Gorkana meets… The Architect’s Journal and The Architectural Review

Christine Murray, who was appointed editor-in-chief of The Architects’ Journal and The Architectural Review in February, talks to Gorkana’s Niall Davies about her new role, the two business titles and how to pitch to them.

Can you describe your new role and your career history?

I edited The Architects’ Journal for five years before taking charge of The Architectural Review last year, and I’m credited with returning both titles to subscription growth after more than a decade of decline. My new role is to oversee both titles on all platforms.

I started out as an intern at fashion magazines in Toronto, Canada (near my hometown), and then became a freelance writer, working for anyone and writing about anything. I came to London in 2001 to intern at i-D magazine and eventually I joined the AJ in 2007 as editor of its reviews section which was called The Critics at the time.

What are the differences between the two titles?

The AJ offers competitive, technical and creative intelligence for UK architects, daily online and fortnightly in print, through news and its analysis of recently completed buildings – the who, what, where and how of UK architecture. The news agenda also campaigns on issues such as fairness in procurement – most recently exposing the debacle surrounding the Garden Bridge.

The Architectural Review provides thought-leadership to a global community of architects. Many buildings commissioned today will complete in a decade, so we ask the big questions: how is society changing and how must our cities and shelters adapt? The buildings featured are exclusive and interesting (not necessarily beautiful or grand), sourced from far-flung corners, and visited by top critics. We commission original photography and this gives our coverage a unique feel – I like to describe it as the National Geographic of architecture.

The AJ supports and informs, while the AR challenges and provokes.

Both websites are behind a paywall, with a 100% paid-for circulation in print, reaching a wider audience via social media.

The Architectural Review is renowned for its striking cover images. How do you commission them?

I don’t commission the cover, I find it. It’s a patient search. The perfect AR cover is not a still life. It should have a certain restlessness, an unevenness that sparks curiosity. It has to intrigue you from a distance – across the room, or on a coffee table – and reward you for drawing near.

What are your goals in the new role?

My strength is strategy and leading change, so I’m really looking at how these two historic brands need to evolve in print and online. My goal is to develop a post-digital AJ and AR, using each of our platforms for what it does best, while adding a few more weapons to our arsenal, such as documentary film.

Looking through the 120-year-old archive, it struck me that although the internet has been around for more than 40 years, our magazines still look the same. Why is that? Our subscribers still value print – but what exactly is a post-digital print magazine for? Paper is no longer the most efficient way to transmit information, but it does tell some stories exceptionally well, while the internet is an unparalleled evergreen and portable resource.

Can you walk us through your digital strategy?

The AJ is fast in the digital space – breaking news, email updates – and it’s a community too, with nearly 200,000 Twitter followers. The AR digital strategy is about offering something different – a post-digital, more considered pace. We’re working to build a slow website (think slow food) with an emphasis on long-form articles and other forms of content that offer a richer, deeper and more meaningful experience.

Who are your main competitors?

We compete for digital bandwidth with a lot of architecture websites, emails and blogs, but in terms of brand strength, both are market-leading in the UK. On a global level, the AR has local competition in a lot of markets, but is the leading global English-language title. We may not have direct competitors, but with such prominent legacies, we have a lot to live up to in terms of reputation, and it can feel like we are competing with the ghosts of AR and AJ past.

What’s the biggest mistake made by PRs when pitching to you?

They pitch to us because their client insists on it, even if they know there isn’t much of a chance, and lose our trust by filling our inboxes with projects that aren’t of interest, or they pitch multiple magazines at the same time, when we want exclusives.

Are you more likely to accept a story if it includes high quality images?

For the AJ, yes. For the AR, the most important thing is that the project itself is interesting, it fits with upcoming themes and we can gain access for our photographer and writer on a reasonable timescale. Both titles demand that critics visit the projects we write about, which is rarer than you might think.

What’s the best time for a PR to approach you?

The first and last weeks of the month – the middle two are hectic.

Do you prefer phone or email?

Email, please.