What made you want to work in the publishing industry?
I fell in love with journalism and politics around the time that Margaret Thatcher got elected. The world was starting to change, and I wanted to be involved and write about it.
Chart you career from the start to where you are now.
I started off as a reporter and then I went into editing, publishing and then became a divisional CEO at UBM, which is now part of Informa. For the last eight years I have specialised in content strategy at UBM, Haymarket and now Incisive. I love the intellectual challenge of working with journalists and editors. What we try to do is use storytelling to build loyal audiences among professional people.
You have had a number of different job roles within the industry. How have you seen the industry evolve in terms of job opportunities since you began your career?
I have been in the business now for 33 years and what has been most striking is the acceleration in the pace of change. There has been more disruption in the last 10 years than in the previous 23. I remember appointing my first web editor in the nineties and those people were the ones that turned out to be the heartbeat of the editorial operation. I learned then that you should always go with the new thing, even if it seems small and obscure to start with. When I became UBM’s chief content officer I grabbed hold of that opportunity. I set up a content marketing team in 2009 and we hired a bunch of content writers, designers and project managers. Then we started hiring audience engagement managers and video producers and very soon I’ve no doubt we’ll be hiring podcast producers and presenters. In this business it really does help to be a shape shifter.
What forms of journalism are most effective for storytelling across B2B titles?
With all journalism it comes down to finding great characters and stories. As in the print days, you still can’t beat a brilliant scoop. Over time the readers and rival journalists are going to know who is breaking the stories and that elevates the brand. The profusion of new platforms has allowed us to develop long form data journalism, a variety of video techniques and podcasts and campaigns which are much richer across digital and social than we could ever achieve in print. But in the end, these are only just tools and it really is just about finding the right platform for the story. What our readers are looking for is actionable intelligence and to feel part of the community. That is really about the story not the format.
You work across a number of titles on sustainability, technology and finance. How good does your understanding have to be of all those specialisms?
I think you have to understand enough to understand what is of value to the individual groups of readers, but you are never going to be as expert as the editors and journalists that work on those titles. In this sort of role, you must remember that they are the heroes in the drama. They have the depth and I’ve got the breadth. My value comes from taking a view from the bridge, making the connections across the titles and seeing what is going on in the wider media industry that might change the game for us. AI for example is clearly coming over the horizon, and that is where you can hopefully add value as an editorial director.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I am not someone who looks back very often. Winning awards like the PPA Editor of the Year award have always been great moments but you have to move onto the next thing. If I was to pick one thing out it would be when a team I worked with launched a magazine, a website and an awards show in three weeks in 2005. We beat the rival, who had been planning the rival title for a year, by a week. It was crazy, expensive and an absolute hoot. It was one of the first moments I got interested in strategy because the way we were able to rethink and outwork them was really rewarding.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
One of the things I learned early on at UBM, which is still true at Incisive now, is that you are powerless without the support of the CEO and the commercial leadership team on one hand and great editors to work with on the other. To use a sporting analogy, the editors are the players on the pitch and all you can do is scream from the touchline. To understand the limits of your responsibility is really important before you start figuring out what it is that you can do.
What would be in your Room 101?
Surveillance capitalism. It is not hard to see how Facebook and WeChat morph into Big Brother and that is pretty terrifying for human freedom. I would also like to zap all the phone zombies who menace my daily commute.
What magazine would be your long train journey?
Other than reading my own titles, my fantasy read would be a vintage copy of NME from the late 70s or early 80s – the Neil Spencer era. I loved the egos and the narcissism.