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When opposites are ‘brilliantly successful’ in publishing

Seemingly opposite goals and values within the publishing industry are compatible and when brought together can be brilliantly successful. This was the message from the CEO of Dennis Publishing and Chairman of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA), James Tye, speaking at the 41st FIPP World Congress in London.

 

James Tye ()

 

James Tye became CEO of Dennis in 2006 and in this time has transformed the company from a traditional print publishing company to a dynamic multi platform media company. During one of the opening sessions at the 41st FIPP World COngress he was setting out a leadership blueprint for successful future publishing companies.

Tye likened the challenges faced by publishers to the recent discovery in 2015 by quantum physicists that light exist both as waves and as particles. “I think this has a very strong parallel of how to run a media company. We need a quantum approach and strategy in media… Many of you who who operate print and digital businesses at the same time find it quite challenging.”

Yet, seemingly, opposite goals, like a print and digital businesses, or an innovative approach while still remaining cost effective, can be brilliantly successful when combined properly. He referenced a recent exercise at Dennis where they asked staff to share their understanding of the current cultural values at the company who today produce multi-award winning brands across various publishing platforms. From the feedback they found that these values include efficiency in producing products while there is also a belief in innovation at the very same time. Similarly, employees believe long term goals can be combined with short term agility, a professional approach can be compatible with having fun, and a collaborative focus can be compatible with individual boldness. To Tye this embodies the quantum approach to running a modern media company.

But companies who wants to embrace this approach needs the right leadership, he warned. “We all hear businesses need to change and innovate. But the question is how much do we actually change ourselves?”

To achieve this, Tye said, publishing bosses need to ask themselves how much time they spend ON the business, rather than IN the business. This means that leaders need to take time to understand their industry and learn about the industry - such as attending the FIPP Congress. “You need to reflect on you business.”

Good media leaders also need to build diversity into their network. “It’s easy to speak to the same people all the time… Take the time to diversify your network, speak to others outside of your comfort zone.”

Most importantly, said Tye, you have to be prepared to abandon practices that worked in the past but won’t work necessarily in the future. “You need to abandon familiar practices to be able to change.” This means leaders need to invest in themselves in order to facilitate change. 

Tye emphasised how important it was for him to personally develop leadership readiness by referencing his attendance of the previous London FIPP Congress back in 2009. The world was at the height of the global financial recession and at the time the chairman of Dennis Publishing, Felix Dennis, said this difficult time was presenting some of the “greatest opportunities in the history of our industry”.

“I was almost three years into my new job (as CEO of Dennis). The speakers at that congress were making various interesting points. I decided to embrace not just one but lots of them because in today’s media industry you need not only do one thing amazingly right but lots of them well.”

Tye said his overarching theme is that opportunities should be grasped. As example he shared Dennis’s company’s turnover graph, which illustrates how the company’s turnover increasing rapidly since 2009, now edging towards £105 million - double what was achieved in 2009. “Turnover growth is important. It creates opportunity for the company and its people, and it even creates opportunities in areas you never knew existed.”

Looking at income streams, Tye said print and digital advertising has remained strong and while digital advertising is growing strongly, “print is still still a very important part of our business.” On top of this print subscriptions has also grown. “Subscriptions is good business for us. It’s predictable, we get the cash up front and we build a direct relationship with our customers.” Ecommerce, Tye said, has also grown substantially during the last three years. 

Growth and innovation, he warned, goes hand in hand. At Dennis they have launched 7 new brands since 2009. “The speed of change and the requirement for innovation is key. But innovation does not only mean the launch of new products. Innovation means a whole load of different things. It can be producing a magazine more efficiently, investing in technology to make us more productive, doing things in a different way.”

As far as launching new products is concerned, Tye said publishers only needs to answer two questions:

  • Is there a gap in this tsunami of media information for new content? And
  • What is the business plan? 

Too many times, Tye said, publishers concern themselves with issues such as building platforms, looking at investment requirements and developing talent to work on the product. Yet, by answering the first question you first need to understand if the product should be brought into existence and by answering the second question you will know how you will make money from it, whether that  be e-commerce (a fast growing market, he says) or other forms of monetisation. 

“It’s quite simple from there onwards. Just get on with it.”

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