Interviews

Katie Vanneck-Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, News International (NI)

Katie has been CMO for NI Group Ltd since 2010. Working across all three titles, she is responsible for circulation revenue and subscription sales of print and digital products

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman

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Tom Holmes talks to Katie Vanneck-Smith, CMO of News International. 

Katie has been CMO for NI Group Ltd since 2010. Working across all three titles, she is responsible for circulation revenue and subscription sales of print and digital products.

Katie joined Times Newspapers in 1996 as a trainee, going on to become Marketing Manager; Digital Director responsible for launching Times Online, and Promotions Director. After some time spent with the Telegraph, she returned as Times Media Sales and Marketing Director, then MD, Customer Direct at NI. Since her return to NI she has launched the innovative customer loyalty programme, Times+ and masterminded the digital paid content strategy.

Katie is a Mentor of The Marketing Academy.

 

Creativebrief: As Chief Marketing Officer at News International (NI) what is your primary focus?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: Building and sustaining great teams – we are all only as good as the people we work with. The pace, diversity and reinvention of this industry needs passionate, curious, collaborative and creative individuals with endless energy, to help shape the future for these iconic news brands. This is a tough, but exciting time. The rules are there to be rewritten – time to work hard, have fun and make history.

Creativebrief: You’ve arguably got the toughest marketing role in the UK not just post Leveson but also grappling with tough economic times, what are the main challenges facing you and NI over the next 12 months?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: Beyond just the day job – and the imminent launch of our new paid digital subscription bundle for the Sun….

June 28th sees the formation of the new News Corp – a unique opportunity here in the UK and beyond. We’ll need far more of a start up mentality – more opportunism, more experimentation, more collaboration across our global businesses and the content we produce. Key challenge is to make sure we learn as quickly as possible, there will be some failures and many successes. Ultimately we’ll end up in a better place – better products for consumers, driving more revenue from a lower cost base.

Creativebrief: The Times and Sunday Times started charging website access in June 2010, how’s that going and what sort of subscriber numbers are you getting now?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: Today, providing consumer choice in ways to pay & consume our product – means The Times has more paying customers than in June 2010. A strong start. Currently we have over 340,000 paying subscribers – and from August The Times now with Goals, provides us with a new distinctive and differentiated proposition to market, a key asset to drive future growth.

Creativebrief: You launch Sun+ on 1 August, by erecting a paywall surely this will greatly diminish the 1.68 million unique browsers who visit Sun.co.uk daily and what have you got planned to attract subscribers?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: I don’t like the talk of paywalls – it’s a negative and therefore a limiting word. I prefer to talk of us launching a new digital entertainment bundle that people will be happy to pay for. We need to think big, and rethink how we create, package and market our great content to consumer in this new digital economy. Sun+ – will be The Sun+Goals+Perks – and is available for all our customers. So in terms of our daily franchise – I would rather worry about the 7m daily uniques or 13m weekly reach we deliver in the UK across all our platforms – and focus on total growth.

Creativebrief: You joined Times Newspapers in 1996 as a graduate trainee, looking back what have been the high points?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: The time spent in our Archives that date back to 1785 when The Times was launched (first as The Daily Universal Register, rebranding as The Times in 1788).
Attending news conference on all our papers – a privilege I wish I had the time to take advantage of daily.

Being part of the team that had in both instances less than a week to launch The Times Compact edition and The Sun’s Sunday Edition from scratch. The hours might be mad, but these are the true moments where our passion, creativity and team spirit come together in a truly exceptional way to create instant market leading and beating products for the UK’s consumers.

And finally…defying the conventional wisdoms, proving those naysayers wrong – and demonstrating there is a market for paid for digital content.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: As Robert Thomson noted in our recent investor days, globalisation and digitisation are the two defining long-term trends that most affect our business. The printed word remains impactful and important but we have to acknowledge and embrace how important technology is becoming as the canvas for our content. More specifically, mobile devices (phones and tablets) are key and will continue to grow. How these devices are used by people as their second (and sometimes first) screens is something we are focussing on.

Creativebrief: In the mid ’80s I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi on Times Newspapers and remember Rupert Murdoch complaining (quite rightly) about the length of time it took an ad agency to produce one advertisement when he could turnaround complete newspapers within 24 hrs, do you think the advertising industry is still playing catch up?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: Not in my experience. Referring to my earlier career highlight – having less than a week to launch the Sunday edition of The Sun – my agencies were in the room with me on this journey. In less than a week we produced together over 450 pieces of creative – and were on air, online, in print and on posters within 36 hours of selling in the creative strategy to Rupert Murdoch.

Creativebrief: After over hauling your advertising arrangements last year how are your agencies performing?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: The Team News Model is a great solution to our ever-changing needs. The in built agility and flexibility of being able to adapt our resources and team where needed, on the strong foundation of a long term strategic partnership and venture with WPP, means we can constantly review and tweak to optimise performance.

Creativebrief: What marketing campaigns have you done recently make you particularly proud and why?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: For The Times – the Nexus Bundle deal. A news brand industry first – bundling our digital subscription package with an exclusive Nexus Tablet offer. A campaign that generated our total sales target from resulting free media (owned, earned, PR and Social)

 

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: I like to have the best of Both – Hence our Team News approach.

creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: Personally not many as this is the remit of Nick Stringer our Director of Marketing Communications. My focus is more on working with Nick, the MD of Team News and the CEOs of the relevant WPP agencies to make sure we dedicate the right amount of time and resource on the bigger picture and 3 year plan.

creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Katie Vanneck-Smith:  New agency partners – rarely, but the people and make up of the Team News roster is an ever evolving and iterating process.

creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: I care less about the name above the door and more about the individual talent we work with. For me “the best” is not about the agency awards and pitches won, it’s based on enduring relationships with the right people.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: I like to work with very smart, honest people who know my business and can match the pace at which an organisation like ours works. A traditional pitch is not always the best environment to identify those people.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch? What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Katie Vanneck-Smith: You must have done your research – as I have done this twice in my career. After inheriting CHI&Partners when I joined The Telegraph in 2005, despite a few CEO hints that we might look for a new agency partner, the team fought hard and won both my respect and loyalty, creating the beginnings of a long standing partnership. So when I moved back to The Times in 2007 – and was asked to hold an agency review – I handed the business to CHI without pitch. Even today 8 years on – whilst CHI are no longer part of our agency roster – many of the individuals with whom I worked during this time are still working with us as part of Team News.

Last year’s Team News pitch was more of a hybrid approach. WPP presented their new Team model to us, which demonstrated significant efficiencies and savings & an interesting new approach to working with the best of the WPP agencies in a more flexible model. So WPP won the business without a pitch – but then we ran 4 x team news pitches made up of agencies from within WPP.