Tom Morgan Technology for Marketing
NATALIE TURNER [00:00:13] Hello and welcome back to Technology for Marketing Day Two. I’m Natalie Turner from Disruptive Live, and I am joined by Tom Morgan, the Director of Digital at The Spectator.
TOM MORGAN [00:00:22] Hello Natalie, lovely to be here
NATALIE TURNER [00:00:24] Thank you so much for joining us today. So tell me, what is it like being the Director of Digital at somewhere like the Spectator?
TOM MORGAN [00:00:31] Well, I guess the word I would use to describe is slightly wonderful and slightly mad. My story is I used to work for a pure tech company right. So we used to go round selling the idea of blockchain to big banks and user experience to the public sector. We’d go into the energy companies and tell them they needed to kind of rewire all there tech. And, and that’s a big shift from where I am now at Spectator. And what happened was I basically went to pitch to the Spectator and they said, OK, well, actually, we can’t we can’t hire your company, but would you like to come work for us? So here I am as the Director of Digital at Spectator and I guess my my job title is slightly odd because I’m the Director of Digital, and yet what I’m actually supposed to be doing is putting digital into the business and making it so everybody thinks about digital all the time and makes digital kind of part of what everyone does, day in, day out.
NATALIE TURNER [00:01:25] So is digital like at the heart of everything you do?
TOM MORGAN [00:01:28] Funnily enough, it is, although I don’t know if it’s always recognized as such, but one of our editors key principles is that if you think about journalism as a concept. Once upon a time journalism meant you could right, then it meant you could probably do some kind of broadcast type stuff, whether it was radio or TV. Now it means you’ve probably got to be able to do podcasts and also it means as well you’ve got to be able to write email newsletters. And so in many ways, digital is not really a kind of a separate department. It’s a part of being in journalism and part of being in the sector we’re in.
NATALIE TURNER [00:02:00] It’s so broad isn’t it.
TOM MORGAN [00:02:01] It’s really massive. And I guess what I tried to do is enable all those different things I talked about emails, podcasts, our website, our app, our newsletters, and basically make them as brilliant as possible for all of our customers, so that the writers can focus on writing the content and making that amazing.
NATALIE TURNER [00:02:19] Oh, I bet I mean with what’s been happening in politics at the moment, I bet thats been really exciting for you.
TOM MORGAN [00:02:24] It’s a crazy time, I mean it’s one thing to say that we thrive on this kind of chaos and it’s lovely. I think what makes us special is we have a, we have a balance where if you look at a magazine like The Economist, they’re very good at facts and they’re very good at presenting facts. If you look at a magazine like the private eye, they’re very good at entertainment and they’re very good at kind of making you laugh. But what we do is we offer this breadth and it’s rather beautiful when you think about what we do is we provide the facts. But we do it in a very way and we do it with a bit of opinion. And lastly, we bring it with humour. And that magical combination is ultimately what makes people read us and continue reading us and want to carry on reading us.
NATALIE TURNER [00:03:06] So would you say that’s the difference in the culture from you and other organizations like traditional organizations shall we say like, what’s the difference in culture between the two?
TOM MORGAN [00:03:16] Yeah, I think one of the unique things about The Spectator is the culture is not something that I’ve ever seen in any other organization. When I was in that tech consultancy I talked about, I would go into lots of companies and they’d have big things on the wall saying, here’s our mission statement, here’s our mantra. Here are our core values. But they typically tended to be more or less synonyms of the same words. Innovation, flexibility, passion. And at The Spectator, I kind of describe it as mischief, fun, passion and love for what you do. And there’s a saying that if you’re not enjoying a job, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not necessarily the Spectators doing. You’re probably approaching it wrong. And so the culture is slightly chaotic because of that. We don’t have conference calls. We don’t do any working from home. We passionately believe in the interactions that happen in our corridors. And we have like this beautiful Grade 1 listed building with a staircase going up the middle and nine tenths of our business decisions are just made by bumping into each other and discussing stuff.
NATALIE TURNER [00:04:14] Well you’re located in Westminster as well which is even more amazing, right in the heart of everything.
TOM MORGAN [00:04:19] You just have people coming and going, it’s like an open door. One minute you’ll have kind of know Julia Hartley Brewer walking in and the next minute you’ll have the undersecretary to the prime minister. It really is a kind of a constant hubbub of lively discussion and debate, and that’s the culture. And you can’t really write that down. It’s quite hard even to explain it.
NATALIE TURNER [00:04:37] So since you’ve been the digital well, the Director of Digital, should I say. What’s been your key motivator for change?
[00:04:46] Well, really when I joined, I looked around the business and I saw that it was doing incredibly well with some pretty crap tech is the long and short of it. And you know we’re the fastest we’re one of the fastest growing magazines in Europe. And what’s magical about what we’ve made, managed to do is we’ve not cannibalized our print business as we’ve grown in our digital business. So we’re kind of growing on every front. But we’re reaching that tipping point where we can’t really rely on the tech solutions that we had in place seven years ago, I guess is probably the last time they were properly reviewed. And so my job was to come in and go looking at what other companies do and kind of untainted by some of the behaviours that you see in the publishing sector. What are the right technologies to use? What are the right behaviours? What are the right products to create for our readers and our customers? So, so that basically meant pulling everything out and starting again. And this year we have kind of re-architecting everything we do. We are rebuilding all of our technical platforms. We are rethinking how we take some of our most popular products to market, such as our websites, such as our app, such as our newsletters. And that’s from the design to the product itself, to the technology that underpins it.
NATALIE TURNER [00:06:00] OK. So in regards to technology, what’s been the most integral part to the success of The Spectator?
TOM MORGAN [00:06:07] Gosh, that is a really good question. So seven years ago, they made the call that they needed to adopt a WordPress based platform, and that was basically to enable them to move away from just pure print. It was kind of saying, you know what? We’ve got some amazing people on our books, stick them in Westminster and get them blogging. And so what The Spectator launched was a website, which was, to all intensive purposes, just like a blog site. And um, that’s basically what’s still there today. And it’s enormously successful because it focuses on something slightly different to what the magazine focuses on. Whereas the magazine is about that kind of in-depth commentary, that in-depth analysis. And it’s kind of like this beautifully crafted, end to end narrative. Our website is more around that kind of live, quick analysis, and it’s the same quality of analysis, but it’s on kind of a day to day basis and it’s much more about what’s happening. We like to say we don’t report the news. We report on the news. And it’s a it’s kind of, so to answer the question, it comes back to content. What makes us successful is the fact that our writers are so amazing and the technology up till now has not really caused a problem. But having said that, we’re now at the point where our websites taking a long time to load, our conversion rates and our payment pages were very poor until I stripped them all out and replaced them. And there are a number of other examples of where simple tweaks to the technology can help completely pour petrol on that fire and send it to the next level.
NATALIE TURNER [00:07:27] I mean, these days everyone’s going to face some sort of disruption and that’s what yours is. But moving on a little bit about subscriptions, as we’re talking about magazines. Do you think there’s still a business model for it? Do you think it will last?
TOM MORGAN [00:07:38] I do worry about subscription fatigue. It keeps me up at night when I think that actually our well, and maybe I’m slightly exaggerating. Perhaps it doesn’t keep me up at night. But I think about the fact that in the UK we have benefited enormously from the likes of Amazon and Netflix right. There was a data point to suggest that when Amazon and Netflix join a markets, suddenly appetite for subscriptions in that market skyrockets. And I look around some of the people here today at this expo and I think there’s a lot of D2C business models. This can come through your letterbox. That can come through your letterbox. I sign up to a razor blade through my letterbox and I don’t even shave and I just can’t be bothered to cancel the thing because it’s just kind of convenient, right? So this is something that I worry about because I think, OK, fine, if it’s like sixty dollars a month. Seventy dollars a month, outgoings for people, whatever. The moment it becomes 200, 300 dollars a month. People are going to start being really really selective about what they subscribe to.
NATALIE TURNER [00:08:35] Oh of course I know I would be.
TOM MORGAN [00:08:36] So there’s going to, I think one of two things will happen. Either the business will go back to the old Itunes way, they’ll say, right, we’ll just do paper, paper content like, you know, when you used to be able to buy an album or a song and it was like 79p. And that would be a bit disappointing because it would kind of represent a failure of the market to really adapt and think about how to solve the problem. But it’s a great like escape card for someone like me to say, okay, it’s just another way to buy our content. What I would like to see happen is for the for the USPs of the businesses that rely on subscriptions to really harden and to stop words like brand advocacy being an excuse to say, oh, of course we’ll be better than that particular subscription package because we’ve got greater brand advocacy or influences or whatever. But to actually go back to the quality of the products. And I think if I look at The Spectator as an example, we are the only publication that does what we do that is that walled garden that says once you are in, you will just enjoy the bounty that was there and you will not want to leave because you’ll soak it all up and you can try getting individual bits from other publications, but you can’t get the whole. And that is where I would like to see the subscriptions market go, because then it means we can actually offer something that is uniquely worth paying for as opposed to just racing to the bottom in a big race in a paper clip content.
NATALIE TURNER [00:09:53] Absolutely. Well, we haven’t got very long left, but in a very short, short sentence. Where do you see the future of Spectator going? Now you’re the Director of Digital, what have you got planned for it?
TOM MORGAN [00:10:04] Well, there’s two big things. I hate to sound like I’m just blowing our trumpet and announcing our big product innovations. So the first thing is, next year you’re going to see a relaunch of the Spectators website. At the end of the day, like I said, it’s been going a long time and it’s incredibly successful. But it is time for a fresh start. And we have been working very closely with our existing readers to make sure that as we innovate, we don’t kick them out and annoy them because ultimately they are important to us. And the feedback from those workshops that we’ve been doing with them so far is that we’re bang on track. So we’re going to see a website next year that I believe is going to be really wonderful. It’s going gonna really encompass the beauty of what the magazine does, but in the digital space and bring something that’s really quite amazing to people that they want to use every single day. The second thing that’s slightly long term is I do genuinely believe that audio is the big thing for this sector in the future. If I look at our podcast growth, it is enormous. And we’re not even trying. We don’t even market it, right. We don’t even charge for it. It’s crazy. And so I honestly think that if you think about podcasts, if you think about the ability to listen to our magazine as opposed to just read it, think about the conversations you might have with Alexa or Smart Assistants, where they’re going to bring us into their homes. These are areas of enormous opportunity for us and those will be my focus points over the next few years.
NATALIE TURNER [00:11:18] Amazing. Thank you so much, Tom. It’s been lovely chatting to you.
TOM MORGAN [00:11:21] It’s been a pleasure, thank you Natalie.
NATALIE TURNER [00:11:22] Unfortunately we have run out of time. Thank you so much for joining us. So, that is all from us for now. However, don’t go away, we will be back after a short break. See you in a bit.