“The sky’s the limit”: Vanessa Lawrence on the launch of Refinery29


• “More than anything we want Refinery29 to feel really diverse and feel really different.”

In March this year, Pedestrian Group announced the inking of a multi-year deal with Vice Media Group. Part of the partnership was the announcement that Pedestrian Group would oversee the launch of a new platform focussing on the voices of women: Refinery29 Australia.

Mediaweek spoke to Pedestrian Group publisher, Vanessa Lawrence, about choosing the launch team, what Refinery29 will bring to the market, and her hopes for the publication.

Finding the Team

The launch team for Refinery29 was announced this month, with Zahra Campbell-Avenell leading the team as head of editorial. She will be joined by Kate McGregor as managing editor, Alicia Vrajlal as culture editor, Pema Bakshi as style & living editor, and Maggie Zhou as writer & producer.

Lawrence says that finding the team was a huge job.

“This process was unlike any that I’ve been involved with before from a recruitment perspective, in that we had such a sheer volume of interest before we even put the job ads up. As soon as it was announced that we were bringing Refinery29 to Australia, my LinkedIn was flooded with messages, our company page was flooded with messages. I had probably 80 or 90 emails to go through, and that was before we even sent anything live. 

“So we sent the job ads live and then had an influx of applications from an incredibly diverse group of women in media who were just as excited as we are that the brand is coming. We trawled through those, worked up a shortlist – as you can imagine it was a very long shortlist. I think we did about 45 interviews and many, many writing tasks before we landed on the five incredible women we’ve announced.”

After all the searching, Lawrence says that the team the publication has ended up with is incredibly strong.

“More than anything we want Refinery29 to feel really diverse and feel really different. To do that you need a team that has a variety of different lived experiences and can look at the world in different ways. I think that’s the great balance we’ve struck with the team that we’ve hired, it will bring something really special and different to the table.”

Refinery29 Staff

L to R; Pema Bakshi, Vanessa Lawrence, Kate McGregor, Alicia Vrajlal, Zahra Campbell-Avenell, Maggie Zhou

Filling the Market Gap

Lawrence says that Refinery29 will fill a gap in the current Australian media market.

“What’s been really clear through discussions that we’ve been having is that there’s really nothing like Refinery29 in Australia at the moment. That’s where our opportunity really lies. We feel like there couldn’t be a better time for Australian women to hear and tell their own stories, and there are so many overdue conversations that can be had that we really want to platform on Refinery29

“When we’ve been sending out pitching guidelines to the many contributors who have been interested in writing for Refinery29, we’ve been saying ‘pitch us things that wouldn’t have found a home anywhere else’. They’re the stories we’re really interested in seeing live on Refinery29 Australia.”

Launching in 2021

With women’s stories bursting through in the zeitgeist, Lawrence says that Refinery29 will be a welcome addition to the Australian media landscape.

“Timing is everything and Australia is really ready for a brand like Refinery29 that pulls no punches, that is more than happy to call out bullshit, taking those taboo topics from niche to norm. That no-holds-barred approach to content is right at the heart of everything Refinery29 is all about. I think that’s what’s missing and why there’s so much excitement around a brand like Refinery29 launching right now in Australia.”

Even before the brand has officially launched however, Lawrence says that there has been positive feedback.

“What’s been really nice is that right throughout the recruitment process, people have said ‘even if I don’t get this job, even if I don’t write for the site, I’m just so excited that the Australian media landscape is getting a brand like Refinery29’.

“That’s what we’re really striving to achieve with this launch, is to live up to those really high expectations.”

Hopes for Refinery29

Looking forward, Lawrence says that as long as Refinery29 is telling women’s stories, they’ll be on the right track.

“For us, the measurement of success is going to be whether we’re succeeding in platforming women’s voices – and those stories that might not be easy to read, and they might not be easy to come by, but we’ll be doing our jobs well if we’re making space for them. For me, success looks like us doing something very different. It might not be for everyone but it will be really special to a subset of people.

“We just see such a huge opportunity because Refinery29 is pulling in 720,000 Australian uniques every month, and that’s without a team behind it. We know the demand for this type of content is there and to be able to put five women as talented as Zahra, Kate,  Alicia, Pema, and Maggie behind the brand, the sky’s the limit for us in terms of where we can take it and how many people we can reach.”

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