We catch up with Katy Cowan, founding editor of Creative Boom – a blog celebrating, inspiring and supporting the creative community.
What inspired you to start Creative Boom?
I went freelance in 2007, made lots of new friends on Twitter, won a few clients and was doing okay. But when the recession struck in 2008, we all suffered. Many of us lost clients overnight. It was a difficult time.
With a chance to assess things during a holiday in Greece, I came up with the idea of creating an online magazine to promote myself and others – to help us all get noticed and win work.
I set up the magazine on WordPress initially, using a theme, and began to tweet. My background lies in journalism and PR, so that helped me understand how to get started and attract potential content.
In its first year, Creative Boom was surprisingly popular. But then, in those early days – I did spend an insane amount of time building its profile, writing content and talking to people on social media. It was a lot of work for one person.
Thankfully, I’ve got support today – there’s a team behind Creative Boom, focusing on different areas, and I’ve got various writers who contribute. I still love to write for the site, but I’m also focusing on the commercial aspects these days.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve enjoyed substantial growth. We now have half a million monthly readers and brands such as Squarespace, Yahoo, National Trust, Adobe and Samsung advertising with us.
But even though it’s been eight years, I feel like we’re only just getting started. It’s so interesting and challenging. I love figuring out what to do next. I can’t tell you how much work it’s been. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What impact has technology had on how you work and who you reach?
Social media has been one of the driving forces behind Creative Boom’s success.
Twitter, in particular, has been incredible for us. It has helped to give Creative Boom a voice and some personality. It’s been powerful for networking and has pushed our magazine to every corner of the globe.
In recent years, we’ve grown in India and Singapore – at the moment, we’re very popular in Brazil too. We’re at that stage now where one article has the potential to go viral and reach hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Of course, social media and technology is always changing. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy Creative Boom so much. It forces us to try new things, test the water and explore what does and doesn’t work with our audience. Instagram Stories and Live is the latest thing we’re focusing on. It’s already proving very popular.
You often feature stunning photographic work, how do you decide which pieces to include?
It’s really difficult. We get inundated with submissions and the quality of the work is always so high.
We can’t possibly feature everyone, which is something that frustrates me. We just go through all of the submissions as best we can, and try and feature both emerging and established photographers.
We usually look for interesting angles or a series of work that might interest our audience. We also scour platforms like Behance, Instagram and 500px to discover new photographers; it’s amazing the level of talent out there.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
We’re currently working on an improved web design for Creative Boom. Over the last 18 months, we’ve attracted a wealth of new advertisers and they’ve helped us to understand what they want and how we can connect them with our audience. The insight has been incredible and we’re designing a new layout that will please these advertisers but also retain our readers.
I’ve always been very strict on how we implement advertising on Creative Boom, and the type of brands we include – I don’t want to annoy or alienate my audience. It’s a very fine line. Aside from these commercial goals, I hope Creative Boom will continue to grow and allow me to follow my passion for writing, creativity and helping others. I feel so lucky that I’m able to do something I love for a living.
As well as running the magazine, you also have your own PR company. How do you balance all that and family life?
I’m really strict with my time these days. I used to work very long hours, but that always led to burnout. I also used to say yes to everything, but I’m more confident at saying no and respecting my own needs. By sticking to a solid routine, and valuing my downtime, I’ve found a nice rhythm to the working week.
I go to the gym most mornings, jogging there to save time. By 9am, I’m at my desk with a list of tasks planned for the day.
Both businesses require different things – I’ll often split my time equally between the two, depending on what’s happening. My PR consultancy often demands more of my time, and that means I sometimes write content for Creative Boom at weekends – but I don’t see it as work, more like a hobby that also happens to pay the bills.
I always take an hour for lunch. In summer, I’ll go to the local park, lie on a blanket and read a book.
At 6pm, I stop working. Even if I want to continue. I write a list of tasks for the following day, and this helps me to relax and switch off, knowing I’ve got everything under control.
It’s then a walk with my husband before dinner, or if it’s light we’ll go out on our bikes. And then we’ll either catch up with friends or settle down to watch a film or read a book.
Weekends are sacred and dedicated to cycling, family and lots of fun baking and cooking. It’s so important to prioritise downtime. It gives me the energy I need to jump out of bed on a Monday and face whatever that week might throw at me.
Find out more
Katy Cowan is founding editor of Creative Boom, an art and design blog for the creative industries, featuring art, graphic design, illustration and photography. She is also founder and co-director of Boomerang, a PR agency in Manchester specialising in the creative industries.
Copy editing by Sheena Campbell.