if I’m working on a big project like our latest brand presentation or strategic plans for the sites and really need to get stuck in without being tapped on the shoulder constantly, I can work from home. If I need to do that, I’ll try to swing it on a Friday as that’s typically a quieter day for us.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
I’m shocking with my emails – I often need a nudge to reply to something that’s been lost in the deluge – but a colleague recently put me onto this browser extension called Active Inbox.
It’s like a virtual PA; you can turn the subject line of any email into a task with a due date, sort tasks by project or person to help break down your day into digestible chunks, track everything you’ve asked other people to do and schedule the delivery of your emails.
I love that last feature because I often send or reply to emails late at night and on weekends and I don’t like my team to feel they have to reply or do the same (unless it’s an emergency). I’ll never be an Inbox Zero person but this clever little plug-in has helped me whittle my inbox down from 8,000 to 200. I’m determined to keep it under control now!
I’ve also started to structure the flow of my week to suit what times of day I’m most sharp. Typically I try and schedule a lot of internal one-on-one meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays before lunch, then lock myself away to work on any bigger projects in the afternoon when I hit peak productivity (I’m not a morning person).
If possible, I group external meetings together and try to knock them over on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I like to keep Fridays a bit open so I can wrap up any stragglers on my to-do list. When it works, it works well.
5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I make a choice not to let myself get too stressed out about achieving what’s typically classified as a work-life balance – like leaving your desk on time at least three nights a week, turning your phone off on weekends etc.
Sometimes it’s necessary for me to be communicating with my teams on multiple platforms as soon as I open my eyes, or late at night, but that’s all part of it. If I tried to control that aspect of my job, I’d fail miserably (it no doubt helps that I get a lot of satisfaction out of what I do so it rarely feels like a chore).
So instead of holding myself to other people’s standards when it comes to a ‘healthy’ WLB, I listen to myself – when I’m feeling run down, or I realise I haven’t left the office before 8pm four days in a row, I make a conscious effort to take time out. I’ll get a massage, have dinner with a friend or read a book in the bath.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I’ve learnt to be protective of my time. That means I try to give strategic thought to meeting invites before I click ‘attending’ on impulse to make sure I’m not clogging up my day unnecessarily.
I’ll ask myself, “If I sit in on that meeting, will I be learning something I need or want to know more about? Am I there to help drive the conversation or a piece of the strategy?” If it’s neither of those things, I’ll likely suggest bow out or suggest someone more relevant attends instead.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I haven’t been one for self-improvement books until very recently.
I currently have Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink sitting on my bedside table – they came highly recommended by a career coach so I think you’re safe to take her word over mine!
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Making sure my work days are productive usually starts the night before – I like to look at my calendar at the end of the previous day so there are no surprises and I can mentally prepare myself for whatever I’m in for. It also means I still have time to juggle things around if I need to give myself breathing room to work on something specific.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Stress gets a bad wrap – and too much isn’t healthy – but changing the way you think about it can also be really liberating.
If you can think of that butterflies-in-your-stomach, how-can-I-possibly-get-this-all done feeling as anticipation of something that challenges you, or a new door opening, I find everything feels that little bit more manageable.
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!