Raven McMillan: Assistant Editor for Domino + Freelance Writer

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we are talking with Domino magazine’s assistant editor Raven McMillan. Raven is a former publicist turned writer who also freelances for publications such as AFAR, Brides, Conde Nast Traveler, and The Knots covering beauty, weddings, travel, and black culture. She is a journalism school graduate who started in public relations, but during the pandemic took a pay cut and went back to journalism and in her words has never been happier. Hi, Raven, thank you so much for joining us.

 

Raven McMillan  01:00

Hi, Angela. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited about this.

 

Angela Tuell  01:04

Yes. How’s the weather down in New Orleans?

 

Raven McMillan  01:07

Oh, it’s hot hot hot. Very hot.

 

Angela Tuell  01:11

Yeah, that time of year, right?

 

Raven McMillan  01:12

Yep, everybody thinks I’m crazy for sticking around through the summer, but here I am.

 

Angela Tuell  01:21

So you must like it.

 

Raven McMillan  01:23

Oh, yeah. I love it. It’s a great place. It’s just such a cool city. There’s so much to love. It is a little bit weird but in a wonderful way.

 

Angela Tuell  01:33

Yeah. I love that. You know I have to say that I love how you say you are a writer and recovering publicist. Usually, it’s the other way around. So how did you get to where you are today?

 

Raven McMillan  01:45

Yeah, so I actually always wanted to be a writer. Since I was a little kid, I used to make newspapers on my mom’s typewriter.

 

Angela Tuell  02:01

Awww – revealing to us your age a little bit.

 

Raven McMillan  02:05

And that was my dream forever. And I ended up going to school for journalism. And I had all these dreams at the time, I wanted to be a fashion editor. All I wanted to do is work for Vogue, of course. And after college, I moved to New York. With all those dreams still intact, and quickly, as the city does, it brought me back down to reality. And I realized, oh, I can just get out of college and like, get a job at a magazine and start this year. And, you know, it was a bit of a reality check. I really, I did my best, you know, with the tools that I had as a kid just out of college trying to navigate internships and those first jobs and also just trying to work on my own to pay the rent, and I was doing all these quirky odd jobs. You know, I did like bottle service at this club for a while. I was an assistant at a dance studio, just all kinds of crazy things, all the while, you know, trying to apply for different media jobs, and I started coming across PR opportunities. Okay. So getting into PR really kind of ended up being a survival tactic, because I was like, Oh, wow, all these agencies are hiring. And they seem to pay a lot more than all the entry-level editorial.

 

Angela Tuell  03:29

Right, that’s for sure.

 

Raven McMillan  03:32

Exactly, exactly. So I made a little pivot then. When I got into PR, I actually thought I was getting a job at an agency in New York. And while they did have an office in New York, they wanted me in their Miami office. So I ended up going back to Florida, which is my home state and working at that agency for a while. And it was a great, great, great first home, I have made friends there that are my best friends to this day, that are still my mentors and inspiration. And I was there for almost five years. So that’s kind of how I got into PR and then I stuck around for a while I grew with that company. I moved around to a couple of different agencies until the pandemic which really gave me the space and the time to really think about getting back into writing.

 

Angela Tuell  04:26

Yeah, that’s when you say your professional career turned around and that you took a 40% pay cut and have never been happier.

 

Raven McMillan  04:34

Yeah, yeah. People still think I’m a little crazy. I think my parents still think I’m a little crazy. They don’t really totally get it, but they’re still super supportive. At the time of the pandemic. I was working at a small agency. I was actually back in New York. And I was working at a small agency that really focused on travel PR so you know, of course, the pandemic. That was one of the biggest industries that had to be shut down. So I was laid off. And, you know, kind of thinking about what I was going to do next. And I, to be honest, I was, I had been already a little burnt out a PR, I was kind of over it. And I was kind of relieved that pushed out of the PR nest because of the pandemic. And it just finally gave me that time to really go back to writing. And because I already had such a strong network of editors from my work in PR, I just started reaching out. And I reached out to an editor that I had actually talked to in the past about wanting to write and never having the time and never getting around to it. And I emailed her and was like, hey, remember how I told you I wanted to be a writer? I think I’m ready to do that. And here’s a few story ideas for you that I would love to write myself.

 

Angela Tuell  05:59

Yeah. That’s wonderful.

 

Raven McMillan  06:01

Yeah, so that’s…  And it worked. Yeah. They accepted my stories that were with Brides and I started doing a few one-off pieces for them. They eventually brought me on as kind of like a “permalancer,” I guess you could call it.

 

Angela Tuell  06:03

And it worked. I love that term.

 

Raven McMillan  06:23

I know all these like hybrid terms now. Yeah, so they brought me on. And I was doing a few stories for them. I was contracted to do a few stories for them every month, and they would assign me and as I started kind of like racking up these by lines, I started pitching other outlets and I started pitching – I went back to travel. That’s really where all my experience and my passion was. And I did a piece for Conde Nast Traveler. I started doing a few pieces for AFAR. I started pivoting my work with Brides to more travel and honeymoon content. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  07:05

And then you became the assistant editor of Domino.

 

Raven McMillan  07:08

Yes. So I amassed all this freelance work, and I felt like I had a good solid portfolio. And I really wanted to be on staff. I just, had so much more to learn about media from that side of it. You know, I had done PR, I had seen what it looked like, on that end of the spectrum. Now I was doing the freelance stuff. And you know, freelance, first of all, it’s just such a hustle. And it’s, you know, you’re, you’re just on such an island.

 

Angela Tuell  07:40

It’s similar to PR with the pitching. You’re pitching the editors, you know?

 

Raven McMillan  07:44

Yes. Just pitching, pitching, pitching, you know, a lot of emails that are just going into the void.

 

Angela Tuell  07:51

Right.

 

Raven McMillan  07:53

And I just wanted to be on staff, I was so hungry to learn and to have a team and to have people to bounce ideas off of, and to really just get my fix of being a writer at a magazine. I you know, I still kept going back to that dream. Yeah, if you like Google Raven. And I was like, I just, I want to really be an editor.

 

Angela Tuell  08:16

Yes. So for those who aren’t familiar, or super familiar with Domino, tell us a little bit about it and its audience.

 

Raven McMillan  08:24

Yeah, so Domino is such a fun magazine to work for. First of all, it’s, um, it’s all focused on home and interior design, and how people can really bring their style home. And so we focus on everything from home tours to renovations to spotlighting different creators across the design industry, focusing on products, reviewing new products, and sharing news of different collaborations. So it really, you know, runs the gamut of everything interiors related. And what I love about Domino is it’s very accessible. It’s inspirational, without being too far-reaching of like, okay, great, but I’m not ever going to be able to afford a $20,000 dining room table.

 

Angela Tuell  09:23

Yeah. That’s perfect. And it was perfect during the pandemic, while we are all focused on our home so much.

 

Raven McMillan  09:33

Oh, my gosh, yeah. I mean, it’s been one of those industries that has been busier than ever since the pandemic and there’s been so much to write about. So much content, people can’t seem to get enough. And even still, people are still spending so much time at home. So many are working remotely. And, you know, I think everybody has realized how important it is to really cultivate that space. and keep it fresh and make it seasonally that makes you happy and make you feel good and…

 

Angela Tuell  10:06

Right. So what does your role entail as the Assistant Editor?

 

Raven McMillan  10:09

So I primarily work on what we call our scouting vertical. And I’m part of our style team. So I work with our style director, our market editor, and our deputy editor to really highlight everything that has to do with the freshest trends, the coolest creatives, the newest products, all of the things that you need to know, right now. I really focus on the news. We have news meetings every week so I always try to bring you to know whether those are deals that people should be on the lookout for on some of our favorite brands, or, you know, the hottest selling items, or, you know, new collaborations and partnerships with creators and design brands. And I also help with our digital issues. So those are quarterly, and I help bring ideas and pitch ideas to the table for that every quarter, we always have our ed picks column, which is really fun. So I get to pick, you know, some of my favorite things for that under whatever the theme is for that quarter. And that’s always a good time.

 

Angela Tuell  11:24

So focusing on product news and reviews, does affiliate marketing play a role in your coverage?

 

Raven McMillan  11:30

It definitely does. So we do have a separate commerce team. And that’s really their focus. But on the more editorial side, you know, we definitely are highly encouraged to include affiliate brands whenever possible. Now, because we have a commerce team, and that’s really their bread and butter, it’s it’s nice that our style team doesn’t get pigeonholed or forced into including products that we don’t always feel strongly about just because, you know, they’re going to bring in revenue. So we still have all of the freedom and flexibility to pick what we really love and what we really know will resonate with our audience. And then, you know, I think I’m still learning about all of affiliate marketing.

 

Angela Tuell  12:22

There’s so much there. Yeah, right.

 

Raven McMillan  12:25

Oh gosh.  There is so much and it’s so fascinating. But I think, you know, on my team, you know, what it might come down to is if there are two pieces that we really love as equally and one is an affiliate partner, then, you know, we may be more inclined to go with that.

 

Angela Tuell  12:43

Yeah, that’s, that’s what we’re hearing constantly. And so it’s important to tell you obviously, that this product is on this affiliate network so that you know that as you’re working in your stories.

 

Raven McMillan  12:55

Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve been telling all my PR friends who, who asked me or who are working with product brands, like, put that front and center like just so they know, you know, it’s always good to know, like, okay, great. Even if it’s not a fit right now, like, I’m gonna like bookmark that in my mind that not only is it a cool product and a great brand, but it might also generate some revenue. So that’s always a mess. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  13:19

It’s helpful. Yeah. You also mentioned that at Domino, you typically do product reviews individually, and not round-ups. And you know, at a time when media is saturated with round-ups, and quick and easy reads. And that’s what it’s almost all about. How has Domino bucked that trend?

 

Raven McMillan  13:35

Yeah. And that’s interesting, too, because I think even as a reader, I do always find myself drawn to round-ups. And I like those kinds of quick hits. But we have really found it’s just in the numbers, the metrics really show that our audience at least, loves a single product review. And I think it’s because they do really trust our opinion. Yeah. And look to us, our style team, especially for that guidance, and that, you know, authentic feedback of the things that we really do love. And that’s why those do so well. And we’ve also found the ones that also do really well are ones that have like a crazy price point one way or another. The expensive item that’s like, here’s why you have to have this or why it’s splurge-worthy, or if it is really splurge-worthy. Or it’s on the opposite end. As you know, you wouldn’t believe this $10 gadget that’s changed my life and my home.

 

Angela Tuell  14:42

Yeah. Are you the best one to send products to and is it better to contact you first about the product and then send or what’s the best way to handle that?

 

Raven McMillan  14:52

Yes, so for the first part, I probably am the good first line of defense to send product pitches to. And second – about sending them – yes, I would always ask first, even for the brands that already probably have my address in their database somewhere. It is always a good idea to send first, just because I think not only me, I think all of us on the Domino team, really try to be mindful. Yeah, what we’re accepting and just with so much waste, product waste, first of all, and also knowing what we actually can cover or what we might actually consider. I always try to be really mindful of accepting things, you know, that really are or aren’t a fit. You know.

 

Angela Tuell  15:44

Sure. That’s great. That’s great. I know, you also work to amplify black and brown voices as much as possible. How is that going?

 

Raven McMillan  15:52

I think it’s going really well. I mean, it’s something that’s super important to me, coming from, I have a biracial background. And so it’s something very personal to me. And it’s definitely something that’s always top of mind when I’m looking through stories, when I’m looking at pitches, you know when I’m thinking about what we’re bringing to the table for Domino. It’s important to Domino as well, as a brand, we’re always, you know, checking ourselves making sure that we are being as diverse as possible across all facets of that. But I think it’s going really well. And it really makes me so happy to be that conduit and to be that microphone for other people, you know, in my community too. So, you know, I always encourage people to let me know or bring, bring that to light, you know, especially the smaller brands, the brands that don’t have big PR agencies, you know, or even people, like if you just know of a brand that you love, and you know, maybe you don’t even have any other sort of connection to them, like I love to hear those kinds of things and have that on my radar and I’ll go do the digging and, you know, see if we can talk to those people or, you know, get them, get them some love and whatever way that we can.

 

Angela Tuell  17:16

That’s great. And in your free time, which I’m sure is limited. You also do you still do some freelance writing? What do you like to focus on with that?

 

Raven McMillan  17:26

Yeah, so in my very little free time, I do still love to do freelancing. I do a little bit of content creation, and blog posts like that for like corporate companies in the beauty space. But as far as the journalists, journalism, travel is really where my heart is at. I love to travel. I love hotels, I’ve kind of been able to find a little bit of a sweet spot with Domino by doing some hotel coverage and design lens. But for my freelance work, I have really been focused on travel and experiences that I’ve had firsthand.

 

Angela Tuell  18:08

Okay, so what is some of your favorite products right now or things you’ve written about or some of your favorite stories?

 

Raven McMillan  18:16

One of my all-time favorite stories was one that I did for Conde Nast Traveler, and it was about the oldest black-owned restaurants across the US. And that was just an incredible piece. It was so interesting to research. The interviews that I had, were phenomenal. Like, I just talked to these people for hours and hours. You know, I talked to generations of the Chase family behind Dooky Chase restaurant here in New Orleans before or had a chance to even visit the city or the restaurant now I’ve been there and it’s amazing. I’ve spoken to the founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC who’s this beautiful 80-something-year-old woman who has just like seen it all from you know, Martin Luther King to President Obama.

 

Angela Tuell  19:11

Wow.

 

Raven McMillan  19:12

And it was just the stories were just amazing. Like, I actually got emotional several times, doing those interviews and writing that story. And, it’s just been such a fun piece. It’s kind of been part of my own personal journey to visit actually visit and dine and all the places that I wrote about.

 

Angela Tuell  19:30

Oh, that’s cool.

 

Raven McMillan  19:31

Yeah, and I’ve checked quite a few off so far. And then, in my research, I started making an Excel sheet of other restaurants that didn’t make the cut. You know, of course, I can only include so many Wipeout, but there’s so much so much history and so many legacy places out there. So that’s kind of like this little section on my bucket list of checking off all of those. So that was a really special story to me, and it was really fun to write.

 

Angela Tuell  19:59

He was sure did you have Kountry Kitchen in Indianapolis?

 

Raven McMillan  20:04

No, but I’ll have to add that one.

 

Angela Tuell  20:05

Ok – You have to add that one. That’s a great one. They actually had a fire not too long ago, which is really sad in the rebuilding, even though they’re temporarily out of another building. But when President Obama visited Indianapolis, that was his first place to dine. So I’d love to talk a little bit about publicists, and we’ve done so a little bit already. But since you were one and you can relate, you know, what tips do you have for publicists when working with you? And any pet peeves?

 

Raven McMillan  20:34

Oh, my gosh, so many. No pet peeves. I do have some of those too. You know, because I, because I was a publicist for so many years, I have a lot of empathy, for the work. And I know how hard it is, I know what a struggle it can be, you know, pitching clients and pitching stories that sometimes you really don’t want to pitch but… So I always try to be very mindful of that, you know, when I first started freelancing, and at Domino, I told myself, I’m going to answer every PR email, like a yes or no, because I know how much it means to them to hear back from a journalist. And I swear, I really do try.

 

Angela Tuell  21:24

I’m sure. Oh.

 

Raven McMillan  21:27

But it gets so hard to manage the inbox. So what I will say, my number one piece of advice for publicists is to pitch, pitch me a story. Don’t just pitch a product or a place. You know, like, press releases are great. And I do actually keep those on file and I will refer to them when I’m writing a piece. But um, chances are, I’m probably not going to write a story from a press release like a blast. The number one thing that is so helpful for me to even open an email is to pitch me a headline, like putting a headline in this subject. So that I know right off the bat, what is the angle? Because that’s what I have to bring to my team. That’s what I have to bring to my editors. So if you can cut out the steps of, you know, me thinking about this, and like, oh, well, I like that idea. But let me think about the angle. And let me think about how it makes sense for Domino. And I love to do that. But and you know, being realistic, I just don’t have time for every single email that I get. So that’s the way to really cut through the inbox and get my attention is like pitch me a headline, pitch me a story. It can be a couple of sentences, and then we can figure out the rest.

 

Angela Tuell  22:52

That’s great advice. I love that. What about pet peeves?

 

Raven McMillan  22:56

Oh, gosh, pet peeves. You know, this one’s kind of silly. But it’s something that just came up and a couple of us on the team, were actually talking about this. And when the publicist sends me a link of images, maybe it’s like for a product collection, and not like there’s no selects, but there’s like a different folder for each product. And then in that folder, another folder of all the other different angles,

 

Angela Tuell  23:25

Like having to go through hundreds of photos. Like, oh, wow.

 

Raven McMillan  23:30

I wish I really wish I had the time. But I just don’t have time to be clicking through folder after folder after folder after folder. Like, give me the role straight off the bat.

 

Angela Tuell  23:42

Yeah. And as a publicist, you want to select the best photos to be used, you don’t necessarily want to have to just pick whatever is easiest or, you know, quick there. And it might not be the ones that the brand was thinking.

 

Raven McMillan  23:55

Exactly. And actually, that also ties into another tip to put images in the pitch. Mm-hmm. Like, like a screenshot like that. I can open an email and immediately see, you know, a little teaser of what you’re talking about. Yeah, that’s super helpful.

 

Angela Tuell  24:14

You don’t have those go to spam, or you haven’t noticed that?

 

Raven McMillan  24:17

I haven’t noticed it. And I did check my spam all the time. And it really is just like spam in there. Yeah, yeah. Good. Yeah. So I know sometimes like if you send images as attachments, it can clog up the spam folders. But, you know, if you just put like a very like low res screenshot, the email game changer, like if I can see it, immediately. I’m like, Ooh, interesting. Now I want to read more.

 

Angela Tuell  24:46

Yeah, great tips. I love that.

 

Raven McMillan  24:49

Especially for Domino, because it really is such an image-driven publication. Right? Yeah. It’s all about aesthetics. Everything has to look good. So…

 

Angela Tuell  25:00

Yeah, I also saw that you have a certification from Pratt in user experience user interface. I must admit, I’m not familiar. So what does that mean exactly? And how does it apply to your work?

 

Raven McMillan  25:13

Yeah, so, so that’s something that I did, I was actually still working in PR, when I got that certification kind of thing that I also was kind of thinking about as either a side hustle or a supplement to my work. And essentially user experience and the user interface is, is just the way that we as individuals, as consumers, specifically interact with all of the digital devices, you know, that we have. It’s the way we navigate through a website, it’s how we intuitively know, you know which buttons to tap the type of language that you might use, you know, to get people to take action and like and buttons on a website, or in a platform that you’re using, and the design and the visual part of it too, you know, different colors that are attractive color combinations, typefaces, all of the things that just make it easier for you to interact with all of the digital stimuli that we’re getting all day. And so that was just something that I took interest in, personally, also. And it was something that I did actually practice in my pandemic pivot. And in between finding my groove as a freelancer, I was helping too, I was helping brands, you know, create websites, create copy and content that would really resonate with their audiences. And so even though that’s something that I’m not really doing anymore, it is something that I think about, you know, in the way that I might format a story, or think about how people might receive a pitch or what their needs are. It kind of touches on all of those aspects of, you know, the visual, the copy – everything.

 

Angela Tuell  27:09

Yeah, that’s fascinating and useful, like you had said, and in any type of communication, journalism, PR, marketing type role, and where our world is. So before we go, I have to tell you, I was laughing out loud when I read more about your personal interest. And one was self-soothing by creating spreadsheets of whatever you deem unorganized in your life, aka classic Virgo. I’m a Virgo as well so I feel you. What’s the most ridiculous spreadsheet you’ve created?

 

Raven McMillan  27:44

Oh my God, there are so many I literally made a spreadsheet or an itinerary for everything. I do it for every person that I have visiting me. I have itineraries for them. I have – it’s not spreadsheets, but I have been known to create mood boards when I’m packing for a trip so that I can see all my outfits digitally. That might be the craziest.

 

Angela Tuell  28:09

That’s great. I’ve taken photos to use.

 

Raven McMillan  28:12

Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot. I definitely always have a spreadsheet of my budget that I update every year. Yeah, I love a spreadsheet.

 

Angela Tuell  28:24

My notes in my phone – the notes app – is so many that it barely works. Like it doesn’t much because there’s so many lists of things.

 

Raven McMillan  28:34

So many lists. Oh, and probably one of the funniest lists I’ve made, and when I tell people they do think I’m crazy, is I put together a list of all the shows that I am in the process of watching and I have it, I have it set of emojis for what like what season I’m in, reality show or like a drama series, platform it’s streaming off. I go crazy with the lists.

 

Angela Tuell  29:06

Yeah, can I tell you that I have the same one? It’s not as organized as I would like, but I will forget if I don’t have it written down. Or you know when a season’s done, and it’s going to be a year or two before another one.

 

Raven McMillan  29:19

Yeah. Oh, yeah. I put the dates in there. Like when it’s supposed to come back.

 

Angela Tuell  29:25

it sounds like we’re very similar.

 

Raven McMillan  29:28

Yes, yes. When is your birthday?

 

Angela Tuell  29:31

September 16.

 

Raven McMillan  29:32

Oh my gosh, I’m September 7.

 

Angela Tuell  29:34

Oh, okay. Really close.

 

Raven McMillan  29:38

Oh, that’s too funny.

 

Angela Tuell  29:39

I love it. So how can listeners connect with you online?

 

Raven McMillan  29:44

Our the best place to find me really is on Instagram @RavenBriana. I really have tried to keep up with like Twitter and all the other thing and just doesn’t happen. But I do love Instagram. I’m always on there. I’m not posting as much as I want to be. I’m hoping to change that that soon because I have some ideas of some fun stuff I want to start sharing, but definitely Instagram and if people want to pitch me or reach out or just say hi, my email is on there like I’m an open book, my page is public.

 

Angela Tuell  30:20

Perfect.

 

Raven McMillan  30:21

Yeah. So I love people to reach out.

 

Angela Tuell  30:23

Thank you.

 

Raven McMillan  30:24

Thank you.

 

Angela Tuell  30:27

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at Communications Redefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.