‘Passion, vision and the ability to be nimble’: Dish’s Sarah Tuck on being a multi-platform magazine editor

As editor, Sarah Tuck has made her mark on Dish magazine but beyond the pages, she’s also building a cooking community with a regular spot on TVNZ’s Breakfast and RNZ. We speak to her about the changes she’s seen to the magazine industry and how she’s turned her love of food into a career.

  1. When did you enter the media industry?

The first or second time? The first time was back in the dark ages – about 1985, and then (a life-time later) in 2014. The first time around I worked for Bauer (then ACP) for eight years, as sales manager across a variety of titles including More Fashion and More magazines. I left in 1993 to join Elizabeth Arden as sales director. This time it has been a somewhat circuitous route via an eighteen-month stint working alongside Annabel Langbein which spring-boarded a freelance career developing recipes, styling and shooting them for magazine spreads, newspapers and digital. Having done that for Dish for the last five years I leapt at the opportunity to get behind the driver’s seat of my favourite food magazine.

  1. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since then?

The advent of social media and influencers has been a significant change – as well as the proliferation of smaller agencies and PR companies focussing on fragmented areas. In terms of social media, I am interested to see how the influencer landscape progresses given it started off so loosely, and is slowly becoming more regulated. The PR component is probably one of the biggest frustrations for me, to see so much spend going into promotion and not advertising. I totally get that some spend is appropriate in events and sampling, however, I get four to five deliveries across my desk every day, and while it is lovely to receive, there is never a guarantee that product will get exposure. From a commercial perspective, it puts magazines in a tricky position given we are reliant on advertising as well as retail sales.

Then there is the change in TV viewing (what are the stats on free-to-air TV these days..?) and the digital space with its advertising options and the targeted nature of how we consume media thanks to Facebook, Google and Instagram.

  1. While editor of a magazine, your profile extends beyond the pages of a magazine – can you explain this?

I have been writing my recipe blog Stuck in the Kitchen (geddit?) for the last five years, and published a cookbook (Coming Unstuck, go get yourself a copy!) so I guess over time there has been some publicity around those things. I have also worked as a freelancer in that time contributing to a range of competing food publications.

  1. How did the spots on Breakfast and RNZ come about?

The first spot on Breakfast came about when TVNZ approached the magazine to see if someone was available for a one-off spot to talk about seasonal produce (corn, I think…). It seemed to go pretty well and since then I have been invited to take up a regular monthly spot. With RNZ I got a call out of the blue asking if I was free for a series of Friday afternoon spots with Jesse Mulligan…and yes indeed I am.

  1. Has your presence on Breakfast and RNZ had an impact on the magazine’s sales/subscriptions?

Not on subscriptions I don’t think, and it is hard to quantify in terms of retail sales – although we have definitely seen big spikes in visitors to the website. For me it is all about sharing the ethos of Dish – putting the fun back into food, providing stylish, easy to make recipes and giving readers the confidence to get busy in the kitchen. Food seems to have become such a serious topic these days, and there are some serious issues to be sure – but for me (and Dish!) the whole point of cooking is to bring people together, to eat, drink, talk and have a laugh.

  1. You’ve previously worked in the sales side of magazines – how do the options for clients vary today from then?

The key changes are the social media/influencer and digital areas – essentially reducing the spend in other media.

  1. Looking outside of New Zealand, is there a title you look up to or admire for their strategy?

Donna Hay really set the benchmark when it comes to food magazines, creating a rock-solid, identifiable brand with a devoted readership.

  1. What advice do you have for today’s magazine editors?

Ooohh that’s a bit soon – the newbie giving magazine editors advice?! How about I tell you what is important to me…passion, vision and the ability to be nimble. I want to get to know my readers – what they like, and what they don’t…then of course I want to welcome a whole new generation to the Dish experience, and show them that creating amazing food doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or scary…just bloody good fun.

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