Opinion

Fairfax’s Matt Rowley: ‘When you’re finished changing, you’re finished’

From team restructures to unexpected partnerships, Fairfax has had a big year. Here, chief revenue officer Matt Rowley looks back over the insights that shaped the company in 2017.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished”. Ben Franklin’s axiom underlies Fairfax Metro Publishing’s 2017. New leadership, new tech, new products – we’re far from finished finding new ways to create value and growth.

It’s also been the driving force of the recent developments rounding out this pivotal year in our business: a new commercial team structure, our partnership with Google, and the publisher data cooperative.

(L-R): Fairfax’s Chris Janz with Nicole Sheffield and Michael Stephenson at last week’s press briefing

New structure

Our new commercial team structure is focused on client sectors or verticals. It was a realignment to meet opportunity, not a headcount reduction exercise. The team remains the same size it was prior to the restructure, but now has specialist divisions servicing automotive, banking and finance, travel, retail, government, industry and energy, tech and telco, sport, food and entertainment, and luxury.

We still have a senior agency team solely focused on our media agency partnerships.

Why the change?

The recent Media i survey revealed what matters most to clients when dealing with media owners. Their number one consideration was “insights into their media and audience”.

Sounds like a no brainer.

But insights alone aren’t enough. Clients want insights relevant to their business and sector. Highly generalised publisher audience insights won’t do. The best way to apply that level of relevance to a client’s business is for the dedicated publisher teams to live and breathe the client’s sector everyday, not just sprinkle the odd piece of research.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago the CMO of a top four bank, having stated publicly they were looking to partner more deeply with media owners in 2018, told me that this structure was the only way that could happen.

Second and third priorities for clients when dealing with media owners, according to Media i, were “integrated media solutions” and “creative thinking / innovation”.

These represent one of the most fundamental shifts affecting publishers and media agencies. As the media landscape has become more competitive, a key way for publishers to build value for clients is through integrated media and innovation. At Fairfax we formed our own 40 strong commercial innovation team earlier this year to do precisely this.

The thing about this type of work though is that it’s tricky.

It involves ‘innovation’ – which by definition means you haven’t done it before, and don’t fully know how it will work. It involves ‘integration’ with content – which means balancing the gaining of an audience’s attention with getting a commercial message across (either one of those is tough on its own) and the trust of a client that you’re getting that balance right.

An example of getting the balance right is our latest Vodafone Bold Business podcast. This successful publisher-client collaboration already exceeded its audience target by more than three times, with 186,000 listens.

Such results makes the effort to deliver beyond a ‘spots and dots’ media insertion worthwhile and rewarding for all involved. However, such projects are only possible when publisher, agency and client work together – in triangular fashion – rather than a linear one with the agency in between.

The whole process is turbocharged by the publisher sales teams having deep industry knowledge and account management skills more commonly associated with creative agency ‘suits’.

These pressures and trends offer great opportunity for Fairfax to create more value than ever for clients and agency partners. To do that though, we had to change.

New partners

“Think outside the building” said Harvard Business School professor of business, Rosebeth Moss-Kantor, at the World Business Forum in Sydney earlier this year.

Looking externally for partners – particularly those with capabilities different to your own – was one of Moss-Kantor’s six tips for growth.

Last week we announced two new partnerships, the first being with Google. They are undoubtedly a great partner to work with to realise the value of our programmatic inventory. We believe that they will be an even better partner with which to build the future of automated buying in a premium environment. Our partnership is the first of its kind globally for Google, and we’re excited to see the value it can create here in Australia.

The second partnership is the publisher data cooperative between Fairfax, Newscorp and Nine. As fierce rivals, we may seem like odd bedfellows, but we are united by the high engagement of our audiences who trust and value our content. The cooperative aims to explore how, by bringing together our anonymised data identity assets, we can bring more value to the market and make advertising more relevant to our audiences.

As much change as we’ve had this year, we look forward to more next, and wish you all the best for 2018.

Matt Rowley

Matt Rowley is chief revenue officer at Fairfax Media.

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