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Keeping up with…Nicky Phillips

With a reputed 85% of UK residents have undertaken home improvement activities during the lockdown period*, giving our homes some TLC has never been more in focus. Decorating Editor for Ideal Home Magazine, Nicky Phillips (BA (Hons) 3D Design, 1994) reflects on an unprecedented year and the journey she’s had since University.

Keeping up with…Nicky Phillips

With a reputed 85% of UK residents have undertaken home improvement activities during the lockdown period*, giving our homes some TLC has never been more in focus. Decorating Editor for Ideal Home Magazine, Nicky Phillips (BA (Hons) 3D Design, 1994) reflects on an unprecedented year and the journey she’s had since University.

“I’ve always loved furniture design” recalls Nicky. “My passion was ignited after completing a foundation course after A-Level, and was furthered when I enrolled on the 3D Design course at the former Caerleon campus. The course allowed me to not only study furniture design but enabled me to experience everything else you could make – from metal work through to ceramics.”

Today Nicky is integral to the success of one of the UK’s best-known home décor magazines, helping inspire the nation’s creativity in how they present and invest in their homes and gardens. “Choosing the right course for me is where it all started” comments Nicky. “I learnt the basics of everything and made friends for life, some of whom I’m still in touch with today and I count as my closest friends.”

If you’re an open, chatty person you’ll get on great in this industry … you just have to be able to get on with people on different levels and be willing to go above and beyond.

Nicky Phillips (BA (Hons) 3D Design, 1994)

After spending so much time hands-on in the workshops, you may have expected Nicky to have pursued further study, as her course leader encouraged her to do at the time. Although, when finals were over, Nicky knew she was ready to hit the ground running and made her first steps into the profession.

“I was fortunate to have my parents live relatively close to London. So, I made the decision to head home and commute into the capital as at the time, that was where the editorial and styling jobs were. I knew I wanted to get into magazines as even during my time in University, I had the bug for doing up my digs making my room as nice as it could possibly be. While I knew nothing about how to get into the magazine industry, I knew my passion was for creative and interior design. I just had to figure out how to reach my goal!”

“As with many things in life, my first lucky break was being in the right place at the right time – even if it did involve ironing curtains for 4 weeks! My course mate Penny was working in a photographic studio and she let me know that the in-house stylist was doing a curtaining catalogue. Needing an assistant to prepare the curtains, I soon found myself at the heart of the studio. Learning on the job and absorbing everything I could from the stylist, I found myself working on notable accounts for Habitat and the like. It went from there, as after two years of grafting around the clock, I climbed the ladder into an Assistant Homes Editor role with House Beautiful.”

Put in the graft early and set down roots in your career … it’s much easier to go back once you’ve proved your value.

Nicky Phillips (BA (Hons) 3D Design, 1994)

Now being recognised as a competent stylist and committed professional, a colleague unafraid to serve her time doing everything that was needed of her; Nicky soon progressed taking Assistant Stylist, Associate Editor and Deputy Editor roles with titles including Good Homes and LivingEtc. Having a career break to have her children did little to curtail her success and standing in the industry.

“I had 5 years out of the workplace to have my three children – having my twins was an unexpected joy! Then like now, I was with Ideal Home and I’ll be forever thankful that they embraced me as a homemaker while I needed to look after my children. I believe it was the opportunity I had to establish myself before taking time out that ensured I still had a role to return to. I say to my kids all the time, put in the graft early and set down roots in your career, as it’s much easier to go back once you’ve proved your value.”

An unprecedented year

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has brought disruption across all industries, and the magazine industry has not been immune. Nicky explains: “Along with falling sales linked to people no longer commuting and popping into booksellers to buy their usual weekly magazine, my typical day has also been upended. Whereas you would usually find me commission stylists and art directing shoots in homes and gardens, my access to location houses has been restricted and of course the opportunity to shoot new content has been limited. However, I’m thrilled to say our Christmas campaign has been delivered, so be sure to catch it online or on stands!

“Even before covid-19 my role would vary day to day, and depending if I was on a shoot, I could be in the office or working from home. For those who are looking for a flexible approach to work, this is the ideal career.”

In referencing social media, Nicky explains more about how Instagram and Pinterest have affected her industry and how the rise of the influencer has changed the face of customer engagement.

“In short, it’s changed the face of how we connect with the customer forever.” Nicky explains. 

“As the platforms have subtly shifted from social networking to becoming visual marketing tools, businesses such as ours are having to adapt. Print magazines have their place, but there’s been exponential growth in the rise of the social influencer and blogger. While the quality of styling may at times suffer at the hands of these home-grown curators, it’s the number of followers and immediacy of engagement that wins the day. The screen scrolling consumer is now getting content for free, so we’re adapting by engaging with the influencers, adopting product placement and introducing advertising to remain at the forefront of the sector.”

However, Nicky’s year has not only been affected by the pandemic. Alongside being Decorating Editor at Ideal Home Magazine, she has recently taken over day to day operations for locations agency, Tattersall Love, as she goes on to share.

“’Location, location, location’ is no less a truism in my industry and lifelong friend and fellow alumna Penny Tattersall, who helped me get my foot on the career ladder, was an expert at finding the most beautiful locations that I have used so many times throughout my career. Unfortunately, Penny lost her battle with cancer earlier this summer. After over 25 years building up her business, we made plans to ensure it continued despite her passing. I guess it’s my way of paying her back for the help she gave me all those years ago.”

At the top of her profession, Nicky now splits her time between Ideal Home and Tattersall Love and continues working with the likes of John Lewis, The White Company and Marks and Spencer.

Nicky’s top tips for early years graduates

1. “Show interest, passion and drive from the beginning   -whatever your sector – and get absorbed by what you’re doing. I remember when I first started out, I stayed up until 1am threading popcorn on some string for a Christmas shoot and making cupcakes to help style an Easter table. It’s about going above and beyond and putting yourself out there.”

2. “Learn to be flexible and consider alternative ways into your industry, as against purely salaried employment. In the creative industries there are loads of freelancers who now sell their content into magazines.”

3. “Gain work experience where you can and be indispensable when the opportunities arise.”

4. “Be realistic. There will always be a ladder to climb, so don’t necessarily expect top jobs within the first years out of uni.”

5. Three words to summarise the skills of a magazine editor: creativity, organisation and confidence.

*Aviva Home life in lockdown survey 2020