Listed as one of Britain’s Most Influential Black individuals in 2013, Vanessa Kingori sits comfortably at the helm of British GQ Style – one of the publishing industry’s most prominent magazine titles. As publisher, Vanessa is responsible for the publication’s commercial success, defines the market position and manages the business operations so that the magazine provides readers with high quality content while maximizing revenue and profit.
Name: Vanessa Kingori
Location: London, UK
Profession: Publisher of British GQ Style // Associate Publisher (Fashion) of British GQ
How did you get started?
I studied at Gumley House Convent School for girls – a school run by nuns that was extremely strict. My schooling helped me refine a sense of discipline I still use today. It was also an incredibly fun way to learn, a huge girls club! Many of my school friends remain my closest friends today. When I found myself at university age, I still had no idea of what career I wanted to pursue. Like so many people at school leaving age, I didn’t really know you could make a career of the things I enjoyed. My school tended to focus on promoting the ‘professions’ but becoming a doctor, or lawyer just wasn’t for me. Instead, I opted for a degree in a general subject with the hopes I’d widen my general skill set and become more inspired along the way. I studied Management and Sociology at Royal Holloway University of London. It’s ranked by The Times as one of the best universities in the world so simply being there was an education. I loved my course but my biggest observation at university was learning to operate in such a large and prestigious institution which also became great training for my career. I believe much of my early career is a testimony to nurturing and maintaining great networks. I met great people whilst modeling but as my mother was never especially keen on the industry I limited my jobs to work around my workload. I’d always worked in luxury retail to support myself during university. Stores like Matches in London were where I spent my weekends.
I became friends with many of my high profile and successful clients so once I left university one of them, Marcus Gayle, put me forward for a role at an events company running their media related events. He felt I was organized and personable so would thrive in the challenging environment. This was the definition of being thrown in at the deep end! Within just a few months and with no previous experience I was organizing parties for the BBC, June Sarpong (British TV personality) and the Libertines album launch party. It was exciting and helped to refine my organizational skills further along with developing a strong ability to multi task. Whilst I had a blast in this role I always thought I’d enjoyed being at the party much more than I enjoyed organizing it. After a couple of years I started looking to new challenges.
A girlfriend of mine, Kirsty Cocker, worked at BBC magazines in their advertising department and was having a great time. Seeing how I worked during one of my events and knowing how gregarious I am she thought I’d be good at what she did. She made some calls and before I knew it I was meeting directors of various media brands. I settled on a role at Associated Newspaper working for the London Evening Standard. At the time they sponsored London Fashion Week, my events background meant that I became involved in coordinating small events related to fashion week and I loved it! In addition to my everyday tasks in the advertising department, I also became very involved with the launch of the Evening Standard’s first glossy magazine – ES Fashion. The now defunct title gave me my first taste of working on a luxury magazine and was a seamless move into what I do now.
What’s an average day like?
Long! Unlike a magazine editor who is largely concerned with planning editorial content and seeing each issue from conception to reality; as a magazine publisher, I usually liaise with clients and attend at least two types of appointments in a given day, including breakfast, lunch and/or dinner meetings and events. Keeping clients updated and maintaining great relationships with advertisers is the largest part of my role and how I secure most of our advertising deals. I try to spend as much time as possible at my desk following up on meetings and working on the magazine. Liaising with each of the departments that make the magazine tick is essential – editorial, marketing, PR, events and circulation. I spend a lot of time writing proposals and liaising with the team. There’s almost always a client launch event in the early evening before I catch up with girlfriends.
Why do you do it?
Because I love it! I love the client interaction especially and learning so much about these global luxury brands is fascinating. They tend to employ interesting people, many of whom have become personal friends – there are definitely less fun ways to earn a crust. Plus hard work is in my DNA – my role models are my grandmother and mother. Both of whom worked harder than any human being should have to, but never complained. I never heard my mother say she was tired even after working a night shift! She’d put on her lipstick, get changed into a glamorous outfit and take my sister and I for fun days out, she never uttered the word tired. Tough acts to follow.
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job?
Time management is one challenge I face. I already work long days and it’s easy to be out at a client launch event every single night. Clients kindly invite me to concerts, parties, dinners, shows etc all the time; however if I accepted every invitation, I would never have a personal life. Having a great life outside of work is essential to being great at your job especially when you work in the media.
Not only are you the youngest person to achieve title of Publisher at a prestigious UK magazine title, you are also the first ever black person. How does that make you feel?
It means a lot but I really don’t think about it too often. I was always taught that I should be respected for WHAT I do rather than WHO I am. My demographic makeup is not the sum of my abilities. I think that’s really important to remember. On the other hand, I would love to see more diverse talent on my side of the publishing industry; so I’ve gotten involved with some mentoring programs to address this. It’s really nice when people say that hearing about my achievements has inspired them – I would never have dreamed I’d have that effect.
You were included in the 6th Annual Power list of Britain’s Most Influential Black people this year. What does this mean to you?
It was really an award for my mother more than it was for me. It was validation that her hard work had paid off and it happened in the same year that my sister, Patricia earned her PhD and became a doctor. The fact that we both came from a working class, single parent home is a testament to what having a clear idea on parenting can do. Going to Downing Street to receive my award was pretty spectacular too. The Prime Minister was charming to talk to but I’d never experienced being in a room 99% filled with black people, all of whom are breathtakingly accomplished and many of whom I now call friends. That was the best prize for me.
What might be next for you?
Who knows?! Whatever I do, it will be tough to follow what I do now but I’m never afraid of change!
What are your top five hair tips?
- Strategic treatments! I love Bikram yoga but hated what it did to my hair (it’s hard to fight the frizz at 105˚F)! Now I manage my schedule so that I do it once a week, usually early on a Saturday morning, and I incorporate a treatment straight afterward in the yoga studio’s shower. 90 minute of intense heat means that your hair becomes more porous and absorbs more of the treatment – a win win! I leave the treatment in my hair then head to a much deserved brunch with friends before washing it out. Before going into class, I put a couple of drops of peppermint oil onto my scalp which acts as a pre-treatment. The mint is activated by the heat and stimulates the scalp promoting growth, not to mention, the smell of mint is also quite pleasant in an otherwise sweaty room!
- I’m a vegetarian and eat healthy, but London life can still take its toll. I take Nourkrin hair supplements to help promote healthy growth.
- Get regular trims! My hair is brittle if I don’t have it trimmed regularly it doesn’t love me back.
- Pass your products onto your friends. I’m a marketing director’s dream because I love to try new products. The more convincing the packaging and sometimes the higher price, the more likely I am to snap it up. I had cupboards full of half-used hair products that weren’t right for me, so now I make a point of passing them onto my friends. Something that doesn’t work for my particular hair type is often perfect for someone in my circle of friends to try out for free before committing to it.
- Don’t let your hair rule your life. I love to swim in the sea, do hot Yoga, travel, try new styles. When I was younger, I’d shy away from many activities for fear of my hair fighting back, but now I realize there’s always a solution (usually it involves a hat and some good product). Life is too short to miss out on any new experiences that come my way.
Fun Fact: By the time she was seven years old, Vanessa had already lived in and loved three counties: Kenya, St. Christopher, the Caribbean island of Nevis and England. She tries to do two trips a year to interesting or unusual places, some of which have included Lombok in Indonesia, Trapani in Sicily, Girona in Spain, Kilifi in Kenya and loves any excuse to visit St. Kitts (the name affectionately given to St. Christopher & Nevis).
Photographers: Ben Quinton and Daniel G.