- During your time running businesses and throughout your media-led career, what do you think has been your biggest challenge?
By far the most challenging time I’ve faced was on the sale of Room501 Ltd, our original business. Room 501 was run by four directors but it was my baby as the largest shareholder and founder. I’d invested my heart and soul into it, working my socks off establishing the business at the start of a world recession back in 2007.
There was a critical point within the first two years when I was ready to close it down and go back to employment. It was a tough decision to keep going and pushing on. Ultimately, we achieved great success with the business creating BQ Magazine and many other titles and taking the business to a successful sale within five years.
Nothing prepares you for this and anyone who has experienced it or is currently going through the process will agree that it’s such a demanding time both emotionally and physically. You learn so much about the business and yourself in the process. I really struggled with this mentally – the realisation that the business wasn’t mine anymore. I do think I’m pretty much unemployable but I have no regrets and the lessons learnt will stay with me throughout my working life.
- How do you think media will transform over the coming years and what should businesses be looking out for?
There’s no doubt national and regional media have seen an unprecedented shift towards online and digital publishing. Many millions have been spent trying to catch the curve.
The major problem facing traditional publishers today is dwindling readership numbers within their printed titles and the need to monetise online content. Whilst online readerships have increased significantly, there is no direct correlation to commercial revenue.
Google and Facebook have this market sewn up with huge numbers and precise customer targeting. Naïvely, most publishers have thrown their content at Google for years to increase visibility and audience numbers. They thought that numbers equal revenue but little thought had been given from international, national and regional media about how powerful they’d made Google in such a short space of time. This can’t be reversed now as they are completely dependent on Google being the largest and most recognised search engine in the world.
Today the regional press verges on becoming digital marketing agencies. Battles fought in the early years of the millennium saw the ‘digital-first’ campaigners conquer the printed titles. Significant investment went into the creation of websites and into acquisitions of companies connected to digital. Now the regional press is offering to manage AdWords campaigns as part of their media mix. Why? Because they don’t know enough about their own digital audiences and savvy business marketing departments (run by 90s and millennials) are demanding quality and pinpointed data returns. Inevitably, we’ll see regional printed newspaper titles fall or merge but I think there is great cause for optimism.
The digital offering will survive but hyper-local printed newspapers will spring up in their place. I’m talking about tightly-run titles covering specific geographical areas, parts of city centres, small towns and villages. There is wealth of journalistic talent out there rife for this challenge. These publications will be complemented by a basic online presence to bond communities together.
Regional newspapers could do better than to turn their websites off and leave a message saying, “if you want to know what’s happening buy the newspaper”.
In my humble opinion, niche publishing (magazines) will remain strong in b2b and b2c markets. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: I run an independent publishing house – I would say that! There will most certainly be an element of consolidation amongst niche publishers but those with a portfolio of strong and diverse titles will prevail.
As we have found, an online presence is essential to complement anything in print, but we have recognised a real appreciation for the print product. Just as people are rediscovering a tactile love of their vinyl LPs, the connection with a magazine is very real.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time talking to people about their reading habits and it is clear that people interact differently with niche titles. These magazines aren’t dependant on breaking news, so whether you pick up the title up on the day of release or a week or two later, you’ll always get something from it. It’s generally downtime when readers interact, people need to switch off and they are literally able to do it with a magazine.
Creating unique content whilst constantly learning about and refining your audience is key to any successful publishing operation going forward. Information is power and power is money. Facebook has led the way on this and is responsible for a whopping £1.8b in ad sales in the UK in 2016 alone.
Top search results on Google lead you to The Guardian, Telegraph and Independent; all titles offering quality, influential and insightful journalism. They have stood the test of time and invested heavily online, building large teams of online journalists covering the website, social and video content as well as their print product.
Let us not forget to mention the good old BBC. The corporation all the above titles look at with envy – and dream of what they could do with just a small percentage of the licence fee.
You can now become a Guardian supporter for £5 per month – no paywall – just the reliance on consumers respecting good journalism and the sentiment to pay for it. We’ve seen this work with outstanding success with the Huffington Post admittedly online only; journalists and contributors writing initially freely to build a considerable following across the world with the power of words alone.
I’m positive small businesses will engage with the hyper-local titles, not least for a sense of community. Those businesses likely to be supportive will be the local retail and leisure services sector. Facebook will also play a large role in facilitating audience acquisition for small to midi-business.
Sectors sure to gain will be those with visual appeal and functioning online already. SMEs and corporate business have a tough decision; do we move more income online and risk losing our regional media? What happens when the market gets more competitive and AdWords cost spiral? How do we gain the advantage on our competitors?
We may see a return to direct mail – nothing better than receiving a handwritten letter or below the line promo in my opinion.
- With so many new channels for media, online and digital – how do businesses choose the right path?
Great question – there is no easy answer and I’m afraid trial and error springs to mind.
It is sector, product or service dependant, for example, Patek Philippe is marketed vastly differently to Colgate Toothpaste. The common theme is the need to spark emotion and desire. Traditional media, TV, radio and print, in my opinion, will still serve great purpose in inspiring people to interact with products or services. I’ve spent years in discussions with advertisers bestowing the virtues of generating desire or a need for customers to buy.
Our human buying process is relatively straight forward and can be captured in two states of mind; impulse buying and considered purchases. I’m as guilty as the next man of being in a supermarket and falling for the 2 for 1 offer with low emotional involvement. I’m also capable of turning into a super researcher when it comes to buying my next watch, car or other significant purchases. This research phase can last for months before a satisfying purchase is made.
In both examples, I’ve been seduced by an image, emotion or desire.
It may seem that the natural platform to spend your advertising budget is online and it will be for lots of businesses, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Many businesses are similar but the unique point that sets them apart is their offering, product, people and service. Your marketing plan should be unique to your business.
When it comes to choosing your channels don’t be afraid to try new platforms, ensure your measurement processes are in place and give it a good amount of time. Don’t dip in and out; analyse and utilise the data to make informed decisions.
- What would be your ‘top tips’ for people setting out in business today?
Research, research, research. If you’ve identified an opportunity to create a business, take your time to explore it appropriately. Share your idea with as many people as possible. The more people outside your network the better, as these people will be brutally truthful and won’t worry about disappointing you. Ask for their feedback and don’t be blinded by your own vision or be afraid they’ll pinch your idea – it just doesn’t happen. Listen carefully to feedback and be prepared to tweak your model if required.
I’ve heard people say if you’re fixing a problem, make it a big problem to fix, that way you’ll catch the attention of large organisations or potential investors. Don’t give up too early! But recognise when all is lost. Above all, love what you do – it makes things a whole lot easier.
- What’s your favourite thing about working in the North East?
I love this region – I was born in Newcastle and grew up in Nottingham, returning in my late teens.
From a working perspective, I believe we have an outstanding region to start and grow a business. The support networks in place are first-rate through local authorities to private sector organisations.
Our road, rail and air networks are improving constantly so getting around the region, country and globe is relatively painless.
I can honestly say the people of the North East are great supporters of enterprise and genuinely want to see people succeed in business. I wouldn’t have flourished without the support of many people in the region today.
- What attracted you to being part of Digital Allies?
I’d known Steven Parker for many years as we’d both been at NCJ Media together in 2004/2005. We went our separate ways; I went into publishing and Steven into digital marketing but we kept in touch over the years.
It was a chance meeting in London that sparked our revived relationship. Steven was at the stage many executives face in working for the man, but harboured ideas to run his own company. I’d been there, seen it and done it and was busy negotiating my exit with Room501, so the timing was perfect.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, we developed a first draft plan then scrapped it within weeks as one of the people involved opted to do something else. Undeterred, we wrote the business plan for Digital Allies. In truth, our second attempt was a better proposition altogether.
The time between business plans allowed us to research the market thoroughly and talk to interested parties. We also brought Andrew Barratt onboard as an investor and company director.
Steven’s passion and quest for transparency attracted me to the business. Digital Allies was born out of Steven’s frustration and an overwhelming desire to fix a sector that blinds customers with science and black arts.
I’m in the enviable role within this business as chairman, with Steven running the day-to-day business, albeit the companies are closely connected and share a handful of customers. My job is to keep Steven focused on growing the business and sharing my knowledge and experience and to foresee any pitfalls.
There are no quick fixes in digital – it’s all about having the right foundations in place and making decisions based on intelligence, attracting the right people to support you in your company’s digital journey. Many businesses are taking the decision to move to digital marketing in-house, having been burnt by claims of ‘we’ll get you on the first page of Google’ for high retainers and what looks like success, only to see it fall away.
Taking digital in-house or at least employing somebody who can see through the bull**** is a must for any business investing in on-line activity.
- What’s on the horizon for Remember Media? What does the future look like for the business?
Remember Media will grow progressively over the next few years. Our mission is very simple; we will be the very best at what we do. Our mission statement reads:
“Our aim is to become the only partner for consideration when it comes to selecting a luxury publisher.”
The British luxury goods industry is flourishing. Walpole, the membership organisation for luxury brands, reported in September 2015 that the industry is set to grow to £51.5 billion over the following six-year period. This comes from a report they commissioned by Frontiers. It also identified the British luxury goods industry was worth £32.3 billion and represents 2.2% of the UK’s total GDP with export growth of 12% and employing 113,000 people UK wide.
Remember Media will take advantage of this forecast growth in the luxury goods and services sectors and it will position itself accordingly. We will focus on lifestyle, fashion, hospitality, motoring culture and arts sectors and our offering will be based around publishing, content, photography and design.