In conversation with

Jonathan Openshaw

Editor of House Notes Magazine

jonathan openshaw house notes

Introduction

Introduction

There are a handful brands that we see as creating the gold standard of content. There’s Away, whose travel magazine Here almost makes you forget they’re ultimately selling luggage. Then there’s Porter and Mr Porter (backed by net-a-porter) which looks at home alongside Vogue or Harpers. And then there’s Soho House, who build out their iconic physical spaces with events, podcasts, newsletters, social media – and a print magazine.

The Editor of House Notes is Jonathan Openshaw, a published author and journalist with interests that span art, fashion, design (and ceramics – his flat is full of dreamy glazed vessels). A love of new ideas and perspectives stands him in good stead to create content for a community of over 70,000 members. “Print is a powerful tool to have as a brand because there’s something special about sitting there with paper and ink in your hands,” he says, “it’s a strong connection in a world of quick, easy, digital content”. We found out how he brings the world of Soho House to life.

Question and Answer

What stories did you relate to while growing up?

There was no one genre particularly, just stories with strong characters that sucked you into their world. When I was young that was more myths and legends and I was obsessed with all things Greek, Norse or Egyptian. As a teenager I got really into books like Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. America probably took on the mythical role in my head and those coming of age stories spoke to me. I also loved some dystopian books like Super Cannes by J G Ballard, so really there was no one type of story that I most related to.

norse myths legends
"I was obsessed with all things Greek, Norse or Egyptian"

When did you first feel like a writer?

I used to write short stories that I’d illustrate when I was a kid and then at secondary school I discovered journalism. I loved that it was a licence to go and explore different lives and stories and just feed your inquisitiveness about the world. That’s still the draw for me – I like the process of writing but more than that I love coming across new ideas and perspectives. I guess that’s why I’ve ended up editing more and writing a bit less.

What initially attracted you to Soho House?

It’s pretty unique in terms of a creative community. As an editor, having a global audience of 70,000+ people alongside something like 1.3 million guests who pass through the Houses every year is super exciting. You can pretty much guarantee that whatever story you’re working on, there’s someone in the membership who’s an expert and it’s great having access to all that creative talent.

house notes stack
"As an editor, having a global audience of 70,000+ people alongside something like 1.3 million guests who pass through the Houses every year is super exciting"

How do you approach each issue of House Notes? Do you commission stories with specific brand activations in mind, or do you just decide what’s interesting?

We’re very collaborative across editorial, events, membership – there are a few different departments within Soho House so loads of ideas flying around. We theme each issue of House Notes so that we can loosely tie it into the events programming that month, creating a connection between live, print and digital. The themes are broad though, so instead of an art issue we’ll do a ‘Create’ one to cover creativity in general, or instead of a music issue we’ll do ‘Perform’ and wrap in theatre and movies too. I think it’s good to have some focus but also keep things open enough to follow the interesting stories wherever they go.

jonathan openshaw books

As a business, what’s the aim of House Notes? Does Soho House measure its performance?

It’s just one touchpoint on an array of communication projects that come out of the marketing and editorial teams – from digital on House Seven to all the hundreds of events we do every month to podcasts to social, and so on. Print is a powerful tool to have as a brand because there’s something special about sitting there with paper and ink in your hands – it’s a strong connection in a world of quick, easy, digital content. Because the physical space of a House is so core to what Soho House is all about, having a physical magazine sitting in there helps enhance that experience. Because we’re not competing on newsstands we don’t measure performance in that way, but we’re constantly getting feedback and input from the members – that’s the real mark of success for us, when they’re engaging and interested in what we’re publishing.

“"Print is a powerful tool to have as a brand because there’s something special about sitting there with paper and ink in your hands"”

What are some of your favourite stories you’ve told through the magazine?

Impossible to say. For last year’s creativity issue we did a studio visit with three artists in the Soho House collection, which was visually great, or for the last Inspire issue we asked four leading lights of the creative industries to pick their own inspirations – so Nick Knight chose Zabriskie Point and David Adjaye chose Bodys Isek Kingelez, who has a show on at MoMA at the moment. The imagery was beautiful and it was really interesting to hear about what inspires great creative minds. I like our smaller features too though, such as regulars on how Soho House members launched their own businesses or little illustrated neighbourhood guides around the houses.

jonathan openshaw portrait
jonathan house

Which other brands do you think are telling stories in interesting or creative ways?

New York Times T Brand studio always delivers – I feel like they’re setting the bar pretty high for what commercial content can be. I’ve been doing a few projects with Google Arts & Culture recently too, which is just an incredible platform doing amazing things opening up access to culture around the world. I also write a column on the future of work for Mr Porter, who I think pioneered retail content online in so many ways. I work with the Financial Times’ branded content unit FT2 sometimes, who apply the same standards to their brand work as they do their editorial. That’s the key to making branded content work I think – your standards and quality control cannot slip in any way. In fact, they probably need to be higher than with normal editorial. People are smart and will switch off the second they sense it’s just cavity filler.

“"Don’t just churn out content for the sake of it – make something that will enhance your readers’ life, whether that’s inspirational or practical"”

What are your top three tips for producing brand content?

1. The readers’ interests come first – make sure you understand them and fit your brand message into that
2. Don’t just churn out content for the sake of it – make something that will enhance your readers’ life, whether that’s inspirational or practical
3. Show your worldview, don’t just talk about yourself – covering brand initiatives is fine when they’re genuinely innovative, but b2c content is more about showing your perspective and helping your consumer connect with you

jonathan favourite books
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