I Want Your Job: Sheridan Wright, Audience Manager at Hardie Grant
By Kate Iselin.
On having fifteen crushes, taking scary pay cuts, and why it's hard working for a wine publication: we speak to Sheridan Wright about her journey from The Biggest Loser to working for the biggest names in the publishing industry.
Okay Sheridan! Tell me about your role.
I am, and have always been, someone who needs about five projects on the go at any one time. I used to question why I kept doing it to myself until I realised it actually just made me happy! My main gig is National Consumer Audience Manager for Hardie Grant Media & Hardie Grant Publishing. It's a bit of a 'Jill of all trades' gig that involves strategic partnerships, planning, and marketing in regards to audience development and growth. Basically: who reads our publications? Why? Who should be reading them and how can we find ways to get in front of, and engage, new audiences who would dig what we do? It's a role that in some ways I created in my previous roles at Time Out Sydney and Melbourne and has carried over here. I have some 'pet projects' within the company like James Halliday's Wine Companion & Cooked.com.au, but am also a resource that is used across the company for a range of custom publishing gigs we pick up.
Aside from this, I still write freelance for some other publications in the food, drink, and travel areas. There's a quiet understanding that as long as I don't write for a direct competitor then it's helpful for me to continue to nourish professional relationships, so my freelance work is accepted as something that keeps me happy. I'm also the 'girl on ground' for Melbourne for Secret Foodies, who run immersive eating and drinking experiences. Hosting a bunch of fun strangers in venues I love and introducing them to some of the rockstars of the local food and drink world is a ton of fun. It seems wrong to be paid for it!
How did you get started in the publishing industry?
In the most indirect way possible. I was an English and Drama teacher who loved writing but had very little publishing cred. Seven years ago I was a contestant on The Biggest Loser and through that I wrote a couple of articles for magazines on the experience of changing your attitude towards health and fitness. I ended up giving advice to other contestants about how to deal with media both through common sense and intuition, and in fact started almost working as an unofficial agent for a few (I'd had a bit of experience with media and management through playing in bands when I was in my early twenties). Once I'd had a few articles under my belt it led to more opportunities and wider subject areas - in short, I just kept hustling.
After a year of this I quit my well-paid and very safe job, doing Human Resources for a finance company, and took a 25K pay cut to take up a Head of Public Relations role with Big Dog Creative and Entertainment, which again was a bit of a 'Jill of all trades' gig. I was still writing where I could and I eventually picked up Time Out magazine as a client. At the time, they were looking to launch into Melbourne and needed someone on ground who had some basic ideas about the 'scene'. After a few months, they sort of head hunted me to set up Time Out Melbourne as part of a really skeletal team. We were given some massive targets and not a lot of resources but to this day I'm immensely proud of what we were able to achieve; those kids will forever be close in my heart for that experience.
When you first got in to the industry, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?
I still don't, really! I think every role I have had has changed and developed as I've gone along. I'm generally interested in learning more and developing and I think that means you don't ever completely have the same job. The more questions you ask, the more you learn. When you take risks and they pay off it gives you an opportunity to grow your role and carve yourself a unique skill set. I'm really excited now to be working for a company that's so diverse in what it publishes - books, magazines, digital - and is really smart about how it approaches a changing market and a changing audience hungry for new ways to get information.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I think I'll always have a bunch of stuff going on, it's just who I am! I'd love to finally publish my great procrastination project, aka my dreaded book (it haunts me every time I open my laptop). I'd love to be the publisher of a cross-platform publication that I'm really passionate about, and to lead a team I'm really proud of to create thought provoking and entertaining content. I'd love to continue to dabble in television presenting. In short, I want to be communicating thoughts, feelings and ideas across as many mediums as will have me. I would love to write and produce television satire, it's something I adore and I feel we don't have enough of anymore.
I'm thirty-three now, so in five years I'll probably be taking on too many projects, making myself nuts with lack of sleep and probably have some poor wee newborn strapped to my front who finds the sound of keyboard strokes relaxing.
How do you make yourself stand out in your industry?
I think saying yes is a massive part of it, and backing yourself. Throwing your hat in the ring for things you want. Speaking up and expressing desire for activities in your workplace or industry you want to be. Understanding that you're going to get a bunch of rejections before you get an enthusiastic 'hell yeah'! Faking it 'til you make it and generally just being interested. I've largely created my own jobs: the last three roles I've had didn’t actually exist before I had them, those companies just knew they wanted me to work for them in some capacity.
What's the best thing about your job?
Ha! Free books! I also get to make friends as a profession, it's largely what anyone who works in relationships does.
What's the worst thing about your job?
If my company wasn't so tolerant of my 'dabbling' I would get creatively frustrated that I don't get to write as much as I'd like, but I've got a pretty good balance. The worst thing is probably that it's so darn hard to not drink when you work for a wine publication.
What advice would you give to people wanting to take the same career path as you?
Gosh, I guess just keep your hand in every area you can, ask questions, watch trends. Get published anywhere you can, and start thinking strategically in how you'd plan who you want to read you and how you could apply that to other interest areas. Start treating your own social media as a personal brand.
What advice would you give to yourself, five years ago?
Take that pay cut RIGHT NOW. It's scary as shit, but you'll be so much happier. Oh, and also, don't worry about that man, he's not for you. And please avoid crushes five, seven, and fifteen...they weren't worth the time – but the others at least taught you something.