17th July 2023
Shine speech by Sajeeda Merali, Chief Executive Officer of the PPA
On Shine School Media Awards day 2023, we had three memorable speeches by amazing and inspiring women.
We will be showcasing the transcripts of the speeches here for anyone who wasn’t at the awards (and maybe a few people who were and would like to remember what was said!).
The first is by Sajeeda Merali, Chief Executive Officer of the PPA (Professional Publishers Association).
Hello everyone, I’m Saj Merali, Chief Executive of the PPA.
My brief today is to share a bit about my career journey that led me do what I’m doing today.
So here’s a little about myself:
I grew up in NW London with my family who emigrated here from Kenya in the 70s. I attended a local comprehensive school and whilst there wasn’t much career advice – I was very lucky to grow up at a time where we received a grant to attend university. Realising I was pretty good at the sciences, I ended up doing a degree in Chemistry and Physics.
But I left uni not really knowing what I wanted to do, other than I didn’t want it to be anything to do with Chemistry and physics.
And through complete chance, I managed to get a job selling classified advertising (the small ads at the back of a newspaper or magazine) for a business magazine called Accountancy Age.
I absolutely loved it.
Now this was mainly because it was based in Soho. I had a great social life and made some great new connections. It was fun and meant I worked with lots of different types of people and clients and this led to spending much of my career in publishing.
I worked hard and moved up the career ladder in various roles – selling ads, looking after clients and helping these clients make the most of their advertising.
My job before this one was Chief Revenue Officer for the New Statesman Media Group. The New Statesman is a political current affairs magazine, and chief revenue officer is the person that is ultimately responsible for making money from things like advertising and subscriptions.
During this time the industry evolved A LOT with the internet establishing itself and smart phones extending how people engage with media and of course social media too. All this made publishing really exciting and allowed me to learn and develop new ideas and also meant the commercial role was always changing.
So I started as CEO of the PPA – which stands for the Professional Publishers Association – in September 2021 and over the last 18 months have had the privilege of supporting the industry I grew up in.
And so on to the 2nd part of the brief – to tell you a little more about the PPA.
The PPA represents around 180 publisher members across a broad variety of businesses and who operate across a number of platforms: printed magazines, websites, but also newsletters, podcasts, videos and more.
Members include global consumer businesses that have brands like Esquire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Top Gear and GQ, to business magazines that help industry decision-makers access insight and information to do their jobs better.
But what binds PPA members together is that the content it generates is trusted, that people with interests in cars, fashion, football, music, or mindfulness turn to the editors and writers for more information.
In a world where misinformation is rife, we work hard on behalf of members to distinguish their fact-checked, vetted and trusted journalism from user-generated content and now also AI content.
And for years, my own love of fashion, food, travel and culture has meant I use magazines and their online channels to get informed on many things from recipes to perfecting the eyeliner flick – but more importantly – I have been blown away by the power of editorial coverage on important matters.
Magazines have campaigned on behalf of important causes and raised the profiles of underrepresented groups for decades. Vogue recently printed five different covers each featuring someone with a disability. Cosmopolitan started a trend by featuring a plus sized model on the cover. Grazia has campaigned to stop cyberflashing, for better mental health support and saw the law amended around equal pay. Magazine publisher brands represented by the PPA have quite literally changed the world.
It took me a while in my career to realise that I too could drive the change that I wanted to see. The PPA will soon launch an industry campaign to drive more diversity into the sector and showcase the range of skills and talent we encompass.
When you think publishing, it’s not just journalism and sales, but digital marketing, data analysis, video editing, picture editors, social media management and more.
We recently launched a new PPA Next Gen Board, made up of 16 individuals who are all under 30. They will work in tandem with the main board and have opportunities to build contacts and networks, get real life board experience and set and execute on strategy for the overall industry direction.
So I’ve been asked to close by leaving you with some career tips:
1. The first one I wanted to remind you of is that – You are always selling
Sales is sometimes a dirty word but the reality is, whatever your role, getting communication right and taking people with you on the journey is important. Put time and effort into finetuning this skill. Whether you are communicating to readers or internally to your teams do not under-estimate the importance of getting this right.
2. Second tip – Have a plan but please don’t be defined by it
Having a loose plan on how you want your career to develop is great but be aware that there are lots of factors that might take you in different directions. If I was confined by what I knew when I started off, I definitely wouldn’t have seen myself, a brown muslim woman from Wembley, as the CEO of an organisation driving forward the whole publishing sector. There are also so many external factors that mean the world changes – technological advances as well as economic factors all have a role to play.
And then finally:
3. Use the power of your network
Think about how you can build connections and grow your network. And that doesn’t mean meeting lots of people who are just like you. The real magic happens when you create a network of diverse individuals and those doing different types of roles. Professional social networks such as Linkedin are a great way to keep in touch with the people you meet along the way.
So, to all the finalists here today – a huge congratulations. You are the future of publishing. Whether you are a writer, photographer, designer, sustainability lead or have another skill entirely. People would genuinely miss our work if we vanished – what we do is important and I’m excited you want to be part of this Next Generation.
Read the other keynote speeches from Shine 2023