Credit: Photo by Sagar Rana on Unsplash

At an online event today (27 February 2024), hosted by the Journalism Innovation and Leadership Programme at the University of Central Lancashire, three young leaders explored how they are steering their media companies through turbulent times in the media industry.

Rewriting your reputation

LadBible started as a Facebook page in 2012, finding success in posts and viral videos for "lads" or young adult, British men. Fast forward to today, the LadBible Group is a global, digital multimedia company with a diversified editorial remit and business model. It dwarfs all other UK news publications for cross-platform social media engagement.

Its director of editorial strategy Jon Birchall was brought in two years ago from Reach plc, a major regional news group.

As the company has matured, Birchall said, it developed a north star goal - a single, constant, company-wide goal that underpins every action and decision. It is essential for business development, digital transformation and culture change. For the Ladbible Group, that goal is "long-term sustainable earnings."

In simple terms, that means resisting impulse changes and sticking to a dedicated editorial strategy. How do you do that? Bring more people into the decision-making process, from commercial partners to social media managers.

For Birchall, diversifying the audience was important, as the publication needed to shake off its 'laddy' reputation. Successful new verticals, like GAMINGbible and SPORTbible, have helped to that end. With new audiences come more contextual or targeted advertising, more specialist content, and more brand safety for potential partnerships.

A lot of LadBible's light-hearted content still exists but more serious subjects, like period poverty or LGBTQ+ issues, have featured prominently.

"We've still got work to do as an organisation to show different communities that we are a reliable partner who cares about how their stories are reflected," says Birchall.

All of this takes time. When he started his job, Birchall took three months to talk to different teams and formulate a plan - taking in the various challenges, growth opportunities and existing processes - before implementing his strategies.

LadBible's journalists have access to revenue data on their content to better understand what audiences and brands care about. This is not tied to any targets or expectations though and it is a rare move in a newsroom.

Birchall recommends transparency to any aspiring media leaders, as well as breaking down silos. When managing staff, make sure they have all the tools to succeed and create opportunities for them to be able to ask for help. And do not be afraid to ask the experts to help you if a task is outside your knowledge and skill set.

Top tip: Use ChatGPT to explain jargon.

Dealing with imposter syndrome

The Financial Times runs a Next Gen Board, a group of 10 emerging leaders from different business areas across the FT. One of those is Aliya Itzkowitz, manager of its consultancy business, FT Strategies.

Even with such achievements under her wing, Itzkowitz admits to sometimes struggling with the imposter syndrome when advising more senior colleagues. She has learned though that there is power and confidence in voicing uncertainty.

"Instead of thinking of these moments as potential embarrassment, think of them as moments to potentially learn something. I feel that changes your mindset," she says.

When you move up the career ladder, you inevitably take on more responsibility and there are likely more knowledge gaps. It can be empowering to say you do not know enough about a topic once in a while.

That does not mean do not try to stay up to date with the latest knowledge and following thought leaders on emerging topics can help. She recommends following Ezra Eeman, Agnes Stenbom, Uli Koppen and David Caswell on LinkedIn for AI tips and insights.

Top tip: If you are nervous, slow down your speech. Fast speakers sometimes lack conviction while slow and methodical speakers project authority.

Rise to new challenges

Another way to skill yourself up fast is to take on projects and partnerships that force you to learn fast. There is nothing quite like jumping in at the deep end. Just watch out for going beyond your depth.

Rachel Arthur is the founder of boom saloon, a member-based global movement to democratise creativity for good, which explores the UN sustainability goals.

Her CV is impressive: she is the advocacy lead for sustainable fashion at the United Nations Environment Programme, a self-employed speaker and consultant, a former award-winning business journalist, and the co-founder of FashMash, a global community that shapes the future of fashion.

There is no room for complacency when you are forced to get up to speed quickly, she said. Partnering with experts will mean you can absorb a lot of their knowledge on the job.

Top tip: Information flow works two-way, and you can get a lot of inspiration from your members. Always listen to your audience, whether it is through surveys, interviews, in-person events or other forms of feedback. Their insights will guide your strategy.

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