He spoke to FIPP contributor Jon Watkins ahead of next week’s FIPP World Congress, taking place in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October.
Tell us what first drew you in to working in the media industry…
The first job I ever had was with an industrial refrigeration company. So media looked attractive from what I was doing before, which was wearing overalls and welding! But the appeal beyond that was that the media is an area where you can feel very passionate about the subject matter. So in the early days, that was with EMAP, being passionate about football on Match, and about music on Smash Hits. That was the thing that really attracted me to the media. I’d done a Diploma in Marketing, so working on how to improve marketing and how to reach consumers was very attractive to me. Those things married together and that’s how I came into it.
Where has career taken you since?
Prior to taking up my role at Time Inc., I worked at Associated Newspapers as managing director of The Mail on Sunday and deputy managing director of the Daily Mail before taking up the role of commercial managing director, DMG Media, publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Mail online and Metro.
I worked at Emap for 16 years and in that time was the group managing director of Emap Lifestyle Magazines and Emap Advertising. I also ran Emap’s Australian and US businesses. Before Emap, I worked in advertising as a group account director at McCann Erickson and ran Optimus Communications.
What is it that sets Time Inc. UK apart from its rivals and how have you shaped your strategy?
You’ve heard the saying that you could leave your strategy paper on the plane and it wouldn’t give a competitor an advantage – and I think that all of us in the traditional magazine market are suffering from the same challenge: print is robust but in decline.
But actually, the fascinating thing is that, when you look at the data, our content and our audiences have actually never been bigger. Therefore, it becomes about execution – at Time Inc. We are not a magazine company, we’re a content company. If you believe that you can deliver better content than your competitors to a more passionate audience, because they believe and trust in your brand more, and then have the complementary skills to build new businesses from that delivery of content on to new platforms, then that’s how you win.
How does the power and value of your iconic brands help this?
I think there have been proven cases that in times of recession or tricky times, people return to brands they trust. We have four brands that were launched in the 1800s. We must never forget the level of brand equity associated with products that, over time, have represented their audiences and the challenges in their market, and often fought on behalf of their consumers to alter legislation or change practices. That brand equity runs deep and for a long time. And I think the killer word there is trust – trust and reputation.
With those brands, at certain points in time, the consumer just believes in the content. They realise that brand understands the market and understands the consumer better than other brands.
Can you share some examples of how you are evolving your brands from print only to other platforms?
I’ll give you three. One is the evolution of NME, which has now gone to a freemium model. The reality is that was an extension of our strategy whereby we have been building and growing our global audience size based on free content through desktop and mobile, and now reach a bigger millennial music audience than ever in its history.
The second example is the acquisition of UKCE, which is the UK’s largest organiser of cycling events. That acquisition starts to move the contact points that we have from a consumer who reads Cycling Weekly to a consumer who now participates in the sport. And that very rich data starts to tell us a lot more about what people want to do next, what their behaviour is, and how they’re spending their other disposable income in the vertical.
Woman’s Weekly Live, which is a significant craft event we are generating more consumer touch points and more consumer revenue. And then we have Equo. Equo is in the equestrian industry, where you’ve got a multitude of disciplines, from dressage to show jumping to eventing and more. In that area, you’ve got a very traditional method for entry – you send your entry off through the post.
Equo is a digital data entry system that will streamline the process and make it easier for both the organiser and the participant. That delivers another contact point with the consumer and, again, more rich data about what that consumer is looking for and will do next.
How is this evolution affecting the business – in terms of how you set yourselves up and how it fits with the rebranding as Time Inc.UK?
Well, when we were a single-platform business, you had a pretty well proven business model. If you launched and you were successful, you were in growth. If you launched and you weren’t successful, you were in decline.
Now, you’re looking at very different business models. Quite often you’re creating – you’re taking latent demand or unarticulated demand from the consumer and building products that reflect that demand.
But they’re different business models and you’re marrying different skillsets. A very good example again is Horse & Hound, which doesn’t have an editor, but a content director. That person’s job is to oversee the hierarchy of the story – the appropriate placement of that story on the appropriate platform, to get the maximum return from it.
So your challenges are blending new skills and introducing training around different skills that run in addition to traditional words and pictures, particularly as you start to migrate into video and audio. And then with your advertising teams, it’s a lot more about being able to show the power across platform selling – that you can follow and manage an audience at the appropriate time on different platforms. It’s about being more of a consultant to the advertiser, showing them how to get a better return on investment, rather than singularly just talking about print.
What role is data playing in that? I sense that many businesses are struggling with understanding what data can do for them and how it can inform decision-making. How does Time Inc.UK approach this?
Well, I think data is fantastically important but I would say that the quality of data is paramount.
For example, vast amounts of cookie data on trends is interesting but it’s not as interesting as having a deep, meaningful dialogue with a passionate member of your audience who subscribes to your product, goes to your event, buys from you.
I also think that data alone is only one part of the story. The other bit is your ability to add insight and, of course, as content providers, we’re fantastically well advanced in that – because the people who participate in writing our content are a) the best at it, and b) passionate and knowledgeable about their interest areas.
What really excites you about the future of the business?
There’s a clear migration, in my mind, towards quality content. I think we have a huge advantage in that not only do we deliver quality content, but also we deliver it in context. If you’re doing fashion and beauty advertising in the context of fashion and beauty editorial, your audience is more receptive.
We’re starting to see that if the customer believes and trusts in the brand, then the brand can travel to other places building adjacent business models.
So actually I’m hugely confident that in the world of pure numbers, the real breakthrough is being very passionate about outstanding content, that really engages and delivers a sustainable return on investment for our advertising partners.
And what excites you about your forthcoming participation in the FIPP World Congress?
The first thing is that it allows you to pick up on trends beyond the borders of your own country. It also allows you to monitor and look for best-in-class solutions. And it allows you to pick up proof points from other marketplaces. Finally, events such as this stimulate you enormously because you are around people who have the same hunger, desire and passion to move the business forward.
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