2016 marks twenty years since I became a headhunter. While that makes me feel incredibly old, it has been a fascinating time to be an observer of the media landscape across the UK and beyond.
When I first started, the internet existed, but was a hard-to-use and limited resource with dial-up access. Email also existed, but not in my office (we relied on faxes). Things were changing, yes; but no-one had really grasped the magnitude of what was about to happen.
If you really want to know how much the media world has changed in the intervening years, imagine saying this back in 1996:
Social responsibility is an increasingly significant issue in the make-up of our leading corporations, but as firms want us to love them for the good they do, how do we assess the quality of their ethical programmes?
Well, that’s where ‘brand purpose’ comes in.
Brand purpose can be a vital tool for companies which are keen to follow through on stated ethical promises, to add meaning to what they do, and to connect with consumers on an emotional level and build trust. It can also be pretty handy when it comes to recruiting new staff; but more of that later.
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?
During the course of the last few weeks I’ve had many conversations with senior figures across the media sector about how publishing companies are changing. The majority of these conversations have been wide-raging, they have examined print-to-digital transitions, and the recruitment challenges produced by those adjustments.
One conversation with a magazine company stands out, and does so because of a single thing I was told:
“I’m not particularly interested in recruiting publishers any more,” said the senior executive. “I want commercial heads with an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Every so often, one of our clients will hit it off spectacularly well with a candidate during the first round of the recruitment process. Sometimes, the client even comes back to us, says they’ve found their perfect candidate, and adds it’s unlikely they’ll need a second round of interviews.
It seems perfectly natural, doesn’t it? If you have limited time – and you think you’ve already identified the person who would be the best fit – then why bother continuing with the process?
Well, let me tell you, no matter how constrained your time scale, the answer from us will always be loud and clear: even if you think you’ve found the right person, continue the recruitment interviews…
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, Mark Zuckerberg made an interesting comment about what he looks for when making important hires.
“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” he said. “It’s a pretty good test and I think this rule has served me well.”
To a large extent, it’s obvious that Zuckerberg’s model has served him well. It has helped create one of the most successful and fast-growing businesses in corporate history. And the principle of wanting to work alongside like-minded people, with whom he enjoys working, is a good one. Who wouldn’t want to work that way?
Shifting demographics, rapidly emerging markets, and new digital technologies have fundamentally reshaped the way the world does business – but if you think change in the last decade has been acute, then the next few years are likely to blow your mind.
The future is set to look ever more different, particularly in the way the global workforce is sourced, organised, and managed. By 2020, PwC predicts that twice as many employees as today will need to be ‘mobile’ within a business to ensure it has the flexibility to react to shifting times.
In his 2011 AdWeek memoir on David Ogilvy, the advertising legend, Kenneth Roman tells the following story:
“At one board meeting, he [Ogilvy] gave directors sets of Russian nesting matryoshka dolls. Inside the largest doll a smaller one, then a smaller one, and so forth. Inside the smallest doll there was a slip of paper:
“If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are bigger than we are, we will become a company of giants.
“Hire people who are better than you are. And pay them more than you if necessary.”
It is a great guiding principle. The smart manager hires the best team and revels in its success – a success which reflects well on all of them; everybody wins. The less smart manager hires down, the team struggles to meet targets, and the manager ends up blaming team members; nobody wins.
Every week I talk to dozens of media business leaders about how they recruit senior executives. I ask them what the changing nature of business means for their hiring policies, what their recruitment challenges and pain points tend to be, and I also ask about the measures they take when they’re recruiting executives – the advertising they use, the contingency agencies taken on, and the headhunters they engage.
When I ask these questions I frequently hear the same answer repeated back to me:
‘Oh,’ the business leader will say. ‘I just recruit through my own network’.
The remark is usually qualified with: ‘we know everyone in the market anyway’.
In the last 12 months a good proportion of my time has been spent recruiting for senior management roles, particularly leaders for B2B information businesses.
Appointing and interviewing candidates for a number of similar roles in a short (ish) period of time has lead to a series of commonalities emerging; a number of key qualities employers are really looking for, those that make good senior management candidates stand out from the field.
Here are my five key things to look for when recruiting for senior management roles:
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.
While Martin Tripp Associates specialise in filling high-level positions right across the media sector, the vast majority of searches we’ve completed over the last three or four years have had one thing in common: nearly all of them have been about finding executives to assist in a transition from print to digital, or increasingly, from one kind of digital presence to a more advanced one.
In that context, the job title ‘Head of Digital’ can seem anachronistic. After all, if your business is digital-first (as many of our clients now are) then virtually every department – editorial, sales, marketing, product development, the lot – should have digital skills at the core.
However, some clients still have successful print businesses with separate digital teams that need to be managed. In that context, when they’re recruiting a Head of Digital, what they really need a matrix-managing figure to establish digital best-practice across the business.
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:
The coming of the New Year brings with it an annual rush of predictions on the trends and technologies that will dominate the next twelve months for those businesses keen to use digital channels to expand and improve the way the talk to – and do business with – their customers.
In the latest of these predictions, Tech Radar said last month the key trend for retail technology in the next 12-months would be the rise of ‘hyper-personalisation’. Instead of looking at portfolios of individuals, customer management would instead be looking at customer persona as a way to drive innovation and keep shoppers engaged.
“Only by serving the changing needs, preferences and behaviour of the customer,” it said, ‘will retailers and brands be able to meet today’s hyper-connected consumers on their terms, across all channels of interaction.”
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?
It seems like 2014 has shot by in a blur. The executive search industry moves fast, and for us this year seems to have moved particularly quickly. Yet, here we are with the calendar year drawing to a close. Well, what better time could there to pause and look back at some of the major trends and challenges that clients (and us headhunters) have witnessed and undergone in that time?
Here is my guide to the major themes of 2014 for headhunters and their clients:
Hiring the right senior talent into your business can be a time-consuming and expensive process. That’s where engaging the right executive search team to source talent can be crucial – it’s a time-saving and, ultimately, cost-effective process.
Time and time again we see hiring managers do things that, in the long-run, set them back. Common mistakes get made and, if not put right, they can repeatedly cost the hiring firm.
Here’s a quick and easy guide to the type of mistakes that occur time and again when recruiting senior executives – and the simple steps that can be put in place to rectify them:
Bad senior or executive appointments, most businesses have made them. An established firm would be hard-pressed not to have made a bad hire or two in their time; it’s almost unavoidable. The trick is to learn from that and to reduce the number you make in future. But how do you go about doing that?
The biggest error an organisation can make – especially when it comes to senior management – is choosing the wrong candidate for the role – trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. This may sound obvious but getting the candidate wrong is still a widespread problem.
According to a global survey of 6,000 HR and hiring managers carried out by Careerbuilder, 62% of UK firms admitted to having made poor appointments.
Tesco Labs, the supermarket’s digital innovation wing, is running a 48-hour ‘hackathon’ next month to spur the development of health-themed technologies for its customers.
The supermarket has made an open invitation to computer coders, designers, and those working in tech marketing and business development to attend the weekend event in London, starting on September 12.
The aim of the hackathon is to develop retail media ideas that can help Tesco’s customers make healthier food choices in store and online.
In addition, Tesco is keen to explore how it can share data to help customers understand their own behaviour, compare their food choices with others, share tips and advice, and track and find out more about what they’re buying and eating.
For business publishers webinars can be a dream. They offer a satisfying mixture of editorial heft and readership engagement – and let’s not forget the sponsorship revenue they bring in.
But let’s put aside those benefit for a second and focus on the sponsors. What’s in it for them?
If a brand can find the right publishing partner, one that allows it to position itself as a trusted and authoritative voice to an audience of prospective customers, the potential to enhance its Thought Leadership credentials can be great.
Let’s face it, Thought Leadership is an awful term, but if you can show expertise and position yourself ahead of the competition without resorting to squirm-inducing cliché, then you’re on to something. There’s also the (not so) small matter of considerable lead generation from a new and previously untapped database of interested individuals.
Last month I tried to buy software online. I knew what I wanted, but when I visited the provider’s website it was full of baffling options and unnecessary guff. So I bought a rival product. My second choice. It was easier.
Then, last week, I bought a television. I researched online, found a product page with all the necessary info and a simple payment method, so I bought it. Suitable follow-up email has encouraged me to go back and buy a printer.
In both cases the determining factor wasn’t the product, it was the experience.
Facebook announced last week that it will acquire the instant messaging provider WhatsApp in a deal worth an eye-watering $19bn (£11.4bn).
The social network already has its own mobile chat platform, but its traction has not nearly been as strong as other standalone chat apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat. The astronomical price paid for WhatsApp reflects how keen Facebook is to get hold of a lithe, mobile technology.
So what exactly does Facebook get for its money?
Whether the job title is Chief Communications Office, Head of Content or Director of Corporate Affairs, the day-to-day tasks in-house professionals in the public relations industry are asked to perform are undergoing fundamental change.
Across sectors as diverse as retail, financial services and health, the nature of PR jobs is being redrafted by the inevitable rise of digital technologies. New skills are needed at the highest level so businesses can compete in a world where new forms of communication are increasingly important.
Libor, PPI, and high-profile stories about boardroom incompetence have done little to end the public beating dished out to the finance industry during the economic crisis. If that wasn’t bad enough, the sector’s pedestrian approach to content marketing seems to have done little to help win back old sympathies or convince new customers of its trustworthiness or expertise.
In part, the problem is one of justified anxiety. Perfectly reasonable fears about breaching regulations and falling foul of one penalty or another have fed a culture of risk-averse marketing in the financial sector. Consequently, everything has a beige hue and fails to light the imagination.
With its traditional conservatism and complex regulations, the financial services industry doesn’t immediately strike you as a sector ready to embrace the brave new world of content marketing, but scratch the surface and what emerges is a set of compelling reasons why it should.
Unlike consumer disposables, buying a mortgage or a pension product is a significant purchase. When faced with such a big decision, potential customers tread carefully and have important questions. Digital technology has enabled them to seek out answers like never before, meaning firms that can engage individuals with high-quality content have the potential to build lasting relationships. But how do they go about doing that?
The news that Yahoo has apparently paid $30m for Summly is surprising. It is a clever app, but has a few problems.
The algorithm that is designed to condense long news stories into three smartphone friendly paragraphs often garbles prose and leaves the story and the reader hanging.
Often, the third par tends to end quite abruptly, as if the algorithm has run out of patience). It also presents a very limited range of news stories in a package that is quite tedious to navigate.
Presumably, Yahoo’s money will help sort these glitches out and do a bit to engage media recruiters by hiring a few people.
But the business model is heavily flawed – in that there isn’t one. In its current form, this is
It is too easy to say that a lack of a coherent digital startegy is what killed HMV, Comet and Jessops. Too easy, but at least partly true. As this article by Philip Beeching on Guardian.co.uk shows, the senior management at HMV refused to understand the inevitable, even when it was presented to them in 2002. He claims that, at an advertising pitch he made:
The relevant chart went up and I said: “The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product.”
Suddenly I realised the MD had stopped the meeting and was visibly angry. “I have never heard such rubbish”, he said, “I accept that supermarkets are a thorn in our side but not for the serious music, games or film buyer and as for the other two, I don’t ever see them being a real threat, downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping.”
Dermot Murnaghan interviewed me today on Sky News about George Entwistle’s departure and the new search for Director General at the BBC. It was a warm-up for his interview with Tim Davie, which ended testily, with the acting DG saying he had a job to get on with and walking off. In contrast, my interview was the very embodiment of civility.
Prior to my interview, I was asked several questions by Sky staff which didn’t make it to air – and some may be worth recording. The following contains a summary of those questions and my answers.
Q: Is it normal for internal candidates to be appointed?
A: As has been fairly well documented, the media headhunters concerned in Entwistle’s recruitment (not us) approached and interviewed a broad range of candidates for the role. The shortlist contained
If early reports are to be believed, today’s news might mark a renaissance in that most challenging of media propositions, the joint venture. In some quarters, Pearson’s proposed sale of Penguin to Bertelsmann is being presented as a JV: in fact, the deal would give Pearson a minority 47% stake in the proposed business. But in another interesting development, David Montgomery is reported to be heading up the bid to combine the local newspaper assets of Northcliffe and Iliffe / Yattendon. Under this proposal, each vendor
As the number of empty shops on UK High Streets increases, retailers are resorting to more innovative ways to attract time-pushed shoppers, or those looking for more unique shopping experiences. The adoption of new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual changing rooms in-store is on the rise.
At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, technology company Bodymetrics showcased the latest version of their body mapping technology, which creates a 3D model of a shopper’s body that mirrors their every move, allowing them to virtually ‘try on’ outfits. The camera’s sensors can detect tightly or loosely fitting garments to help find the right size. Spanish company AITech.es have developed a similar technology that also has a system capable of determining the availability of certain items in real time and can promote related clothes according to the historical choices of the user.
At the moment, I think the true value of augmented reality technologies such as Bodymetrics lies in reducing return rates on clothing that doesn’t fit. If you run out of time to join the queue for the changing room to see if that much-coveted LBD that you absolutely need for tonight actually fits, simply try it on virtually and you could skip the queue. However, pair this with the ability to then tweet images of yourself wearing the dress to your friends to get their thoughts (Nadap’s Tweet Mirror for example) and the retailers could really be onto something…
Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.