No one loves Memphis more than Holly Whitfield. In fact, she says those three little words about our great city every day! Since fall 2013, Holly has been serving as the I Love Memphis blogger and social media strategist for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB lured this talented University of Memphis graduate away from her position as editorial director of niche publications at the Commercial Appeal. Welcome, Holly, today’s StyleBlueprint FACE of Memphis!
Have you always called Memphis home?
I’m originally from Hattiesburg, MS, but I’ve lived here for more than eight years.
Your short-term goal is to bring Memphis breaking news from all corners of the Mid-South, every day. What are a few of your long-term goals for the I Love Memphis blog?
I want to make sure that I Love Memphis can be sustainable long-term. I think people assumed that I Love Memphis was built around Kerry (Kerry Crawford, former editor of I Love Memphis and SB FACE of Memphis in 2012) and that it would live and die with her involvement. Now I hope they’re beginning to see that that’s not the case, because this blog is about the readers, not about one person’s opinion.
Specifically, this means attracting a broader audience through a wider range of topics, having more guest posts (I have about one a week right now) and representing more diverse people and places in Memphis. That also means finding a way to fund I Love Memphis (right now it makes no money directly) that will not affect the quality of the content. I believe that we can still maintain the feel of a personal blog while doing all these things. I don’t take my task lightly; it’s important to me to make I Love Memphis the best blog in Memphis while honoring its founder and its readers.
What are the benchmark experiences that led you to a digital publishing career?
The first experience was when I’d quit architecture school to study writing and art, and I wasn’t sure how it could lead to a career. It seemed more like a dream than a reality. I took a summer session at U of M with author Richard Bausch. He read on of my assignments to the class and said it was “damn good.” I think I’m still riding on that burst of confidence years later, and the idea that yes, I can write words that people will read and find value in.
Next was probably the overall experience of working in print media. I love magazines and books, and I always will, but there was a point as a magazine editor that I felt like I was being held back by not having the resources to build an online presence. It was so frustrating seeing all that I could do online to be a part of the dialogue (about anything, whatever topic) but not being able to. I love being able to use a variety of media, whether it’s social media, websites, traditional media, video — to tell the whole story. We have so many ways to communicate now, and they can all be used for good, fun, productive things. I love being on the positive side of that.
What do you enjoy most about running I Love Memphis?
I have a few things: I love getting to write and publish every day, and I love having the opportunity to share other people’s stories with a large audience. They’re stories that wouldn’t necessarily fit into traditional media and might not get told otherwise. They have a home on the blog. I also love getting to meet people — I’m always surprised and intrigued by what I learn.
What’s a typical checklist for your work day?
I like to wake up early and jump on whatever pressing matter has popped up. Twice a day I set aside some time to answer the steady streams of emails, questions, Tweets, messages and calls. Sometimes it can take me a few days, but I do try to answer everyone. I’ll either write for a few hours, or I’ll go out that day to meet with people, check out a restaurant/shop/location and take lots of photos.
Then I always have a project to work on, like planning the next I Love Memphis podcast with my co-host, Kevin Cerrito, or setting up a trip to meet with NYC bloggers. True story! I’m going in April to try to get them to visit Memphis and write about it. I touch base with my colleagues at the CVB; we help each other with projects and share information that might be relevant to our audiences (mine, local; theirs, visitors).
So what does your typical personal day look like?
When I’m not working, I’ve figured out that I like to spend about 30 percent of that time totally alone, usually on reading, personal writing or home projects, and the other 70 percent of the time you’ll find me out and about with friends, watching or attending a Grizzlies game, having a few drinks, going to a show or whatever big event is going on.
I enjoy a lot of the things that I need to attend for work (festivals, parties, shows, interviewing people), so that’s not much different than my life pre-I Love Memphis.
As for when I get to be “Holly” — a lot of people asked me that when I first started this job. I actually get to be Holly almost all of the time. I don’t feel a pressure to “be I Love Memphis” because I think my love for this city is evident in everything I do and say, so it happens naturally.
You have a huge and diverse audience. Who do you think about when you’re writing for them?
I get thousands of visitors to the site every week. Most of them are Memphians, but a few are visitors or former Memphians who want to keep up with home. I try to write things that I would want to read. I think of the reader as a friend who is a lot like me — curious, eager for more practical information and less fluff, but also open-minded with a sense of humor.
What are some words of wisdom you can offer based on your professional experience?
Don’t have “impostor syndrome.” Don’t think, “What if people find out that I don’t really know what I’m doing?” The truth is that no one has a perfect map of what they should do with their career; everyone is making it up as they go along and then using their skills and work ethic to fill in the rest. This is especially important for young women. Ladies, let’s look at what we’ve accomplished, at what we’ve earned, and let’s own it.
What beauty product are you never without?
I wear good sunscreen on my face and neck every day. It’s not glamorous, but it does a lot of good!
What’s new in your Summer 2014 wardrobe?
I just bought a flowy hot pink and white dress from the Henny Penny Mobile Boutique because my friends said it was time to put the dark jeans and black tops away. (They were right.) A few months ago, I bought a pair of black Seychelles strappy wedge sandals that I’m dying to wear if the weather will ever cooperate! (My new shoes: Seychelles on Zappos)
What’s your favorite travel destination?
Last summer I went on a solo trip to California’s Central Coast. I stayed in Carmel, which is an adorable little town. I sat on the beach and watched the sun set over the Pacific, and I drove through Big Sur on California State Route 1. It’s a little scary driving on winding roads on the side of a cliff, but it was so worth it. The Pacific Coast is something everyone should see if they can.
What three lighthearted things could you not live without?
1. Seychelles shoes. I never understood why people got so into shoes, and then I bought a pair of Seychelles pumps. Their designs are simple but not boring, and fun but not trendy.
2. Central BBQ‘s mac ‘n’ cheese.
3. I feel that saying “my iPhone” is really cliche, but it’s the truth. I couldn’t do my job without it.
What have you most enjoyed reading lately?
Lately I’ve been listening to books on tape on my iPhone. I laughed out loud through the entirety of David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and now I’m listening to Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, a series of essays from her time in California in the ’60s.
Do you have a favorite escape or guilty pleasure?
I like to watch a few TV shows, especially Parks and Recreation. I’ll watch the episodes over and over. “The Telethon” and “The Fight” are my favorite episodes. Leslie Knope is my hero.
Thank you, Holly!
And, thank you to photographer Whitney McNeill. Unless otherwise noted, Whitney took all of the wonderful images today. The setting is Overton Park on one of our first spring days of 2014!