Crafting GQ’s Social Story: An Interview with Katie Philo

In this interview, we have the pleasure of speaking with Katie Philo, the Associate Director of Social Media at GQ. With a remarkable career spanning over 13 years, Katie has worked with some of the biggest media brands in the world, including the BBC and Condé Nast. Her journey, marked by innovative digital strategies and high-profile media events, has led her to her current role, where she leads GQ’s U.S. social media team.

In this conversation, Katie provides insights into her day-to-day responsibilities at GQ, covering major events like the Met Gala and Fashion Weeks, and crafting social strategies for GQ’s cover stories. She shares her approach to staying ahead of social media trends, the importance of data-driven creativity, and offers advice for organisations looking to adapt their social media strategies.

Katie, could you walk us through the evolution of your career from the beginning to leading GQ’s U.S. social team? What key experiences shaped your path?

I’ve been working in digital and social media for 13 years, and have spent my career at some of the biggest media brands in the world including the BBC to Condé Nast. My first proper job marketing a video streaming platform at Reuters in New York made me realise two things.

Firstly, I needed to understand video and digital platforms to carve out a career in this fast-changing industry. And secondly, I wanted to live in New York.

I’d dreamed of working for the BBC from a young age, a goal that was cemented when I interviewed Madonna on CBBC Newsround aged 13. When I returned to London from New York, my skills and experience from Reuters landed me the perfect first role as an Online Researcher for BBC iPlayer.

I produced websites for some of their biggest shows and worked on the cutting edge of TV streaming. What followed were three of the most enriching and creative years of my career, managing social media and digital production across some of the BBC’s biggest shows and brands. I was motivated by the thrill of collaborating with others to tell compelling stories and connect with audiences. 

This is why, after three years in London, I accepted a role to lead social for BritBox in New York, a streaming service created by the BBC and ITV. I credit the experience in a subscription business with teaching me how to team creativity with data-driven decisions–along with working on some incredible projects such as The Britannia Awards and the Royal wedding in 2018. Oh, and being able to achieve my earlier dream of returning to New York! 

In 2020, I joined Condé Nast to lead social media at Pitchfork. Music has always been a cornerstone of my life. Having a job that involved creating content for people who geek out on an exciting new band or classic deepcut as much as I do was a dream come true.

Moving internally to head up social at GQ in 2022 was a new challenge on a bigger, more global scale. GQ is focussed on fashion, culture, music, and more and I have relished getting to grips with a brand with a wider aperture and the opportunities that come with it.

Reflecting on over a decade in social and digital media, have you experienced any “pinch me” moments that really stand out in your career?

The first was working at the BBC on two seasons of Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars to anyone outside the UK!) as a Social and Digital Producer in London. Not only was this the first time I had a TV credit, but it was also the first truly live TV show I worked on.

I still, to this day, remember the feeling of sitting through the dress rehearsals for the show: seeing the results of the celebrity training, the bloopers, and the little kinks that need ironing out before showtime. And then, the electrifying buzz as the band strikes up, the theme tune starts and the audience claps along.

The live show would last up to two hours and relied upon seamless teamwork from hundreds of people to pull it off to an audience of millions. I remember the sensation of adrenaline pumping through my body as I’d stand by the stage door waiting for each couple to burst through for me to capture real time reactions for Instagram. It was so surreal being in the studio and a part of a production I had grown up watching.

And the second was definitely leading social at Pitchfork Music Festival for three years. I grew up going to festivals and concerts, and it was always my dream to work behind-the-scenes at a festival. I got to spend three days running around backstage gathering content, taking polaroids, and watching some of my favourite bands of all time.

Teenage Katie wouldn’t believe her luck! And of course, finally, I have to mention covering the Met Gala in 2023 and 2024. It truly was one of the wildest nights and I don’t think any amount of pinching myself will make this one feel real.

As head of social for such an iconic brand, what are some of the unique challenges and opportunities that come with managing such a diverse and expansive social media presence?

Some of the challenges are also opportunities! When you’re covering culture globally, there truly are endless opportunities on the content you can create on social media. Of course, it’s exciting. But you have to be selective and shape your strategy around what makes sense for your audience, brand’s mission and the platforms you’re creating content on.

Another challenge is the changing nature of the platforms – whether it’s a new feature or new platform altogether, the landscape is evolving constantly. Any social team has to remain vigilant to these shifts and prepared to adapt strategies and move resources to do so. 

Can you describe your day-to-day responsibilities as Head of Social at GQ and how you influence the brand’s digital footprint?

I lead the social media team at GQ Magazine. This essentially means overseeing strategy, programming and creative development across GQ’s ever-evolving social platforms. I am responsible for everything that goes out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Pinterest – you name it.

I set the high level strategy for each platform, lead a team of social media managers and producers to create content, along with collaborating closely with GQ’s editorial team to find the best ways to tell the stories they are crafting on social platforms.

I also lead any social coverage of events, from Men of the Year, the Met Gala to Fashion Weeks. Social media touches every part of the business, so my responsibilities can shift as the business priorities shift, too. 

Covering red carpets is a high-profile aspect of media work; could you walk us through how you prepare for and execute social media coverage for these events?

We work closely with a talent booking team to determine which events and red carpets are coming up in LA or NY that make most sense for GQ to cover. Once we have something locked I will immediately secure any equipment I might need, which is ordinarily an iPhone, microphone and tripod.

I then research confirmed or potential talent to devise specific and engaging questions to ask. When it comes to the red carpet itself, you’re often stationed amongst many media outlets, so you have to be pretty loud to encourage talent to answer questions.

I can often be a one-woman show at these events, meaning I am responsible for interviewing, filming, producing and publishing the content end-to-end. If there’s time in between interviews, I’ll edit the videos on my phone and publish them to GQ’s social platforms.

And if not, I’ll do this as soon as I can after the event. For larger-scale events such as Men of the Year or the Met Gala, I’ll lead a brilliant team both on-site and remotely to execute a more complex and extensive content strategy. 

Regarding GQ cover stories, what role do you play, and do you have any favourite features that you’ve worked on?

I lead the social plan for each GQ cover story, from ideation to publishing. The first thing I always do is read the story and consider my feelings and thoughts as I move through the piece. I’ve found that this is usually a really good barometer for how other people will react when encountering the story for the first time.

I then work with the writer and editor to understand the scope of the story, and particularly any exclusive or big moments that should be spotlighted on social media. After this, I read it a couple more times and take extensive notes around key themes.

Cover stories involve an extensive cross-platform campaign, so I consider which moments would work best on each platform. Once I’ve written a draft social plan, I look through all the always-incredible photos from the shoot to consider the visual storytelling and how the key social beats accompany these.

The social plan receives copy edits and feedback, and I work with our visuals director on the sequencing of images. Once all departments are aligned, I send any design briefs to our amazing design team. On launch day, I ensure all the posts go out smoothly. We always try to engage audiences and like/share the best comments and reactions too. This can really make the cover feel like an internet moment. Each cover, I try to iterate on our strategy depending on platform or algorithm changes. 

And as far as my favourites, I’ve worked on so many incredible cover stories. One has to be Ryan Gosling for the Summer 2023 issue because of the Barbie of it all – the shoot made so many subtle nods to Ken before the film was out and the “Ken Essentials” was truly hilarious. Another favourite was Timothée Chalamet for the November 2023 issue, because there were five covers and it was a fun creative challenge to showcase them all on social media.

Lastly, looking ahead, how do you think organisations should adapt their social media strategies to stay ahead of the curve.

Staying ahead of the social media curve is difficult – new platforms pop up, algorithms change, new features emerge. To set yourself up for success, you should firstly be very clear on the role of social media in achieving your organisation’s goals: do you want to drive awareness? Do you want to build community? Who do you want to engage? Who do you want to reach?

Once you ask these searching questions, you should then think about which platforms make most sense for you to achieve these goals. When you know what success looks like, you should then be more prepared to abandon a strategy if it isn’t working and in favour of pivoting towards something new.

It’s tempting to feel the need to be on every single platform and post regularly, but there is no one size fits all strategy. I strongly believe in a quality over quantity approach in order to create meaningful engagement, but this also frees social media managers up to focus their energies on staying ahead of the curve.

I’d also recommend following accounts in disciplines or fields different to your own for inspiration, in addition to following newsletters (Link in Bio is a personal favourite of mine) or accounts dedicated to platform trends and developments. 

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