Stuff’s editor Will Dunn looks to make the tech magazine and its content stand out by focusing on innovation and writing about ‘things to know versus things to buy’, while maintaining its ‘quirky’, ‘funny’ and accessible tone of voice.
According to Dunn, this is what sets Stuff apart from the competition. It is why the monthly magazine has a circulation of more than 57,000 and claims a digital reach of some three million users worldwide via stuff.tv.
In an exclusive conversation with Philip Smith, Gorkana’s head of news and content, Dunn offered advice to comms profressionals about how to pitch ideas that fit the magazine’s tone of voice and he talked about how it values exclusivity, how visuals are important for content that features in print, in particular, and, less seriously, when PRs should ignore their bosses’ instructions.
Tone of voice is important and it leads to exclusivity
Dunn explained that specific demographics, or audiences, are not his main focus and that he is more interested in tone of voice. He said: “I don’t write for a particular reader, I write for tone, I’ve always done that. I write for the voice of the publication, I think that it’s extremely important that a magazine or a website should read almost as if – when you take all the bylines out of it – it would look like the same person because it becomes this ‘style entity’.”
Exclusivity is important for Dunn, particularly as the magazine is in a sector that increasingly gets attention from newspapers and national media. This is why Stuff’s distinctive tone of voice is all the more critical for the editor.
“I think there is a lot of competition there but our tone is what makes us stand out. It’s always about finding the angle for us, it’s always about picking the interesting point and Stuff does seem to be one where it has normally something slightly quirky to it, something with a slight sense of humour. It’s also about not wasting people’s time – if something comes out quickly, picking out what’s most important to our readers.”
Strong imagery will help get your story in the print edition
For Dunn, design and visually interesting material is of high priority and can make a difference as to whether Stuff picks up a story.
“For print magazines it’s so useful to have really big high-resolution images in good time and a lot of stuff gets into print because we have the pictures on time and designers can spend more time on it. It’s such a basic, practical, thing but things do get dropped because we don’t have the images for them and it will get left out for that one basic reason. We are quite design led and we like to make it look nice so the more time we get to do that the better,” he explained.
Dunn added that one of his favourite features published by the magazine included a company that produced 3D printed bionic arms. He says that not only was it an interesting story in itself, but the robotic equipment was also visually striking.
Three dos and dont’s for getting in touch with Stuff
Emails are the best way to get in touch with the team, but PRs should not follow-up too hastily, according to the editor. He said: “I would advise people not to phone up two or three times on the same day. I sometimes get the feeling that the people who do that have a boss who’s made the rule – that you’ve got to send the email and then phone up a couple of hours later or something like that. I always think of getting in touch with their boss and telling them that’s not a great rule. Leave it a day and then come back.”
PRs should “not try and do journalists’ jobs” for them by pitching an entire feature and they should be succinct, and direct, about what the product they are pitching does and add a couple of reasons why it’s interesting. Dunn said: “If you have kind of done the feature already for them and sent something like a list of ‘Mother’s Day tech ideas’ some journalists will just see that and think ‘I’m not seeing one product there that I can pick out of my inbox and write about’.”
Dunn adds that during the first two weeks of the monthly production cycle on Stuff’s print title, it is the best time to get in touch with its editors.
Siobhan Walsh-Johnson of House PR attended the briefing and said: “It offered a fantastic insight into the inner workings of Stuff. It was great to learn more about the importance of the tone of voice of the magazine and how this moulds the content they create.”
Beth Mitchell of Red Consultancy added: “As a member of Red Consultancy’s consumer entertainment division, PLAY, this morning’s media briefing with Will Dunn was invaluable. The session gave a unique insight into how the publication functions and their requirements from a PR perspective. I found the concept that Stuff pledges to write with a certain tone, over a particular target reader or audience, really interesting. It was also reassuring to hear that Will sees the relationship between a PR and a journalist as symbiotic. And as always, Philip Smith was an engaging and entertaining host too!”