Former Digital Content & Strategy Director,
Talking digital, feminism and all things career
Dolly Jones never intended to work in fashion. Like so many people, she didn’t know what she wanted to do when she grew up. While she’d always liked writing, she felt she didn’t have the confidence to be a journalist and felt that “writing stuff for people in the public to read was like getting naked and walking down the street. To be public about your inner most thoughts is actually really scary and exposing.”
But pursuing her love of writing, Dolly contacted every newspaper and magazine looking for work experience, and Vogue were the first to get back to her. During her three weeks of work experience, she met Alex Shulman former editor-in-chief of British Vogue.
“Later, when I turned up at the London College of Arts to study journalism, I wrote to Alex and asked to interview her, and she said yes. You get the bug then.”
That bug led Dolly to a six-month internship with Vogue.
“I was terrified. I never wanted to work in fashion, it was way too scary and I didn’t really know anything about it. I just didn’t feel like I was confident enough.”
After the internship, they said there’s this website thing happening down in the cellar, how about going down there? And I thought ‘oh god no!’ I’d barely been online. You could use the internet in my final year of university for dissertations, but you had to go to the library and queue up for a computer and pretty much wind it up to get online, so I was not a confident digital human being, I mean it just wasn’t a thing, but it’s a job at Vogue so I wasn’t going to say no!”
Dolly’s career has now spanned two decades with Condé Nast, allowing her to grow from the basement up, all the way to Digital Content & Strategy Director across all titles for Condé Nast Britain.
Dolly is not what you would expect of a Vogue veteran. She is arrestingly lovely, warm and brutally honest in her recount of her career and struggles along the way. As she wraps up two decades at the publishing powerhouse, she embarks on the journey of writing her first book, which talks about the realities of what it’s like to return to work after having a baby.
We speak to Dolly about her career, her advice for young women and what’s next in life for this inspirational woman who feels as though she’s only just getting started.
Vogue.com launched in 1995, which was 5 years before even Net-a-porter was founded (which was quite revolutionary for its time) and before the internet was really a destination for things such as fashion inspiration. How do you think Vogue.com's place in the market has changed since then?
We’ve always had the advantage that Vogue is such a powerful brand, but it was wonderful in the early years because Vogue had very little competition. Abi [Murray, nee Chisman, the first digital editor at Condé Nast and Dolly’s first boss] was revolutionary — she really saw the potential for fashion on the internet. When we started, we couldn’t make it as glamorous as Vogue, or as high-end with the beautiful shoots and the wonderful experience of reading the print magazine. But what we could take was the authority of Vogue. If something big was about to happen, we would be able to get to the heart of the story and get the quote from the creative director much quicker than anybody else in a more credible way, and get a big interview.
And so quite quickly, we had a reputation for high-quality journalism, which was aligned with the high-quality journalism of the magazine long before we had the money or the technical know-how to create something beautiful or stylish online. All the while, there was very little competition.
We used to send out press releases when we put video online. It must have been the end of 2000, we had the first fashion shows going online and they were really grainy, you couldn’t see anything and they were rubbish quality but they still warranted a press release because it was new and exciting and people felt that they were seeing something even though they couldn’t quite see what it was. Obviously since then it improved consistently, so we’ve been agile in that sense.
Then the blogging generation happened and everyone said, “Oh my god, you’ve got so much competition.” But competition is healthy because it makes you work so much harder and find ways to be more unique.
There is an urge these days for digital businesses to put an ROI against everything they do, but how did you manage to keep the balance between paid content and journalistic freedom whilst at Condé Nast?
It’s a really good question; my head was deep in that area of the business last year. It breaks my heart, branded content in many ways, because we’ve gotten to a stage where people create an ad and call it content. It annoys me when they can then buy traffic to it and say, ‘look how well it performed’. It works best when it’s borne from really good, audience-led, journalistic ideas that bring the clients on-board via a natural resonance with their brand message and their target audience. That then gets so much organic traffic that the client is at an advantage because the audience is genuinely engaging with that content and therefor enjoying it, and we’re able to put a genuine ROI against it.
What advice would you give to other women looking to move into journalism or digital journalism?
For me personally, the phrase that always comes to my mind is that confidence is lifeblood when it comes to your career and that you need to do anything to maintain a level of confidence. Your confidence can leave you for any number of reasons, you can just be tired or you can read a conversation the wrong way, so don’t judge yourself if you’re feeling backward in coming forward.
Don’t assume that if a conversation goes badly, it reflects on you and therefore don’t keep trying. Keep trying, be confident and keep going.
On a more practical level, your contacts! Every single person you meet is a potential contact, so stay in touch with them, even if it’s a Christmas card, you just never know when something in the network is going to happen that may be fruitful for you.
Also, be yourself, because it’s exhausting to be putting on a façade all of the time and you will be called out on it very quickly.
Before the digital age, most women grew up looking to print publications for inspiration and guidance, what role do you think Vogue.com will play for future generations of women?
Information is more accessible and therefore more empowering. It empowers people that wouldn’t otherwise feel it was for them. Print, especially Vogue, is for people who are perceived to have a certain income, maybe of a certain age. But digital is for everyone, there are no limits.
'When you meet or work with men, as we all have at times hopefully, who are supportive of and celebratory of and equal to women, it is so gratifying, which means that it’s still not the norm.'
2018 will be 100 years since the first women won the right to vote in the UK. How do you see gender equality 100 years on?
The climate at the moment is good because some conversations are just starting, so it will be very interesting to see how the next year goes.
It’s just so depressing that there is still so far to go and there is still so much condescension toward women. When you meet or work with men, as we all have at times hopefully, who are supportive of and celebratory of and equal to women, it is so gratifying, which means that it’s still not the norm and there is still a long way to go.
My generation is lucky that we can begin to call it out to help the younger generations so that it becomes less and less of an issue. The men growing up now in younger generations just wouldn’t accept it or think of it as anything other than exceptionally strange to treat women differently.
Do you think Fashion has a role to play in changing that going forward?
Yes, I think every industry has a role to play. The perception that fashion is a female dominated industry when you look at what’s happening at the top of most business where they’re mostly male, that’s not the case. Look at the creative director of Dior, she’s the first female creative director ever and these firsts need to keep happening.
It’s like diversity in the workplace; if people concentrate on it then it gets better. But if people don’t keep focused on it, things can revert quite quickly. It has to be a focus.
And what’s next?
It’s been a few weeks since I left Condé Nast, and so far it’s been a lesson in the possibilities inherent in not having every minute of every day planned in advance. Knowing me, I imagine it won’t last long but it feels fantastic to breathe a bit and focus on the fact that I have worked hard enough, for long enough, to take a short break – before changing back up to non-stop gear again.
There are so many ideas to consider – I’m beginning to realise how head down I have been for so long. I have loved it - but coming up for air is invigorating. There are various projects percolating, some connected to Condé Nast, some not - and this is my opportunity to take stock. I’m doing some consultancy and I have two books that I am determined to get written, at least mostly, before committing to full time again: one connected to fashion, the other to help empower parents to take on the challenges of returning to work after having children – hopefully in an amusing way. I’ve also had the luxury of taking my children to school every day for a week and realise how much both I and they can make that a valuable time. We’ve played a lot of I Spy… and I have begun to make up a story about a globe travelling gopher, who lands in a different city every morning and has had an adventure by the time we get to the school gate.
I was reminded of a quote by Meryl Streep recently (for whom my admiration has turned to something akin to slavish hero worship over the last few months): “the formula for happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can”. Hopefully this next few weeks is a chance to think about that a bit, and how it might fuel my next decisions.”