The Financial Times’ transition from a printed newspaper to a digital content business is one of the internet era’s publishing success stories.
Indeed, the FT was an early adopter of the hybrid-payment approach, giving readers limited free access to its content before asking them to pay to read more stories. It also maintained its focus on its market position, rather than chasing audience numbers.
In recent years, the FT has concentrated on integrating digital into its operations. A key figure in that move has been chief communications and marketing officer Darcy Keller.
Keller has worked at the FT since 2007, starting as head of communications in the Americas. In her current role–which she took on in 2015–she leads the integration of the FT’s communications, brand, commercial, retail, and financial publishing marketing programs. She’s also a director on the FT Group’s executive board, responsible for global business strategy, corporate governance, and business transformation.
Read on for our conversation, during which Keller spoke about her integration efforts, the company’s “collective goal,” business diversification, and challenges that include the rise of distributed content.
CMO.com: How is marketing structured at the FT?
Keller: I oversee the communications and marketing group, which includes centralised brand marketing and the communications teams that serve the entire company. [I also oversee] a commercial marketing team focused on supporting our advertising business, and a team focused on the marketing of our FT Specialist titles, such as “Investors Chronicle” and “The Banker.”
We don’t separate digital. Everyone is encouraged and expected to think and work in an innovative and integrated fashion.
As communications and marketing channels converge, it’s vital that we’re speaking with a consistent voice and combining our efforts and resources to create the greatest impact. An integration of the marcoms teams and the establishment of a companywide Marketing Council has allowed us to act more decisively and effectively in building, managing, and monetising our brand across channels–whether via paid, earned, or owned media.
CMO.com: Can you explain how the Marketing Council works in more detail?
Keller: The Marketing Council is co-chaired by myself and our chief commercial officer, and includes the heads of each marketing team–brand, B2C, B2B, commercial, events, audience engagement, and marketing of the FT Group’s specialist titles. This group convenes monthly and works together on companywide marketing strategy and campaigns to build impact, leverage resources, relationships, and expertise, and avoid fragmentation of the brand.
The Marketing Council is just one example of [how we are] establishing a group of cross-functional teams for ongoing areas of work that require broader contribution and shared leadership.
CMO.com: What are some other examples?
Keller: Other examples include the Creative Council and the Product Council. The Creative Council convenes the lead designers in our organisation–from editorial, product, commercial, and brand–to oversee the FT’s creative design strategy and guidelines and establish and implement best practice.
The Product Council, which is chaired by the FT’s chief product and information officer, convenes a cross-functional group including the heads of analytics, B2C, B2B, marketing and the managing editor of FT.com. They work together to establish product development priorities and evolve the portfolio. This group works closely with the Investment Committee, which includes FT executive board members and is responsible for the company’s investment strategy and allocation.
CMO.com: How have relationships changed between marketing and other parts of the organisation?
Keller: Marketing and sales have always had a strong and symbiotic relationship, but now that interdependency extends across the organisation—from product and editorial to customer services and communications. The consumer experiences your product holistically, and that means every encounter they have with your brand must be consistent, which is only made possible by close collaboration and coordination in all parts of the business.
We established a companywide engagement target that supports our objective to reach 1 million paying readers and ensures all teams and individuals are focused on this collective goal as our “North Star.” The engagement target is included in the company bonus scheme, and we also award a monthly prize which recognises the achievements of cross-functional teams in support of the goal.
Finally, we do a lot of work in employee communications to create opportunities for collaboration and connection across the company–in person and virtually–and we seek to showcase company role models and best practice in this area.
CMO.com: What business challenges are facing the FT? What marketing channels do they give rise to?
Keller: One challenge at the top of most media companies’ minds is the structural disruption in digital advertising. For more than a decade, there has been a lot of focus on the decline of traditional ad revenue streams, such as print advertising, as many of those ad dollars shifted to digital. But what’s happened over the last few years, and which is accelerating, is the shifting of those digital ad dollars from media to the big platforms. Google and Facebook now claim a combined 63% of U.S. digital ad spend and are attracting an even larger proportion of digital advertising growth.
This means that a quality media brand must have robust alternative revenue streams to sustain and grow their products and businesses. Luckily for the Financial Times, we moved decisively more than a decade ago to diversify our business beyond advertising and our traditional print newspaper. Today, the FT is a predominantly digital content business, with more revenues from subscriptions and content sales than advertising.
From a marketing standpoint, that means we focus a lot of our investment on growing our consumer and corporate subscription and events businesses. The channels where we seek to reach and engage prospects and existing customers include a mix of traditional above-the-line–there’s still no substitute for the quality environment that media provides, or the captive commuter audience out-of-home helps you reach, for example–with newer channels and strategies, such as social, search, and programmatic.
CMO.com: How is your thinking about marketing changing as digital moves from being seen as a channel to a marketing–and business–mindset? Where would you place the organisation in that transition?
Keller: The channel–whether print, digital, mobile, social, email, out-of-home, experiential, or any other–is simply a means of connecting meaningfully with an audience. The FT has long been channel-agnostic, and we focus on providing our journalism through a variety of channels and in a variety of formats, giving consumers the choice.
More than three-quarters of our global audience now come to the FT through digital and mobile, and increasingly they are coming through multiple channels during different times of the day. As our readers’ habits have evolved, so has our marketing strategy. We seek to find and engage people where they are.
The thing about being a digital business–as all businesses are becoming in some shape or form–is that the process of transformation and evolution never stops. That constant drive to anticipate, experiment, and adapt must be baked into the fabric of your organisation and how everyone shows up to the job, day in and day out. That is a philosophy we subscribe to in marketing and beyond.
CMO.com: What’s your approach to news aggregation services? How do news brands maintain their value when increasing amounts of content are being consumed via feeds?
Keller: The rise of distributed content–with consumers increasingly seeking out their news and information through social media and news aggregators–without a doubt poses some existential challenges for media organisations. One is how to preserve brand identity and recognition as your content is atomised across the web. Another, perhaps most critically, is how to maintain a direct relationship with readers–or viewers/listeners–in order to continue to attract, engage, and monetise their consumption.
For the first challenge, the FT works hard to maintain a distinct voice, look, and feel no matter where consumers encounter it. Given there are restrictions to our ability to do that from a design standpoint off-platform, we put extra focus on the journalism. For example, our recent Uber Game informs and educates readers about the gig economy in a gamified but still very FT way that we suspected would travel well. [We] were pleased to be proved right.
On the second challenge, we have long held a guiding principle that, no matter where our content travels, a direct relationship with our readers must be maintained. Where aggregators and platforms facilitate and respect that, we have strong and symbiotic relationships; we supply quality content to engage their users, and they provide quality reach that we can ultimately recognise and therefore monetise. Where that relationship is not reciprocal, we move on.
CMO.com: What’s next for the FT?
Keller: Continue pushing toward our goal of 1 million paying readers. This [November] we surpassed 900,000, the largest in our 130-year history.