How culture can save publishers
Ask Andrew Moultrie, managing director of consumer products and publishing at BBC Worldwide UK, how he manages to oversee eight different profit and loss spheres of responsibility, each with a multitude of brands, within a publishing environment that’s in a constant and rapid state of change, and he answers without hesitation: “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast!”
To survive in a world of change, argues Moultrie, publishers need to create an employment and management culture that’s creative, restless, while also being nurturing. During his professional journey through brands, sales, creative and general management across a number of industries and countries, he has witnessed first-hand the importance of a future proof culture within change management. “Change management is the tool everyone in leadership really needs to get a grip on. And culture is central to it.”
It’s not always straightforward because most legacy publishers these days have a unique mix of employees: those who have been in the business for a long time with their own set of beliefs, as opposed to a new group of up and coming talent who have no regard for the mechanisms of the past. “Millennials and Gen Z’s want more flexibility, empowerment and purpose. They are not only the future leaders of our business but also often the voice of our current consumers. There are different ways to balance these generational differences. This means nowadays my job is managing talent. It’s the biggest thing, nurturing our culture and developing our people.”
Preventing the talent drain
It’s not only managing people to get the best out of them, warns Moultrie, but “also to challenge our own views that might be old school or unconsciously biased”. Whether these views revolve around flexible working or how to nurture and retain talent, the reality is that legacy publishers are competing with tech companies for similarly skilled people.
Fortunately, at BBC Worldwide, they have been able to build a leadership team that Moultrie describes as “brilliant, honest, genuine, open and supportive, whilst creating a culture that is creative, restless and nurturing. I pride myself on seeing people come into BBC Worldwide and being awestruck by our openness, supportive nature, innovative culture and the pace at which we operate at. When I joined BBC Worldwide five years ago I did not think that possible from a century-old public service broadcaster. How wrong I was.”
That said, preventing a talent drain from legacy publishers remains a challenge that keeps Moultrie “awake at night”. He refers to it as the ‘Pied Piper effect’. “There is no escaping the effect Apple, Facebook and Google have on the youth today. Brands and businesses are going to have to find a way to engage with an employment base who are not driven by material wealth and extrinsic rewards but by experiences, flexibility, autonomy and purpose.”
It is also an area where he, as a FIPP board member, feels the network can play a leading role to remedy. “FIPP can provide a lot of insight and intelligence to help us collectively determine what is the next best path to take for our businesses. In the past, there used to be these walled gardens between businesses. Now we see an aggregation of intelligence because there’s a much bigger battle going on – the battle for business against the FAGMA (Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon).
“FIPP’s role within this is to direct, lead and lobby to ensure the long-term survival of publishing, not only the environment that we operate in but also the integrity of the content that we create. FIPP also has a role to protect the quality of our content so that members don’t get sucked into the ‘selfie-update fake news world’ that has become omnipresent.
Ongoing challenges and changes
“If FIPP stays on the balcony and sees the longer-term challenges and opportunities for the industry, providing us with impartial advice and direction, we can overcome our differences for the greater good of the industries we operate. FIPP can provide the forums to get us talking and ensure we do our collective best to overcome or at the very least prepare for the challenges ahead.
The environment out there continues to create challenges, warns Moultrie. Within his portfolio of businesses two of them, Home Entertainment and Print Publishing, are experiencing a global marketplace that is shrinking. “These are businesses that historically have been cash cows for studios that operated in this space and often covered digital and new tech startup costs.”
Unfortunately, growth in global digital publishing and Electronic Sell-Through (EST) is not filling the revenue gap left by the decline in physical business and it is unlikely that digital growth will make up for print losses in the short term, says Moultrie. “Consumers are still reluctant to spend money on digital ownership and digital ad space costs a lot less than print equivalents.”
On top of this, advertising income and referrals are dominated by Google and Facebook who “regularly tweak the rules of engagement”. This requires constant investment in skilled algorithmic developers, which Moultrie calls ‘code breakers’, and resources to ensure content stays in front of our users. “The big question for us is what does it take to be, and remain, a trusted source of information for consumers, in a world full of digital content, social media noise and agnostic platform access?”
There are upsides. “I think traditional publishers are looking to increase value within their existing subscription base and pivot offerings to digital whilst finding new revenue streams in events and content marketing – all with mixed success. In print, I’m seeing more of a consolidation of the best trusted brands within a category or market place, more mergers and acquisitions on the horizon where historic foes come together to ensure survival against long term declining newsstand sales.
“We also need to get better at how we leverage the growth of technology and the abundance of data to get a deeper and closer understanding of our audiences.” In this regard, Moultrie says a quote by Jan Bayer in a recent FIPP article stands pivotal: “Technology and data are to digital publishing what paper is to print – table stakes.”
This simply means there is room for future growth. “Growth is going to come from any player in the market that can provide their audience base with convenience, pure engagement, personalisation, versatility and natural interactions – when they want them and how they want them. That’s why messaging apps and machine based learning chatbots will explode over the next 12 months. Voice tech will become the norm, like TV’s have, in the medium term and precision content will be the new editorial play informed by data scientists.”
Publishers will have to own their own data and mine it, insists Moultrie, whilst having their leadership teams “truly get uncomfortable, diversify their thought leadership and their approach and speed of problem solving”. Within this environment new digital activity in AR, VR, AI and micro payment mechanisms will be important parts of the future.
“Those brands, products and services that succeed will be those that truly understand their audiences like never before, unpacking each and every interaction with them and adding value for them, time and time again. This is going to require an appetite for data, for risk, to be persistent and patient, to constantly iterate and have the funds and budget to play the long game. Those that get it right should be around in the next decade. Those that choose to ignore it, well….”
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