Young Leader Spotlight: Sam Oches, ‘QSR’ magazine

If the digital disruption in media has made one thing clear, it’s that long-standing rules and roles are changing fast. No longer does a staff member simply report, or edit, or design, or manage the website. It’s all hands on deck, as ever-shrinking mastheads take on more work across a growing number of platforms.

One group that often exemplifies this shift is recent graduates of journalism and communications programs, many of whom arrive on B2B staffs brandishing a cross-fluency in design, editing, publishing, reporting, and social media. In a word, they’re young. And often, that’s the extent to which they are described. But the new class of B2B leaders brings more than a youthful optimism to their work, with a versatile portfolio of skills helping them rise higher in the ranks sooner than they used to.

In this series, we will let them tell their stories to help us better understand how they view their roles in the industry, the diversity of their work, the skills they find important in new hires, and what kind of a future they see for B2B.

First up: Sam Oches, 27, editor of QSR magazine in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Sam Oches
Sam Oches

Oches came to QSR in 2009 as an associate editor after receiving his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. The Athens, Ohio, native now works from the magazine’s office in Chapel Hill, managing one other full-time staffer and a team of up to 20 freelancers nationwide. When he’s not in the office, Oches is traveling the country to cover the quick-service food industry. He was also one of ASBPE’s 2014 Young Leaders Scholars.

You entered journalism school in 2005 and graduated in 2009. How did the events reshaping the media landscape during that time impact your career goals?

I went to college at a transitional period in journalism. Social media and online video were still fledgling and tablets didn’t yet exist, but everyone recognized the impending digital revolution. I got some training in video, multimedia, and design, but it is already pretty outdated; my professors were learning as I was. I wanted to be a writer in the magazine field and I don’t feel like the media landscape between 2005 and 2009 had much of an impact on that, aside from recalibrating my idea of how big the publishing world was and where in that world I could fit.

How did you come to work for QSR magazine? And describe your current job.

My college adviser recommended I take a class on B2B magazines, and from there I learned that I actually enjoyed writing about business and that there was a wealth of opportunity in the field. From that class, I was connected with a summer internship at “Building Design + Construction.” I graduated at the height of the recession. I knew the job hunt would be tough, so I applied for a range of journalism jobs all over the country. But one stuck out: QSR magazine. The quick-service restaurant industry was one that I knew well as a consumer and was interested in. I started one week after graduation.

Since our team is small, I have my hand in everything but sales. One of my primary jobs is to be an expert in the field. I’m often called upon to offer perspective for consumer news sources, like USA Today and CNBC, and I also do some speaking at events. I travel about once a month, either to restaurant-industry conferences or on media tours for industry players.

What has been the biggest challenge in learning the ropes of the food industry, and what steps have you taken to learn?

Understanding the everyday challenges of quick-service restaurant operators. Having never worked in a fast-food restaurant, it took a long time for me to learn the intricacies of the supply chain. The farm-to-fork process, especially at large-scale operations, is far more complicated than a customer could ever imagine. The National Restaurant Association Show, held annually in Chicago, has been a great event to learn more about the industry. I’m also president of the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC), an organization for foodservice editors and publicists. Through IFEC, I’ve been able to get more plugged into the food world and be a bigger part of the conversation over where the restaurant industry is heading.

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love talking with the owners and executives of emerging quick-service restaurant brands. They’re so passionate about what they do and have invested all of their time and money into serving their communities. “Fast food” has become something of a dirty word in our country, but when you work with people in the industry, especially at small chains or mom-and-pop shops, you realize that they want the best for their customers and are committed to serving a great product and experience, as well as improving their community.

What advice would you give to today’s J-school students who want to work in media?

My first piece of advice is to never discount great writing. When I hire new employees and freelancers, I’m looking for someone who knows their way around a great story. This includes copyediting knowledge. My second piece of advice is to stop reading [sites like] BuzzFeed (with the exception of their long-form stuff). Too many journalists have willingly succumbed to the era of hyperbole-happy, listicle “reporting.” I understand the pressure to get readers to click, but trust in your ability to find a story, report on it honestly, and tell it in a compelling fashion. Call me naive, but I think the journalism world will always have room for those stories. Finally, keep an open mind when it comes to careers in journalism. When I was a freshman in college, it seemed that my peers and I all wanted to write for high-profile magazines. While it’s perfectly fine to aspire to those jobs, you don’t want to miss all of the great opportunities that might not seem sexy but that offer enjoyable work. The B2B space is a good example of this.

We’re looking for more young leaders to share their stories. Know of one? Tell us through our contact form.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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