Trying to set the year gone in some kind of context is always tough – and 2014 has proved no different. Often, the problem is trying to distinguish how the previous 12 months differed from those that preceded them. That’s not an issue this year; so much has happened, it’s hard to know where to start.
My partner in crime Albert Ng has already rounded-up his key themes of the recruitment sector in 2014, so I’ll limit my review to the topics that have dominated this blog in the last 12-months (Ye shall know them by their fruits, and all that). So, what exactly have we spent 2014 writing about?
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:
Content marketing. It’s come to save us all, hasn’t it? With consumers looking around every available social network for information and entertainment, all brands have to do is provide satisfying content and in return people will be only to pleased to fill their coffers. Right?
Well, stone me. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, brands are either having difficulty (or simply not bothering to…) to measure the value of their work.
Just 21 per cent of B2B marketers claimed they were successfully tracking the ROI of their content marketing campaigns.
A few weeks ago, a disgruntled newspaper journalist said to me “the rationale seems to be ‘why bother doing your USP well, when you can do the ubiquitous badly?’” It’s a question many journalists of my acquaintance have been struggling with. I’m sure they would sympathise with Gareth Davies, Chief Reporter at the Croydon Advertiser, who publicly vented his fury on Twitter after fellow Local World website, the Maidstone & Medway News, ran a story on the celebrity nude photo hacking scandal.
I’m sure most people would agree this isn’t a story of immediate relevance to the Maidstone & Medway area, and many journalists of my acquaintance are queasy to say the least about the proliferation of ‘clickbait’. The website’s editor, Simon Finlay, defended the decision, saying “we’re trying to drive an audience to our site… [these stories] do get us thousands of hits and that’s a good thing.”
None of us needs a technology worthy or a digital consultant on £100 an hour to understand the importance of mobile devices. Cast a glance down any high street and you’ll soon get an idea for how inseparable we all are from our phones. Even Google tells us now that more searches are made via mobile or tablet device than via desktop.
Why then have so many businesses failed to create dedicated mobile sites or build specialist optimisation into their existing digital platforms? Do they think – unlike them – everyone else is happy to endlessly scroll, searching for a button or link that’s impossible to press?
Well, not so Domino’s Pizza. A couple of years ago the fast food chain took the decision to use mobile – on its own terms – as the venue to drive for competitive advantage.
Nick Dutch, head of digital at Domino’s UK, told the Smart Insight’s Digital Impact conference, in London earlier this week, how his firm had adopted a mobile-first strategy and sought to grow sales by focusing on this channel.
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.
Nearly a third of publishers in the UK have not heard of programmatic advertising, according to a recent survey by tech firm AppNexus. For a technology that has been widely touted as the future of the publishing industry, this is faintly astonishing.
So what is programmatic advertising?
In a nutshell, it’s a form of online display advertising that relies on complex algorithms to set a series of criteria that when met trigger the deployment of ads. Campaigns are booked and optimised via a simple web interface.
Unless they’ve been on extended leave or in serious dereliction of their duties, senior executives across the country are likely to have heard little else about the future of marketing than how putting customer relationships at the heart of their businesses will be vital in the coming years.
The digital world has forced a series of new challenges on business, and high on that list of challenges is the shift in customer behaviour bought about by the adoption of new technologies and communication through social media.
Firms keen to embrace this behaviour shift – and understand how consumers want to connect digital channels – need to think about how to gather data and then what to do with it.
Running a small business in the digital age isn’t always easy. The inherent problems associated with battling a large rival offline have the unpleasant habit of transferring neatly to the online world.
Websites of firms with big marketing budgets are chocked with content; they command great authority from search engines; their inbound links are often of a high quality; and when search engines make big algorithmic changes, they respond quickly.
For small businesses that can’t compete on organic search, digital platforms offering flexible self-service ads and promotions can be a godsend.
Through its Adwords platform, Google allows creation of specific, targeted ‘pay per click’ (PPC) campaigns that can be tweaked easily through a self-service interface and provide smaller firms the exposure they need.
In fact, one small business owner told Tripp Associates his self-service Adwords had proved so easily manageable – and such a reliable source of revenue – he’d jettisoned his digital consultant and added £2 income to every £1 spent by closely managing campaigns himself.
And where Google has successfully enabled the small business owner, other digital platforms have followed.
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.
If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve been spending the last few months talking to senior management figures across the newspaper industry – national and regional. The aim of these conversations has been to found out how they see their industry changing, how their specific business is changing, and to understand the recruitment challenges they face.
In all three areas, one word comes up time and time again – data.
“The challenge for me”, said the Head of Digital at one big newspaper publisher, “has been to convince senior management that it’s no longer just about the number of uniques [web and mobile site readers] you can get. That’s in many ways a vanity number.”
If web traffic alone isn’t enough, he went on to say – digital commercial people working at newspapers need to understand much more about their readers in order to sell appropriate ads.
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.
Even the most superficial reader of newspaper websites can’t fail to notice the abundance of new technology that is now regularly incorporated into the storytelling process – and as the demand for new ways of telling stories evolves, the range of editorial skills required is evolving almost as quickly as the technology used to publish.
But it isn’t just in editorial that new digital skills are required. As publishers, both local and national, struggle to work out how to make money from digital, the roles of advertising salespeople are changing even more rapidly.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been immersed in the newspaper sector; talking to senior decision-makers about the kind of posts they find hardest to recruit. By some margin, the most common answer has been ‘good salespeople who really understand digital’.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last few weeks, it would be hard to avoid knowing the 2014 World Cup kicks off tonight in Brazil.
As with many other large sporting events, the build-up to the tournament has been littered with stories about institutional corruption, levels of preparedness, and disquiet in the host country about about staging the event. Yet, if the Brazilian World Cup follows the traditional pattern, all this noise should fade away once the football begins and fans will get down to the serious business of shouting at their televisions as they watch men run about in the searing heat.
Have you dipped your toe in the world of social media? Have you set up a Twitter account for your firm, but then perhaps forgotten about it? Is social media something you think your business should do, but haven’t really yet figured out how it all works or what the benefits can be?
If the answer to the those questions is mainly ‘yes’, then you’ve come to the right place. The good news is that it can be a relatively straightforward process to get something workable in place, the bad news is that you may have to do a quick audit first – don’t worry, we’ll keep it short and sweet.
For educators, students, parents, and politicians the shift to online learning presents an opportunity to improve achievement, reduce costs, and deliver tailored learning experiences. For educational publishers, this change is as much a headache as an opportunity.
Educational publishing is undergoing profound upheaval, and for some traditional firms managing the shift to a digitised world is proving tricky.
Publishers are often guilty of focusing too closely on how customers engage with their existing offering rather than asking themselves the fundamental question: what do my customers really need?
So, what do they need?
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.
In recent weeks the concept of “efficacy” has become something we have been thinking about more and more. In conversations with clients and prospects, the ability for them to ensure a desired or intended result with the services and products they supply has been high on their list of concerns.
How do we – the conversations go – ensure we produce stuff our customers really want or need? How do we ensure a great reception for the things we produce or the programmes we run?
Increasingly, the answer is to establish a better understanding of the customer – and the way to do that is to talk to them more directly, more personally, and in an overall smarter way.
Over the course of a few short years digital technology has fundamentally changed our publishing industries. Daily and weekly print editions have been replaced by constantly updated websites, apps, and digital downloads. Not only that, but the way we tell and adsorb stories has also changed.
To accommodate new formats and ways of sharing information, those working in publishing have been forced to adopt new skills. A keen editor now knows as much about the social media impact of their content and they do about story sources. But what do we really know about the skills publishing will require in five years time? What talents will staff need to remain relevant?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to senior managers across the newspaper industry to gain some insight into their recruitment needs. For those who have been paying close attention to the sector, much of what they’re saying won’t be hugely surprising , but over my next few posts I thought I’d share some insight for the benefit of any job-seekers out there.
Social media may have brought a wholly new way for brands to engage with consumers – but in an digital environment where attention spans are short and content is abundant, how do you stand out and make an instant connection?
Shira Feuer, head of social media EMEA for The Walt Disney Company, told The Economist’s Big Rethink conference the proposition was simple – to get attention, brands need to create something that is of value to the consumer.
But how does a brand define what is valuable? How does it know what consumers want to connect with across social media?
The traditional ‘funnel’ model used by marketers to map how consumers move from being interested in a product through to purchase is broken and a new set of factors has been brought into play by the rise of social media, according to a leading media consultant.
Bjorn Timelin, a partner with McKinsey & Company, told The Big Rethink conference last week that despite the ‘consumer decision journey’ being nothing like it was ten years ago, many companies still use the funnel model to plan their marketing campaigns.
For brands that want to prolong their relationship with customers, he said, it was essential to understand how technology had changed purchasing journeys and adapt accordingly. It is no longer a linear process, he said, but a circular one. The old model of customers moving neatly through the funnel from the ‘marketing’ phase to ‘store purchase’ was gone – as was the old idea that ‘advocacy’ came after a purchase.
The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for a Bill of Rights to protect its users. It’s a move that deserves attention and praise.
Berners-Lee marked the 25th anniversary of his invention by this week calling for a Magna Carta for the web to establish a series of rights that protect against online surveillance.
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?
News came last week that Bauer Media was launching a multi-platform title called The Debrief. There’s no great shock in a magazine publisher launching a new digital brand aimed at ABC1 20-something women, but the difference with The Debrief is that it plans to make its money by eschewing traditional banner ads in favour of native ads buried amongst its editorial content.
For the uninitiated, native ads are essentially pieces of promotional content designed to fit with the look, feel, and tone of a specific digital publishing platform. Some publishers claim they aren’t even a new phenomenon (advertorials anyone?), but the point is that 18 months ago saying ‘native ads’ to a brand manager might cause them to stare back as if you were talking Swahili. Say it to them now, and they’ll tell you it’s a phenomenon in which they’re extremely interested.
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.
When it introduced its paywall in August, The Sun became the first tabloid in the UK to charge for online content. For £2 per week, users are granted access to the newspaper’s website and its smartphone and tablet apps.
The Sun’s publisher, News UK, has previously taken sister titles The Times and Sunday Times behind a paywall, so the move was not wholly unexpected. However, taking The Sun behind a paywall was considered a gamble by some, given how News UK needs the publication to generate cash to support the wider business, and the wildly different approaches being taken by its closest rivals.
One of The Sun’s big online rivals, Mail Online, is now the world’s most popular newspaper website. It has achieved this by remaining an open site, where revenue is created by the scale of its audience.
Introduction of the paywall at The Sun also had the effect of handing The Mirror newspaper an immediate boost to its web traffic, which it sought to capitalise on with an aggressive marketing campaign intended to hoover up disaffected Sun readers who still wanted to get their news for free.
In a move to drive users to take up subscription, News UK bought rights to show Premier League highlights on The Sun’s and The Times’ online, mobile and apps platforms, in the summer of 2013.
When you click to a web page how often do you notice the adverts that surrounds the content you’re interested in? One in ten? One in 20 times?
It may be a crude approach but banner advertising is the established – if unspectacular – way publishers generate the bulk of their online revenue.
But as mobile usage increases publishers have found it hard to innovate the humble banner ad and link valuable click-through info to customers; couple that with increasing consumer ‘blindness’ to banners and you have a system in need of overhaul.
An interesting evening at the Medical Society of London, where the Guild of Health Writers was holding an event on how to ‘Broaden Your Horizons’ as a journalist in the sector. What was compelling, for me, was that the challenges faced by journalists in this most specialist of areas are reflected right across the media world: a decline in print journalism, the rise of content marketing, and the need to adapt to the changing world.
Three of the panellists are living proof of how you can change mid-career: Simon Warne, now the Media & Marketing Director of Creston Health; John Isitt, the founder of Resonant Media; and Maureen Rice, Editorial Director of Cedar Communications.
In today’s Evening Standard, Roy Greenslade makes a case for metered paywalls for newspaper websites. As he says, it is the pragmatic (rather than dogmatic) approach: users who get past the maximum number of articles each month are required to subscribe. This has several commercial benefits, not least that it does not hugely impact visitor numbers through redirection from Google and others. Advertisers, therefore, are happy; and potential subscribers become used to the service and are more likely to subscribe – it may even help preserve a few media jobs.
Greenslade notes that, since telegraph.co.uk introduced its ‘soft’ paywall in March, it has remained the country’s third best visited newspaper websites (behind the free to access Guardian and Daily Mail websites).
It is a technique pioneered in the UK – after much indecison – by the FT, which now has over 600,000 online subscribers. After similar debates, the New York Times recently alighted on the same model, and now has 700,000 subscribers – and is adding 100,000 each year. In 2003, I met the then Editor in Chief of the NYT’s website, and the debate on business models was raging – it has taken a good ten years to resolve. But pragmatism has won out.