The opportunity for FIPP is immense, but it has to adapt and evolve to fully deliver in its promise to members, says James. This means listening, building on the trust the members have in the organisation and delivering products and services across the range of activities media businesses are engaged in today, “enabling them to do each of these better than they do now”.
Building better businesses will be a central tenet in everything FIPP does. “I looked back at the original articles of association for FIPP and there’s an incredibly powerful phrase in there. It says: ‘The Federation is established so that its members can… build better media businesses’. I think that’s the fundamental question FIPP needs to ask itself in everything it does: Are we helping our members to build better businesses?”
James formally starts as CEO on 1 September, but is already deeply involved in the business, meeting and planning with the FIPP team, talking to members, and preparing for the 41st FIPP World Congress in London, FIPP’s flagship event and his first as FIPP CEO.
***Book now your place at the FIPP World Congress, taking place on 9-11 October in London***
Below, he offers an honest appraisal of where FIPP is today, and where he wants to take it next. He takes a pragmatic view on challenges facing the industry, but counters it with an optimistic view of the future. And he explains how, by bringing different players in media together, FIPP will unlock “fantastic and dynamic opportunities” for its members.
1. Tell us a little about yourself…
Well, professionally I did a short stint in the banking industry before realising it wasn’t for me. I was then lucky enough to get a job at the BBC and ended up staying for 12 years. During that time, I did a bit of everything but I guess the things that stand out the most are launching olive magazine, building up their international publishing business and being part of the project team that sold BBC Magazines to private equity.
For seven years, I travelled the world doing licensing deals for BBC Magazines’ portfolio overseas. BBC Top Gear was the biggest success and in the end, we managed to get it into something like 30 countries worldwide. Then in 2011 the BBC sold off its publishing business to private equity and I was part of the project team, helping to define the post-transaction relationship with the BBC. The company that emerged from this is Immediate Media, now owned by Burda and I’m incredibly lucky that so many of the talented people I worked with there are still around for me to interact with in my new role at FIPP.
At home, we try to do as much stuff together as a family as we can. I do manage to sneak in the odd game of golf and I’ve also just started to teach myself how to draw properly. I’m a bit of a movie nut too, particularly spaghetti westerns.
2. You are currently on the FIPP management board. When did your path first cross with FIPP? And from your vantage point, what has changed in the industry and FIPP over the years?
I think the first time I came across FIPP was in 2004. I had been asked to look at how we might grow Top Gear’s international footprint and somebody put me on to this thing called the Worldwide Magazine Marketplace (WMM). That became an incredibly important event in our calendar, as it was such as great way to meet both current and potential partners.
I think the biggest change in the industry over that time has been the shift in focus from the medium – magazines – to the realisation that our business is and always was the creation and distribution of engaging content. That really lies at the heart now of our members’ strategies and I guess is why licensing is not the force it once was.
I think FIPP has sometimes struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the industry. We’re not alone in that of course, many of our members are in the same boat. But I think what’s really encouraging is that the FIPP team is absolutely bursting with ideas and we want to get cracking with as many of them as we can.
3. What are the three main challenges you see in the industry right now?
I’m lucky in that I’m coming straight out of the industry, so I’m very aware of the challenges faced by our members.
- I’d say that first one is people. Media businesses face an almost unprecedented training and development challenge. Every aspect of our businesses is pivoting towards a multi-platform, brand-centric approach embracing not only content creation and distribution but data collection and management, ecommerce, events and so on. This is a world away from the approach that many of us are used to. All of this requires a high degree of re-skilling and some strategic hiring. Fundamentally, it’s a challenge of delivering cultural change. This is an area where FIPP can do a lot more to reflect our members’ rapidly changing needs.
- Then there’s the power of the platforms, particularly Facebook and Google. Members who have their roots in publishing have had periods where distribution has been concentrated in the hands of a few powerful providers but never to the extent that we see now. Fundamentally these players are motivated by an extremely positive desire to deliver content, product and services driven by extremely detailed customer understanding and rapid improvements in technology. Crucially, they rely on FIPP’s members for much of the content to power this. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us as content providers to engage with the likes of Facebook in a joined-up way, to have meaningful dialogue about our shared opportunities and challenges.
- Finally there’s prioritisation. This is not a new challenge of course but the plethora of opportunities open to media businesses makes investment prioritisation more crucial than ever. We all have limited resources, and management teams need to be able to make an informed call on what to do next. FIPP can really come into its own here by sharing experiences across our industry and ensuring that members learn from one another.
4. And the three biggest opportunities?
- I think the biggest opportunity is that all businesses can now play in the whole of the media space and have just as much a chance of success as anyone else. A great example of that happened just this week, with Time Inc. UK securing its first TV commission, to make a documentary for BBC Three. A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable. A key strength of FIPP has always been our ability to bring together different players in the media industry so that they can do business together. Going forward we need to ensure we dramatically broaden the scope of the networking opportunities we bring to enable more deals like the one above.
- Secondly, I think there’s a big scale opportunity. The global nature of digital media makes it ever easier for media owners to bring their fantastic brands to new markets. Businesses can build a presence in new markets themselves with a relatively small investment. The volume of M&A in the media industry also seems to be increasing, as businesses build scale through acquisition. Here again, FIPP can leverage the power of its membership base and range of contacts to enable member companies to seize these opportunities.
- Finally, I think there are some great opportunities in the start-up and high growth space. Many companies are already operating very successfully in this space but I know it’s on everyone’s radar. Investing in start-ups can bring a host of benefits to a company, not all of them purely financial. I would like to see FIPP playing a very active role in helping our members connect with start-ups and high growth companies. You can expect to see more activity in this area quite soon.
5. You know FIPP and its network intimately. What do you see as the most important pillars of the relationship between FIPP and its members?
I think we are fundamentally an organisation that relies on trust, listening and enabling.
As an industry organisation, FIPP is in a unique position to understand the issues being faced by its members. Often we will be privy to confidential or sensitive information, as we help our members overcome challenges they’re facing. Members can trust FIPP not only to keep these confidences, but also to use the aggregate picture we build up of the industry to deliver products and services that enable our members to meet these challenges.
Listening is also incredibly important. Our members’ businesses are changing quickly and we need to change with them. We need to understand their challenges and build an organisation that helps address them. We can only do that by listening and I want to spend a big part of the next few months engaging with as many members as possible.
The payoff from being trusted and from listening to our members is to enable them to improve their businesses. I looked back at the original articles of association for FIPP and there’s an incredibly powerful phrase in there. It says: “The Federation is established so that its members can… build better media businesses”. I think that’s the fundamental question FIPP needs to ask itself in everything it does: Are we helping our members to build better businesses?
6. The landscape in which FIPP and its members operate is unrecognisable from even a few years ago. How would you like FIPP to serve current members while bringing new members into the fold – without losing the essence of quality magazine media presents?
The present media environment presents an incredible opportunity for FIPP. We are fundamentally an organisation for content creators and the range of businesses engaged in this activity has never been larger.
I want FIPP to do two things.
- Firstly to deliver products and services that reflect the enormous range of activities that media businesses are now engaged in and enable them to do each of these better than they do now.
- Secondly, I want to dramatically increase the range of members embraced by the organisation, reflecting both the enormously diverse range of relationships enjoyed by our members and the rapidly growing field of content creators in the media market.
In delivering against these objectives, I want us to recognise and embrace our roots as an organisation for publishers and I’d be disappointed if we didn’t have a strong print element running through much of our activity.
7. Like many of our members, FIPP is a transformational path. Give us insight into your thinking on the following for FIPP:
- Print: Well it feels odd for us to be an organisation with roots in the print world but with only one print product, the Innovation World Report. This is definitely an area we will take another look at and while we probably won’t revive Magazine World in quite the same form, I’d very keen to explore new print opportunities.
- Digital: Digital is rapidly becoming the lifeblood of our members’ businesses and FIPP has to reflect this. Frankly whilst we’ve been creating some great content our overall digital presence leaves a lot to be desired. Addressing this is a key early priority.
- Events, tours and awards: Events have always been an extremely successful and popular activity for FIPP. However I think the nature of these will start to change based on new economic realities. While the World Congress, the Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS) and FIPP Asia-Pacific will remain the jewels in our crown, I would like us to explore more regular, smaller events that bring the best of FIPP to members across the globe. The prospect of FIPP Awards has long been an opportunity I’ve wanted the organisation to grasp. The format and concept require some thought but this is also definitely on the to-do list.
- Other thoughts? Lots! But I don’t think we have the room here to cover it all so just watch this space!
8. The 41st FIPP World Congress, 9-11 October in London, will be your first as FIPP CEO. But as someone who has attended several FIPP Congresses, as well as other FIPP and media events around the world, what are you looking forward to at Congress 2017? And – plug time – why should others attend?
- The Congress has always been about networking and the opportunity to hear from fantastic speakers and London 2017 will be no exception. The world’s media industry will be gathered at Tobacco Dock and there will be loads of opportunities to both catch up with old friends and make that new one that delivers a crucial advantage to your business.
- The speaker line-up (see the preliminary agenda)is also really exceptional this year with the opportunity to hear from some of the biggest and most successful brands in the industry.
- I’m also really looking forward to using the Congress as the starting point for our journey to transform FIPP. The opportunity to directly engage with members and listen to their needs and understand their challenges is an opportunity not to be missed.
- If you want to gain that crucial advantage for your business, either as a result of something you hear or someone you meet, then you have to attend the FIPP World Congress. It’s your chance to rub shoulders with the biggest players in our industry. And if you book before the end of July, you can get all this for a fantastic Early Bird rate too!
***The 41st FIPP World Congress takes place from 9-11 October in London***
9. What is the very first thing you will do on your first formal day as FIPP CEO?
Well I’ve already started really! There have already been some fantastic early discussions with both the FIPP team and a few of our members. I really want to hit the ground running so the first day will be a continuation of the work we’ve already begun.
In terms of specifics, I want to start the process of speaking to each of our members individually and we’ve got an early decision to make on where we hold the 2019 World Congress.
10. Final thoughts?
Two things. Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by the opportunity to lead this fantastic organisation. I’m really looking forward to moving it on to the next level.
Lastly, I think the opportunity for FIPP has never been greater. Everyone is a media player now, from Marriott Hotels to Red Bull to the local telecoms operator. But our members have been doing it for longer than anyone else and better than anyone else. Bringing these worlds together, with all the fantastic, dynamic opportunities that will result, is an incredibly exciting prospect!
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