Leading and launching acclaimed U.S digital sites PopSugar, Who What Wear, Byrdie and MyDomaine in Australia, digital publishing pioneer and journalist Alison Rice is now moving into the inspiring podcast space. With steadfast drive, Alison shares why taking action, and relevant conversations that empower the next generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs, is so important to her. We also talk to the digital trailblazer about her first podcast, Offline.
Tell us about your professional background and education.
I studied a Bachelor of Communications majoring in journalism at the University of Western Sydney. I always say best from the West! Following that and some internships everywhere from traditional women’s titles to charities and government aid, I was grateful to get a job answering phones at the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance – the union for actors and journalists. I learnt a great deal in what was essentially an administration role but actually taught me how to negotiate, read contracts, talk to people from all walks of life and it helped me build a strong network. From there I moved into the company’s journalism foundation, The Walkleys, where I worked as a program manager for a few years. This saw me assisting on a magazine dedicated to journalists, building out professional programs, awards and conferences, and running the annual student day. I loved that job and met my first mentor there, as well as a few women who are now my closest friends. Following The Walkleys, I spent a year working as a sub-editor and writer on Foxtel Magazine, then I freelanced for nearly a year as a features writer for titles including Grazia and Dolly. I arrived at POPSUGAR Australia as the brand’s first weekend editor in 2012 and the rest is history. I spent the best part of seven years working my way up to Group Publisher, launching Who What Wear, Byrdie and MyDomaine in Australia will forever be a career highlight. Still pinching myself.
What was involved in the process of bringing America’s most exciting and read women’s digital fashion and lifestyle sites to Australia? How did this take form?
A lot of late nights! After we secured the license – that process took about a year – I spent six months recruiting and then training the team, working with developers to build out the CMS, laying down our launch and audience development strategy, localising our editorial programming, building out our brand franchises and writing our commercial proposition. I try not to glamourise it too much because it was a lot and it consumed pretty much every minute of my life in 2015. I didn’t see my family or friends and I remember holding a lot of guilt around that. I’ve said before that we can have it all but I’m not sure it is possible to truly have it all at once. Anyway, we sent all three sites live at the same time on October 1 that year. It was such a fulfilling day and really that is me in my element – launching things!
What did your day-to-day role entail as group digital publisher?
It changed a lot over the years to be honest. The shape of the work in a launch phase is very different to the shape of the work once you’ve been market for a while. The business’ objectives tend to govern your priorities as a senior leader. But in the last 12 months, I spent my days coaching and developing people, refining the vision, communicating where we were taking the brands, networking, collaborating with our senior commercial team on strategic partnership opportunities, and trying (!) to unlock new revenue streams.
What was the driving force behind your first podcast, Offline?
I started to feel a real duty of care as a leader in women’s lifestyle publishing to show more — struggle, pain, mistakes. I’ve been genuinely worried we have an incapacity to show anything less than perfection because so much of what we consume is highly stylised and over-produced. But it is a fake reality and young women trying to find their way in a world lived almost exclusively online need to know that. I’d built strong and special relationships with influencers, and that got me thinking that in the right setting with the right intention, would they help me support young women by sharing their stories? And not their business stories – because I think we need to evolve the lady boss narrative – but their “true self” stories. What experiences have shaped their morals, ethics, opinions, values and character? What does the person behind the massive following and curated feed stand for? They’ve all been dead set angels and so brave, really. I wanted the conversations to be honest, intimate and I guess imperfect. I really wanted listeners to hear that light and shade, because at the end of the day we are all the same. We all struggle with the same stuff. I’ve been totally thrilled and overwhelmed with the response.
Would you say this feels like your purpose at this point in your life?
Absolutely. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself – therapy, visioning sessions, unblocking emotional pain I’d stored (cute), energy work and the like – and right now I feel very calm, secure and grounded. I have to say I felt compelled to leave the “dream job” and I never thought that would happen. I just know there’s so much more for me to get on and do. I think sometimes we stay in jobs because they sound shiny. Maybe they give us access or status. I did a lot of work to move past those vanity metrics and into a space of operating from intention and purpose. I think the best thing we can do is give ourselves permission to learn again. To grow and explore. We are not what our email signature says we are!
What has been the most rewarding moment for you to date (personally or professionally – or both)?
Personally and professionally, it’s the messages I’ve been receiving from listeners. You launch something and hope it will do OK, but I never let myself think Offline would touch people in such a profound way. My Instagram DM is a sacred place right now. The community, raw openness and deep level of sharing has emotionally floored me – and I am a Cancerian so that is saying a lot! And then the support and rallying from my beautiful husband, family and close friends… it’s joy. Pure joy.
What are your top tips for young women wanting to establish themselves in our industry?
Spend time refining your ideas to make them additive and original. There is always time to make your work better. Offline took a year from initial lightbulb moment to launch day and I changed hundredsof things hundreds of times.
Choose to be kind and mean it.
Surprise and delight people. What do you want people to say about you when you aren’t in the room?
Always do the right thing even when someone isn’t showing you that courtesy (that happens a lot in our industry so don’t be surprised, just lead people to higher ground).
I think the more of us who politely challenge the ways things are “done” or our role in the room / on a shoot, the faster we’ll move our industry forward. There’s a delicateness to that though. Observe, learn, make thoughtful recommendations.
Disrespect you once, shame on them. Disrespect you twice, shame on you. That line is more fun in SATC but you get it. Don’t give anyone permission to treat you like shit in this industry, be the role model they never had.
Operate with inclusivity as your mandate.
If you find yourself working under an inexperienced manager, find a mentor and manage up.
Think more about what you can do for a company than what a company can do for you. Communicate that in every job interview.
Ask people you admire what they think and how they think, then truly listen to what they have to say.
And then finally, take your time and enjoy the process of learning and growing. Where you are today isn’t your whole story
What words do you live by?
Right now it is: “Be who you want to be, not how you want to be perceived.”
How do you stay focused and centered?
I stay home a lot – mood boarding, manifesting, casting spells, burning my incense and my Venustus oils. Rolling your eyes yet?!
How would you describe your style?
Classic but must have one conversation starter.
You shared in a recent Offline episode that you like launching things. What’s next?
I wish I could share more! Truly. I don’t like being ambiguous but it is too early to share. Ethically, I had to close one door to walk through the next one, and I also wanted to give the podcast my full attention. As for what’s next, there’s a few really interesting (and viable) media models I think our market is ready for. So I’m exploring them with some people I really admire. I’m also exploring how Offline could add value to women’s lives beyond the world of podcasting.