As someone who possesses an extensive track record in the publishing industry, Farhan clues us in on what it takes to craft a story that keeps audiences engaged.
Thanks for joining us in this interview Farhan! For a start, tell us more about yourself and Summer Palette Media.
I’m the Editor-in-Chief of a+ – a luxury title published by Summer Palette Media which is based in Singapore. Whilst the content that a+ published has a luxury slant, it’s also content that is thoughtful, responsible, and has a conscience. For a+, it’s not just about being a magazine, but also about being a lifestyle brand that’s creating great content, as well as a community built around our readers.
When people think of a magazine editor, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada usually comes to mind. Could you share more about your role as Editor-in-Chief and how it measures up to the Hollywood versions of the role?
I AM a Miranda Priestly and Anna Wintour. Seriously though, I don’t think I’m cool enough to be them!
For me, being an Editor-in-Chief is essentially being a curator of trends – like watch collecting for example. At the same time, it’s also about trying to get in touch with your audience and coming up with content that you feel is important to them.
At a+, we’re all about people. We try to feature different kinds of people in different fields – entrepreneurs, businesspeople, venture capitalists… More importantly, we try to uncover the human side of them. And that’s what I do on a daily basis: come up with ideas related to people and luxury lifestyle.
How do you go about understanding what your audience finds interesting?
We actually engage our audience quite regularly so that we can figure out what they like, what they don’t, and what they want to see more of from us. These days, being a media title is no longer a one-way street between the publisher and the audience – there’s lots of two-way feedback. Also, with the internet, this feedback is immediate and comes in the form of the number of “likes” your social post generates, or the number of page views that your article gets.
On the other hand, it’s important to be aware that social media can be a bit of an echo chamber. It gives people content they like – usually outrageous content that generates clicks. Hence, I think it’s important to maintain a balance between hearing what your readers want to read, and what they need to read – which includes content about sustainability for example.
When it comes to the media industry, that’s a role that it has to play: making people understand that certain topics – like sustainability – are important.
So, would it be correct to say that it’s not just about giving people what they want, but also about enriching their experience?
That’s exactly it. To use analogies, take universal suffrage or allowing women to vote – both of which happened in the last 80 to 100 years. Today’s equivalents would be sustainability and gender diversity. The point is that it’s important to keep abreast of what society is progressing towards so that we can enrich the experience of our readers.
You mentioned that when it comes to the People Stories that a+ publishes, it’s not only about who’s being featured, but also about the “human” behind them. With this in mind, could you share what makes a good story?
I think that people like reading about other people. And generally, the more popular the person is, the more attention she or he attracts. However, it’s really about finding the “hook” about whoever you’re interviewing. Everyone has an interesting story, but the question is whether or not you can dig that story out.
To give an example, I interviewed a chairman of a bank for another publication I was previously with. Despite interacting with him over the course of a month, he was actually very reluctant to be interviewed because he felt that he didn’t have an interesting story. But I think he eventually agreed to be interviewed because he wanted to get me off his back!
During the interview – which was conducted over several bottles of wine – he shared his story with me, and I promised him that he would get the first look at the story before it got published. When I finished the story, I sent it to him in the morning. That night, I received a call from him which was quite unusual considering how we usually just messaged each other. And over the phone, I could hear him crying as he said, “Farhan, you captured my story beautifully… I really appreciate it and I can now see why you wanted to talk to me about it.” And my response to him was that I wanted people to read his story.
So, I think that a good story is one that touches people – that makes them feel something. I also think that the ability of a good story to touch people and make them feel something is especially important to bear in mind in this era of ChatGPT which – at the moment – can’t capture the full spectrum of emotions that humans experience.
To put it differently, would you say that art is about making people feel something and getting a reaction out of them – whether that reaction is good or bad?
That’s exactly it. Even outrage – which isn’t a good reaction – is still a reaction. However, a good story creates that other visceral reaction – the one that makes them want to do something and feel something.
A history teacher once told me, “If I only impact one person in this classroom, I don’t see it just impacting that one person – I see it as impacting a generation.” So yes, that’s what I try to do with any good story.
What’s the value of a print magazine in today’s society where so many activities have been moved online?
This question is similar to one I hear a lot of these days: “why do you still have a print magazine?”
My answer is that I think a print magazine is a very good brand extension. There’s still value in something that people can touch and hold – similar to how people collect a physical piece of artwork.
When it come to the publishing industry, lots of people see the industry as print versus digital. I don’t see it that way. How I see it is that print complements digital and vice versa – both are symbiotic.
In our case, we’re trying to create a brand – a lifestyle content brand. And print as well as digital – in the form of social media, podcasts and other similar platforms – contribute towards that. Essentially, I don’t see print and digital as being on opposite ends of a spectrum.
Having interviewed so many people in your line of work, how does it feel to be on the other end of an interview?
Well, it isn’t my first time being interviewed. Moreover, I’ve actually introduced my interviewers to Otter.ai! Also, when it comes to being interviewed, I feel that it’s similar to having a conversation. And it’s always fun to be part of a good conversation that generates ideas as well!
Lastly, please share with us what your experience in the SPECTRUM community has been like so far.
The SPECTRUM community has been great! I’ve played football with community members, found some poker buddies, and recently joined the East Coast Tennis Interest Group on Swish – which is in an eternal feud with the Orchard Tennis Interest Group!
So yes, I really enjoy being in SPECTRUM as well as interacting with the people in the space. Essentially, if you’re looking for a place to work, meet people from different walks of life, and expand your worldview, SPECTRUM is a great place to be in!