It’s only two weeks since the EU referendum and media businesses and their employees are still trying to get their heads around what Brexit might mean for the economy, and for the media industry in particular. The economic and political ramifications of the vote are likely to affect us all from years to come, and it’s too early to accurately say what might happen, but in our conversations with business leaders across the media sector a broad picture is starting to build up.
Many people outside the commodities markets may not be aware of Argus Media. It is a 46 year-old business which provides data and content – principally – to the oil and gas markets. It grew fairly steadily until 2000, and then its growth increased exponentially. It now has turnover of over £100m, and operations around the world.
Thanks to the increasing take-up of digital technologies and production cycles that ensure new content and information can be made available on an almost continuous basis, the media market is becoming ever more global – and with that comes a need for senior staff with the experience and drive to lead teams that are often dotted in offices across the globe.
In recent months, it has become apparent that the demand for senior executives with a global outlook is growing. Increasingly, our clients ask us to look for global commercial heads – but when they ask us that, what do they really want? What characteristics to the want to bring into their businesses?
The other week I found myself in a meeting with the CEO of a niche B2B publisher, and a senior member of his digital product team. The CEO had spent much of the previous hour bemoaning his declining print revenues, as well as outlining an advertising-driven attempt to go digital that, it’s fair to say, has experienced some pitfalls.
The digital executive (who was new and therefore not involved in the aforementioned digital transition) then began outlining, very articulately, proposals to create a high-value, subscription-driven online service out of the data published every issue in the back of the magazine. The sort of service that, were they to get it right, would generate millions in recurring, secure subscription revenue every year. His CEO interrupted him by slapping down a page of the magazine, showing an ageing executive in a suit, and declaiming “but most of our audience looks like this”.
From consumer publishers wrestling with whether or not to install paywalls, to information providers struggling to place a value on their output in a crowded marketplace, the one thing media companies seem to get wrong time and again is pricing. Of course every business is different, and there’s no on-size-fits-all solution, but in almost ten years as a headhunter the issue of how and what to charge the customer has seemed to plague the media market.
Paul Mason, the economics editor of Channel 4 News, comes closest to identifying the crux of the problem that faces most media companies in the digital world. In his recent book, PostCapitalism, Mason says that as digital replaces physical media, almost everything is reduced to the same state – that of an information product that can be infinitely distributed and replicated at virtually no cost. Whether you’re talking about an episode of Game of Thrones, the historical worldwide prices of bauxite, or a picture of Kim Kardashian, it doesn’t matter – it’s all information that can be reproduced and shared.
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
It is one of the most derided quotes of all time: simultaneously mocked both for its obviousness and its obscurity, Donald Rumsfeld was trying – ham-fistedly – to explain US foreign policy in Iraq. And we know how well that turned out.
One the key characteristics that singles out a high-quality business information firm is an ability to make good sales and, as such, it’s vital for leading businesses in this sector to hire the best possible global sales leaders – but what makes a good head of sales? What skills, experiences and personality traits should a business information firm be looking for when the time comes to appoint a leader for the sales team?
In recent months, we have been involved in several searches on behalf of clients look for global sales leaders. Over the course of those searches, it has become apparent just what it takes to move into one of these positions. So what are the key skills for sales leaders in the business information sector?
There has been much hand-wringing about the sale of The Financial Times to Japanese media firm Nikkei. But the deal makes a lot of sense and – in many ways – is the least worst option for the newspaper and its associated publishing interests.
The FT Group has, for some time, been an anomaly in Pearson’s portfolio. In the heady days of multi-interest conglomerates – when Pearson also owned Alton Towers and Madam Tussaud’s – there was no reason why the newspaper and a range of magazines could not be incorporated into a portfolio of interests. But in the years under Marjorie Scardino, and more recently under John Fallon, Pearson has become increasingly focused on a singular vision: to become the largest global educational publisher.
Marketing B2B products can be a highly-specialised affair and, as a result, finding senior leaders in the sector can be a challenge. The knowledge required to become an effective senior B2B marketer can take years to develop; this is particularly true in the business information space where, over the past 18 months, many clients have asked us to help find them top-class product marketing leaders.
Having worked on a number of similar projects recently it has become clear to us at Martin Tripp Associates that there’s an identifiable set of skills that are highly desirable at present. So, if you’re thinking of undertaking a process to appoint a senior b2B marketer, or looking to move into a senior product marketing role, it might be worth bearing in mind the five key attributes we have identified when recruiting product marketers for our clients:
As an executive search firm serving the media and information sectors, a large number of recent briefs have focused on hiring people to drive or assist transformational or cultural change within a client organisation.
The majority of our clients have been looking for executives and managers with a proven track record in changing the way teams work and/or think.
For the hiring firm it’s often difficult to know the exact qualities they should look for when hiring new people to bring change to their business. What makes a good manager of change? It can be so different from one business to the next, it’s often difficult to draw up a specific list of requirements. There are, however, a few fundamentals – things to look for – that hiring firms should take into consideration when recruiting for change management.
As an executive search firm which specialises in making senior leadership hires in the media and information sector, we are often asked to find general managers who have a track record in leading international/global teams.
Many of our clients have operations in the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas, as well as in Europe.
Leaders who have experience of managing geographically-disparate and culturally-varied teams are essential if these firms are going to work well and in a cohesive fashion.
When recruiting global team managers, a hiring firm should look for a candidate who has experience in, and insists on, these core competencies:
At the start of 2015 I went back and had a good long look over our recent completed searches. One thing really stood out: over the last four years, the number of product management roles we’d been asked to fill has increased dramatically. Four or five years ago we’d barely been approached to place one product manager, we’re now doing at least four or five every year.
For businesses still struggling with a print-to-digital transition, or even if you’re a well-established online player, product manager is an essential position. Why then, do so many media businesses seem to struggle with the discipline? Why do so many struggle when recruiting product managers?
Change is in the air. Perhaps that’s over-stating it a touch; but a little bit of change is definitely in the air. Here at Tripp Associates, it hasn’t escaped our notice that a pleasing invigoration has worked its way into a certain section of the media and information jobs market.
As the economic picture improves beyond the capital, the number of briefs we’ve received for media jobs from firms located across the UK has steadily risen.
London is a major international centre for media and information businesses and will obviously remain the source for the majority of our briefs, but in recent months we have placed digital, art, and sales directors, web editors and heads of news across the Black Country, the East Midlands and at various spots down to the South Coast.
Last month, I had a surprising conversation with a regular media client. He’s used Martin Tripp Associates extensively over the years, but only to help headhunt content roles. I was amazed that he was unaware we also recruit in other areas – heads of digital, marketers, general management, commercial roles, strategy directors, and so on…
So, being a statistics geek, I thought I would share the following infographics with you. They help visualise what it is we do here. Based on last year’s activity, the first chart shows a breakdown of our assignments for media clients according to the disciplines we recruited.
While ‘General Management’ was the largest single category we worked on, the big rise was for ‘Product/Insight’ roles and this reflects a trend toward better-informed product development and customer-led innovation.
We have also seen rapid growth in demand for digital-savvy commercial leaders. They are in short supply, and highly prized by their employers; like the Product/Insight people, the best are only found and recruited by a thorough search process.
Until recently, Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) were seen as one of – if not, the – key mechanism through which future higher eduction schemes would be delivered.
From their first use in 2008, educators, entrepreneurs, and reformers had been queuing up to talk about the virtues of a learning model that offered the prospect of an education system where thousands of people could learn together.
Throughout 2012, and even up until last year, the idea that MOOCs would represent a fundamental part of the future of higher eduction was still common – but then something changed.
In the last two years we have worked closely with several key firms producing successful workflow tools for the professional services sector. In that time we’ve had many wonderful conversations with our partners, but again and again these discussions seem to orbit one central concern – in a digital age, how do our partners build products that are indispensable to their professional service clients?
The message that comes from these discussions is that at the heart of every process to product and content development should be an acute understanding of the user, the intricacies of their day-to-day work, and a fundamental grasp of their pain points.
Publishing for the professional services used to be a sedate affair: a magazine would come into print once a week, perhaps once a fortnight, and at regular intervals it would be accompanied by a special pullout or an information booklet. It was all very calm and straightforward.
Digital publishing changed everything. News and comment is now instant, and data sets are available at the touch of a button, but of all the changes brought about by technology, this speeding-up of the information transfer is neither the most radical or the most useful.
Providing news and data sets quickly is all very well, but what modern businesses really need is smart information derived from data-driven analysis, and to have that integrated with workflow tools.