Date Posted: Friday 24th July 2020
During lockdown, there has been an increased demand for fitness and wellness-based products, content and online classes. During the past few months, DIARY directory caught up with Meriam Ahari, fitness editor at Stylist. The publication has continued to create content for its digital platform, launched a new podcast - Working from Home with Stylist and introduced its own digital magazine app.
We spoke to Meriam about creating content during the lockdown and how the trend in fitness-related content has impacted her team.
What have you learnt about fitness and wellbeing during the pandemic?
In terms of events, our own experience with Strong Women has taught us of the many benefits of weight training. Yet we were surprised to find that there were few communities promoting and educating women about this type of exercise. Instead, we realised how toxic the fitness industry had become. Women are inundated with content on how to lose weight, burn fat or be skinny – which is something that Stylist has refused to cover from the very beginning. We learned that many women were afraid of lifting heavy weights for fear of “bulking” up. In fact, we found that a large majority felt intimidated to use the gym’s weight section – which is associated as being male-dominated. Stylist wanted to change the conversation around health and fitness, and to create a safe space where women could feel empowered to get stronger through weight lifting – the response was astounding.
I believe there will be more emphasis on fitness – not in terms of fitting a certain body ideal or losing weight, but instead, a means of improving our mental health. We all know that exercise is good for both the body and mind. It releases endorphins, reduces stress, makes us feel happier, more confident and able to tackle the rest of our day. But health and fitness are needed now, more than ever, as we deal with such unprecedented circumstances. We’re all experiencing a roller coaster of emotions that changes daily, as we find ourselves less physically active or stimulated than usual – fitness can help us deal with it better.
In the past, I would oversee shoots for our marketing materials, Instagram and videos. Although I’m currently unable to set up shoots on location, I’m still requesting our trainers to self-film content for us – briefing them, giving feedback to their videos and working with the video team to edit them as usual. It’s driven us to create some of our most innovative work – which often seems more real, human and relatable since it’s not overly produced.
Do you think that online classes and virtual events will become the new normal?
There has definitely been a greater demand for at-home workouts. As soon as lockdown happened, we started providing live stream workouts because we wanted our audience to be able to continue strength training (whether or not they had access to equipment). As well as maintaining a relationship with our trainers (who taught Stylist’s strength training classes at our studio in London’s Allbright Mayfair before lockdown).
Eventually, we began holding weekend-long events where we partnered with several studios to host live classes (Strong Weekender, Strong Yoga Retreat, etc). We’ve continued to see high attendance and engagement around these events, as well as interest in our online content about injury prevention. For example, how to stretch the back, neck and shoulders, as so many people are experiencing pain and stiffness from having to use their couches or kitchen tables as makeshift desks while working from home. Others find themselves running or exercising more than usual, so are experiencing aches and strains that they want to address – especially since they’re unable to visit the doctor during the lockdown.
How valuable have PRs and brands been to you and the content you produce?
Luckily, Stylist has not been forced to postpone the magazine. As a weekly print magazine that was distributed at tube stations, the brand obviously had to put printing on hold with fewer people commuting. However, we’ve continued to provide our issues digitally through our app.
Throughout lockdown, PRs and brands have been incredibly helpful and have worked hard to ensure that editors are able to stay up to date on the latest products and services. We continue to work together to plan features and partnerships but are working smartly to address how we can best serve our audience’s needs during this pandemic.
We only work with brands and influencers who share our same values. We will never endorse the pursuit of one body type, are anti-diet, value women of all fitness levels (whether they’re beginners or novices) and backgrounds (wanting to represent a diverse group of ethnicities), and the belief in balance, moderation and self-care. We look for brands who understand our beliefs and are interested in helping us to spread our message.
As an editor what are your top tips for managing a team of journalists?
A typical day for a journalist can be pretty hectic: juggling various tasks such as attending meetings and events, conducting interviews, sitting on shoots, and managing social media, all while writing about 2-3 articles per day. It’s important to me that my team is able to concentrate on their writing and feel creative. So, I try to lay a strong foundation for them with organisation, processes and open communication to have all the tools and support needed to do their job well.
My biggest tip as a manager is to really listen and form trust. Encouraging your team to express their thoughts shows them that you value their opinion. It also gives insight into how you can help them to better succeed. I’ve found that with trust comes loyalty and comradery – which motivates people to work hard and give their best. Not just for the benefit of the overall company or job at hand, but for the success of the team in general.
It’s also important to me that my team is constantly feeling challenged and excited about their work. I try to achieve this by asking what they wish they could spend most of their time doing and where they see themselves in a few years. We then follow this up with clear goals to work towards. Weekly check-ins are so important (especially when working from home) to get a sense check from your team and to learn what challenges they are facing so that you can help them problem-solve.
I look for candidates who are truly passionate about fitness, which may seem obvious, but you have to truly love what you’re writing about on a daily basis in order to create innovative, relevant and relatable content. I get a sense of someone’s level of interest by asking where they consume their fitness content from – be it podcasts, publications or social media.
How do you think media companies will manage their editorial stategy going forward?
This period has forced media companies to be savvier. I’ve seen several companies adjust their editorial strategy to adapt to the times by making their products or messaging more relevant to a consumer who is working and spending much more time at home. Companies have proven not only how feasible working from home can be, but how resourceful and resilient we are. This was a big year for Strong Women in terms of hosting several fitness events. However, we didn’t let lockdown stop us from going forward with them. Instead, we’ve made our events accessible on Instagram where we’ve had just as big a turnout as we did at our Stylist Live Luxe event that was held at Magazine London last year.
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