Hannah Russell is the co-founder of Mags Creative, a leading independent podcast production and promotion company which reaches millions of ears every month.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am the founder and CEO of a podcast company called Mags Creative. We make shows that reach millions of people every month.
We work with top-tier brands like Facebook, Google and Puffin to make branded content that people actually listen to and we produce shows exclusively for the likes of Spotify and Amazon. We also create Mags Creative Originals which are our own shows, developed and built by us.
I started the business with my sister and business partner Faith in 2018 and we’ve grown to be one of the largest independent podcast companies in the UK. We don’t come from radio backgrounds – but instead marketing, talent and press – so we always focus on finding and developing an audience for our shows.
We’ve never raised investment and have built the business over the last 4 years through revenue.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Whilst I used to start work super early (I’m definitely a morning person!), since having my daughter my days are topped and tailed by spending time with her. It has actually made me brutally efficient with my time and energy.
I look after commercials, strategy and business development at Mags.
We might be negotiating a contract with a new partner which would involve calls with the partner to agree terms, advice from our lawyer, reviewing the finer details of the language and lots of ‘what-if’ conversations. I find this type of work really intellectually stimulating – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle that you need to slot together in a way that works for everyone.
Otherwise I might be reviewing our commercial performance for the last quarter, looking at what went well and what didn’t and how we can improve. Sometimes I’m pitching to potential clients, reviewing proposals or coming up with a plan to build our profile as a business.
I’m on calls for a lot of the day which means my email and thinking time is limited. Often I’ll take myself off for a walk in the woods at lunch to just get away from my screen and mull something over that is niggling in my subconscious.
Every day is different – for which I’m very grateful.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
We’re operating a hybrid working approach at the moment. We’re still primarily based in and around London – as we use studios for recordings – and we offer all team members a Hubble pass for flexible co-working spaces across the city.
The amount of time working from home varies from person to person within the team and we come together regularly for team building days and working in-person sessions.
We’ve had to work harder at baking our culture into remote working. Things that might otherwise have been passed on organically through spending time together need to be a bit more intentional.
I work from home 2-3 days a week and then am in meetings or in a coworking space for the remainder of the week. The change of scenery really helps me and I really believe that hybrid working is a no-brainer.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
It sounds corny but I truly love my work and want to embrace that. I don’t dread waking up on a Monday morning and I feel really proud of the business Faith and I are building.
We work in a team with amazing humans and are constantly learning and experimenting with new ideas and strategies. Yes, it’s work – but it’s a huge part of who I am and I don’t want to sideline that.
Having said that, I’ve learnt that I need to take regular proper holidays to perform at my best. I’m generally fully-off on holiday. If there’s a true emergency, someone will call me. I come back with a new perspective and energy that is worth its weight in gold.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I set an intention to leave the house everyday. It sounds insane that it would need to be an intention, but the combination of lockdown, remote working and having a baby meant that there were times when I wouldn’t leave the house for 3-4 days in a row.
I was losing perspective and feeling isolated – because I was. I’ve left the house most days this year – but ask me again in December!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I would be remiss to not mention some of our own podcasts! We recently launched a new show with Jonny Wilkinson exploring the limits of human potential called I am… which I’m loving and really excited about.
I also really enjoy Jimmy’s Jobs of the Future, hosted by former advisor to Number 10 Jimmy McLoughlin.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
If anything, I’m trying to rely less on my phone. I need to be efficient when I work and I use all the usual comms tools (Slack, Gmail, Gcal) but time away from the screen is a real superpower.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Nothing is an overnight success. The myth of the entrepreneur is – in my opinion – becoming warped and tangled.
We’re told to move fast and break things, to hustle, to succeed at all costs and to do so quickly, very very very quickly. And if we do so, if we sacrifice everything – our health, our mental health, our relationships, our sanity – then there’s a chance our business will be an overnight success.
In fact, in my opinion and my experience, success has been a slower process of learning and iterating, of long, slow days where nothing seems to work and then a frenzy of activity when you don’t have enough time to breathe. I’ve worked very, very hard over a long period of time and so I’ve had to learn to sustain that, otherwise I’d be burning out and breaking down every single week.
The flip side is that building something in this way feels sustainable – both financially and personally. Maybe it’s less sexy – but it’s certainly more real!
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