At Work With: Eric Campbell, Hot Rum Cow
As well as being managing director of Edinburgh content marketing agency White Light Media, Eric Campbell is creative director of their self-published Hot Rum Cow. Promising ‘Adventures in the World of Drinking’, the magazine has recently published its fifth edition. We look ahead at his week as the first batch of Hot Rum Cow bottled beer runs dry.
What can you see from the window?
Not much – the car park at the back. But round the corner from the office is The Shore which is host to a selection of great bars and restaurants. Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart’s Michelin starred restaurants are only a stone's throw away.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Although I’m woken early by my young family I'm definitely an evening person. I have a terrible habit of sitting down at the Mac at about 10pm to do ‘a couple of things’ and then find it’s past midnight. That’s probably why I’m not good in the mornings.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
I picked up Protein (Work issue) a couple of weeks ago and have gradually been working my way through that. I think the mix of features is great and the editorial design is fantastic – very simple and clean. I love the way they’ve integrated the Work Report as a separate section with a slightly different layout that is tied together with illustration and strong portraiture.
Which drink led to this morning’s hangover?
Ha! What makes you think I have a hangover? I’d love to say it’s the Hot Rum Cow beer that we created with Stewart Brewing for issue five of the magazine, but we’ve pretty much exhausted the supply from the first brew, so we need to get our hands on some bottles from the second batch.
Making our own beer has been a great experience. Stewart is a relatively young, award-winning brewery with a fresh outlook on the beer market. They were looking for a new collaborative partner and we were looking for a brewer to help us make our own beer, so the timing was perfect. Issue five is the lager issue and we documented and photographed each stage in the process – from the three sample beers that Bruce Smith (Innovation Brewer at Stewart) created from our joint suggestions, to the design of the label and then the night at the brewery that we opened up to the public to vote on which of the two final beers would go into production. That gave us an extensive feature for the issue and a lot of beer for the launch party last month. We ended up making a rye IPA with an ABV of 6.7%, so there were a few headaches the next day!
Hot Rum Cow is one of those magazines where you sense the team behind it are enjoying every moment of making it. Do you?
That’s spot on and I'm glad it comes across that way. Hot Rum Cow is labour of love for the White Light team and it’s a great counter for the writers and designers to express their creativity when they might be constrained on client projects. We do a lot of client work where we have to be sensitive to the audience of the publication, so including an image of an overweight man over a full double-page spread wearing a hat in the shape of a lager glass made from balloons just wouldn’t be accepted!
The team works hard on the magazine but they’re often constrained by time due to client work we have. When I initially designed it I wanted it to have a solid framework that would ensure consistency throughout yet still be pretty flexible and easy to design into. I would say that Hot Rum Cow is heavily designed in places and that does take time to get right, but the real strength lies in the content. The writing is dry, intelligent and fun, packed with loads of information, whether it’s a retrospective on André the Giant's drinking habits or a feature on the design of beautiful beer labels. That’s accompanied by original photography (we try to limit it to one barrel or still an issue!), and bespoke, commissioned illustration by upcoming artists.
Fun would be the keyword for us. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and Hot Rum Cow is not preachy on the subject of alcohol. Our readers appreciate that and a major part of the magazine’s success lies in the fact that it’s an escape. It’s a magazine that you can pick up and read from cover to cover, learn something you didn’t know before and have a laugh at the same time. There aren't many titles that segue from a feature about the devotion in training to become a cooper at Balvenie, to the idiocy of a whisky mixer taste test by rank amateurs using Buckfast, Sunny D and Vimto amongst others.
Has publishing your own title helped you with the client magazines you produce at White Light Media?
Yes, definitely. Clients see what we do with the magazine and although they know they can’t take the same approach with their own magazines, they do let us push them with new ideas and new approaches to features. It’s given us a bit more creative wiggle room if you like.
We’re occasionally commissioned by clients to work on the design only, so it helps us show them the best way to plan out their magazine. I love it when clients cite a news stand magazine as an example of how they want their stakeholder magazine to look. Invariably at the first meeting they bring enough content to fill two magazines, with a flat plan that shoehorns it all into one magazine. We can point to the magazine that they admire and how the structure and pacing helps the reader navigate through it and then help them tailor their own content to work in a similar way.
Hot Rum Cow has also given us a foot in the door with new clients. We’ve just finished an eight-month project on rebranding and producing all of the marketing material for the London Wine Fair which kicks off today. That commission came off the back of the event director picking up the magazine and getting in touch to see if we might want to work with them.
Drink has been a growth area for independent magazines recently. Can you sense what the next subject for publishers might be?
Gardening. Definitely gardening. Think a more hands-on, how-to version of The Plant.
Seriously though, I have no idea. It’s been interesting to see the launches of Gin & It and Noble Rot into the drinks market around the same time as us. We all have a different take on how we do it. They seem to take a more experiential approach to their features whereas we take a more informative line with a lot of humour thrown in. The Holborn guys have just reached their Kickstarter goal to launch their print magazine so it will be interesting to see how they marry together the subjects of drink, design and craft in print form.
The boom areas still look to be food & drink, cycling, fashion & lifestyle and travel. Maybe someone will look at narrowing the subject matter further and produce a magazine solely on the booming market of craft beer or something along those lines? What's more interesting is that very few publishers so far have been brave enough to take business magazines in the same enterprising direction. That could change soon (watch this space).
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I’ve got the GF Smith papers rep coming in to see me this morning – he always brings some form of design loveliness with him. I’m also keen to hear how the reaction to the London Wine Fair goes. Our Senior Designer Islay is doing a presentation there on Wednesday on our approach to the rebrand, so I’ll get a call from her after she’s finished and had a few wines to calm down.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Finance review meeting with our CEO, accountant and Senior Editor on Friday. It’s a complete necessity for the business and totally invaluable, but it means I have to take my creative cap off and talk facts and figures for an hour.
What will you be doing after this chat?
We’re currently developing a new White Light Media publishing project and almost have everything in place for issue one. I’ll be getting the creative cap back on and working on the visuals for that for the most part this week.