Based in Sydney, Anna Saunders has earned a certain standing amongst the publishing biz with former roles as executive editor of Marie Claire Australia and senior positions at Marie Claire UK and The Sunday Telegraph UK. Having newly launched new women’s online publication PRIMER with Felicity Robinson (former deputy editor of Marie Claire), the duo bring forward their impressive editorial chronicles to create a digital platform for independent women who crave authentic stories, reflective of Saunders’ own personal trajectory.
What is your professional background?
I studied a Bachelor of Communications in New Zealand, and initially worked as a news reporter there. When I moved over to Sydney in my mid-twenties, I applied for a job at Marie Claire and eventually became features director. It was a great job – I did everything from writing long-form features and book reviews to fun things like organising celebrity shoots and attending New York Fashion Week. But I’d always wanted to live and work in London. (I’m addicted to British newspaper supplements.) So we moved over in 2009 and I worked for Marie Claire UK and the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine. After four years, we were desperate to see our family (and the sun again) and my old boss, Jackie Frank, lured me back to Marie Claire. I was executive editor, and then oversaw the digital editorial and commercial content for Marie Claire and InStyle.
Can you describe your inspiration behind the platform and how it came about?
I loved (and love) magazines, but these days even die-hard magazine lovers like me get their news and features on their phones. And yet, while the US and the UK have websites like Man Repeller, Refinery 29 and Bustle, there isn’t really anything in Australia that offers smart thought-provoking journalism combined with authoritative and entertaining fashion and beauty. So we decided to create one ourselves! I really believe that stories connect people. To me, there’s nothing better than a great story that articulates or crystallises something you have been thinking or feeling yourself – or offers you a fresh and intelligent perspective. PRIMER aims to do all these things – and also make a meaningful difference. That’s why we’re a social enterprise, and deliver 50% of profits to women’s NGOs. I have always been passionate about social justice, and I think that lots of women want to make a difference. If you are a PRIMER reader then you know that you are part of a smart and compassionate community that’s making a difference.
How did your partnership with co-founder Felicity Robinson form?
Fliss and I have known each other for years – we bonded over crazy deadlines and mediocre wine while working at Marie Claire. We’ve always stayed in touch. The deadlines are still pretty crazy, but the standard of wine is better.
What pushed the two of you in this direction and how intimidating did you find the process?
We probably didn’t find it as intimidating as we should have! We were very lucky to have advice and support from some brilliant women, like ex-head of advertising at Pacific Magazines Anne-Marie Cheney, and Jo Jenkinson of Facebook, and we kept telling ourselves we’d just have a go and if the reception was good we’d keep going. The reception was good and so we kept going!
How different are you both as storytellers?
Felicity and I are both have our own voices, and within the business we have our own strengths. What I think makes us a really good team is we are very good at honing concepts and ideas, and finessing stories together.
You have had an impressive career in journalism. What is your most cherished milestone in your career history?
Thank you! I’m proud of all the stories that I worked on over the years with a campaigning or activist element – I ran a campaign for paid maternity leave (before it was legislated in Australia) for example. In the UK, we once sent a war photographer back to Sarajevo to photograph the women he’d met during the civil war, which was incredible, and I’ve commissioned journalists to report on stories around the world, from Jordan and Africa to the US and Japan. In the UK, I was also lucky to work with brilliant writers like Lionel Shriver and Hilary Mantel.
What are the challenges for a platform where 50% of its profits go to NGOs that help women in need?
Money! Until we can deliver meaningful funding to the NGOs we work with (the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre and Against Malaria Fund), we offer in-kind services. So, we recently collected unused beauty products from readers, beauty editors, brands and makeup artists around Sydney and delivered them to WAGEC’s women’s refuges in time for Mothers’ Day. A photographer and I are about to go in and spend the day shooting portraits and writing interviews for WAGEC’s digital and social channels too.
Can you tell us a little about some of the organisations that your platform helps fund?
WAGEC helps women who are homeless – often because of domestic violence. On any given night they may be housing 200 women and girls in refuges around Sydney. The women who work there are passionate and impressive. The Against Malaria Foundation distributes mosquito nets, because malaria is the single largest killer of pregnant women in the world, and malaria nets are the simplest and most effective way of protecting women and their families. Since its inception in 2004, they have distributed 53 million nets, and they are consistently ranked as one of the most cost-effective charities in the world.
We’re facing a time where genuine content often gets overshadowed with commercially driven stories. What sets PRIMER apart from the current news and fashion landscape?
That’s true. I think another problem is that original content is often drowned out by rehashed celebrity gossip. This is because it’s so much cheaper to rewrite someone else’s story about a famous celebrity – which is guaranteed to generate traffic – than to invest in a feature story with a journalist and photographer. At PRIMER, our stories are entertaining and engaging but there won’t be any celebrity gossip – and although I was quite nervous about traffic, so far, the results have been really good! Another point of difference is that we also shoot our fashion and beauty, using brilliant and experienced stylists and editors, which is unusual in the digital market. We are determined that PRIMER has its own visual language and that it stands out in a sea of very similar-looking women’s websites.
What should we expect in the near future from PRIMER?
We have some exciting projects in the works. At the moment, we are catching our breath from launching just four months ago – but sign up to PRIMER and you’ll find out!
What advice do you have for emerging journalists or content creatives?
There are huge opportunities in the digital space, but in the early stages, focus on building your skills in environments where you can produce original journalism and learn from brilliant editors.