Jonathan Bown has led Imagine, Immediate Media’s commercial content studio, since 2018. Imagine studio creates all partnership assets for Immediate’s brands, producing video, social, digital, audio and print assets to form content campaigns that tell brands’ stories and engage audiences at scale.
JB leads on studio and contributes to campaign strategy, combining almost two decades of editorial experience with a commercial, data-driven mindset. He moved into partnership content in 2016 after nearly two decades in editorial roles, leading OK!’s digital growth strategy and senior editorial roles across a range of celebrity weeklies and women’s lifestyle titles.
His publishing journey, starting with a teenage dream fulfilled at Smash Hits magazine, which laid the foundation for an accomplished career that includes interviewing celebrities from Beyoncé to Blink 182.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role.
As Commercial Content Director at Immediate Media I lead our brilliant Imagine Studio team. The studio delivers all partnership campaigns that run within Immediate’s passion-led brands. Like our portfolio, the range of clients we work with is incredibly broad – we could be collaborating with influencers to create social video content for a supermarket one day, building a hub for an automotive client or conducting a stills shoot for a gardening brand the next.
I’ve been at Immediate since 2018, and prior to that, I held a similar role at another publisher for two years. Before that, I had a long career editorial side, in digital and print journalism. I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute to and edit some amazing editorial brands, and one thing that I’ve benefited from is an amazing list of incredible female managers and leaders who have guided me along the way.
Starting out in teen magazines I worked under some wonderful female editors, and it was the same story when I pivoted to celebrity weeklies and websites. Now, in the commercial world, Cath Waller, our MD Advertising, is an absolute powerhouse and I’ve learned so much from her.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Yes and no! As a teen I had one career ambition, to edit Smash Hits magazine. I was very single-minded in the early days of my career and eventually navigated myself into a job there, where I worked as an assistant editor for three years.
It was a wonderful time, but a challenging market, and the title closed in 2005. With celebrity weeklies booming at that time, I made a conscious decision to move into that area. Moving online in 2014 was another conscious pivot, and I was lucky enough to land a role in transforming the digital fortunes of the OK! brand. And then, in 2016, I could see that commercial content was an area of growth and one that would allow me to use my editorial skills while exploring my passion for the commercial side of publishing. But while I did plan all the big moves, and there was a strategy behind them, it wasn’t always easy to get where I felt I needed to be.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Coming up through teen publishing, I’m no stranger to redundancies – I entered teen mags at a time when print sales were under real pressure. I’ve also had to navigate my way through takeovers, team consolidations and the like. Thankfully, every challenge has resulted in an opportunity – although it can be hard to see it that way at the time!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
This year Imagine won Branded Content Team of the Year at the Drum Awards. I’m so proud of the studio team we’ve built at Imagine and the work we create, so every day feels like an achievement, but it was great for the wider team to get that recognition.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’ve had the privilege of mentoring both within Immediate as part of our official mentorship scheme, and through working with the Creative Mentor Network, who do some amazing work to make the creative industries more accessible. All three occasions have been really rewarding – hopefully mutually.
What can businesses/governments/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?
Immediate’s managers recently underwent training that helped us recognise our unconscious biases. I think understanding that we often hold such opinions is the first step to overcoming them. People sometimes gravitate to what they know and can favour people who look, sound or act like them.
While this is an uncomfortable truth to face, I’d recommend such training to any organisation wanting to help diversity and inclusion. We’re part of a business that really has ED&I at its heart, celebrating differences through network groups and cultural events. I think it’s also important to encourage open, honest conversations with no fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
As a team and as a content business we’re doing our best to not only create a diverse workforce but also create content that reflects the country we live in and where everyone is reflected. It’s not just about the people you hire but what you’re putting out into the world.
Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?
I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment full of inspirational female leaders, and the majority of the studio team are super talented, creative women. I’ve learnt so much from incredible women in my career – from Liz Nice, the editor of Bliss magazine, who commissioned my first feature, to Lisa Smosarski, who hired me at Smash Hits, to Kirsty Tyler, who was my editor at new! magazine, and Cath Waller today, I’d be nowhere without inspirational female leaders and owe them a debt of gratitude.
Looking back on my career, most of the teams I’ve been on have been mostly made up of women, at every level, but I appreciate that is not always the case, and sadly, it’s leadership roles where women are too often denied the opportunity to reach their full potential.
I hope that in my capacity at Immediate, I have and can enable the women on my team to grow and progress. So many are future stars who have it within themselves to be great managers and leaders. We need to create the conditions where women are allowed to thrive; to recognise, and address, the barriers that prevent this.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Focus on the things you can change, and stop worrying about the things you can’t. And remember that comparison is the thief of joy!
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