Grilled: Evening Standard's Susannah Butter on her typical day, pushy PRs and 'researching' restaurants

Susannah Butter is deputy features editor at the Evening Standard. She talked to PRWeek about how she ended up on the paper, which PRs do it best, and the future of journalism.

How did you get where you are now?

Good timing and the Olympics. I did a history degree at UCL, which people assumed meant I wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher. I didn't. After listening to a few career talks that made journalism sound fun I did an internship at the FT Life & Arts section (expenses paid) after graduating and through that got work subbing a hotel guide and a job writing and commissioning for a luxury fashion website.

I decided I wanted to build on the journalism aspect of that and ended up doing an MA in newspaper journalism at City University, where, among other things, I learned shorthand. The Standard was looking for staff to help out on supplements in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics and asked City to recommend people. I started doing shifts at the Standard through that and it eventually led to a writing job. After four years as a feature writer there I applied to be an editor.

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Describe your typical day...

I arrive at the office at 7.30am to read all the papers and news websites before conference at 8am. During conference I listen to the news, business, sport and picture lists for that day’s paper, take part in discussion on what we are doing our leaders on and then suggest ideas for that week's features. These are pegged to what's in the news, people we should interview and pitches from PRs and contacts.

I then put the finishing touches to that day’s paper – the lifestyle pages are done the day before, but we often have a live spread, which must be edited, subbed and designed. I write the furniture – headline, standfirsts, picture captions and pull quotes, thinking about what will capture the attention of readers and how to best sell the piece.

Once the paper has gone to press, around 10.30am, it’s on with the next day. I commission ideas that passed through conference for the rest of the week and decide what to do the next day, partly based on the flatplan and how much space the ads give us. I am always thinking about the mix of features – if we have an interview with a politician, for example, on the spread, we may want a more fun, poppy piece on the side to liven it up and appeal to more people.

I write, too, and do a weekly TV preview column, so I fit that into the afternoon. Recently I’ve interviewed Olivia Colman and Laura Linney. Then I start laying out the food, tech and pages with the designers and subs, and when everything is done head home around 5pm. About once a week I go to a work event – I cover food and a perk of the job is that I get to try a lot of new restaurants. For journalistic research purposes, obviously.

What makes a great PR?

Knowing the publication and acting fast. For us, stories have to be new, exclusive and have a London angle. Great PRs are ones who appreciate that and pitch stories that work for us, providing the right amount of access, time and good pictures that work for our pages.

Which individual or organisation is best at handling PR, in your view?

Food PRs such as Gemma Bell and Fraser Communications are brilliant at providing pictures and quotes that engage our readers quickly and understand the importance of exclusives. Big organisations like the BBC, Channel 4 and Netflix (Organic Publicity) are always quick to respond and offer stories and interviewees that work well for us.

What are the biggest mistakes some PRs make?

Promising an exclusive but then giving the story to another publication before us, or being pushy about a story and trying to dictate its direction. Trust the journalists to do their jobs and know what works.

Are you optimistic about journalism's future?

I try to be. The stories that do best in the Standard are the ones that are original, well-researched journalism – so there is an appetite for that, especially in these uncertain Brexit times. What form it takes is yet to be seen.

What social media channels do you prioritise in your job?

Increasingly I'm using Instagram more than Twitter. People are quick to respond on the private message function and the photos mean you receive more useful, edited information than the constant stream of Twitter.

Is PR a career you'd ever like to move into?

I'm not sure I'm cut out to deal with people like me all day.

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