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What it means to be a leader in an increasingly digitized world…

Gareth MainGareth Main, Head of Online Merchandising at Guardian News & Media, will be this year’s keynote speaker at the Digital Leadership Forum 2015, which will be held June 8-9 in Vienna.

Below, I asked him a few questions about what it means to be a leader in an increasingly digitized world:

Our event where you will be giving the keynote is all about digital leadership. What does it mean to be a digital leader?

To be a leader in the digital world is to be open to all possibilities. We live in a time of unprecedented change, and to lead a team to be continually innovative requires leaders who are not constrained by what they’re used to or what might have been the way they’ve worked previously.

At the Guardian, you lead an international team. What leadership skills do you consider essential in today’s digital world?

Hiring the right people is critical. You shouldn’t compromise on quality and if someone isn’t going to fit into the role, then you’re only going to hold back your company’s success by bringing them in. Too often I see poor hires, and poor hires breed more poor hires – it’s infectious. A leader needs to pull together exceptional teams, and be willing for those teams to outgrow their roles.

Internationally that’s more so. If you have to manage an Online Merchandising strategy that works in the UK, the US and Australia, you have to make sure you have local specialists who understand the business’ global strategy and how to adapt that to the needs of the local audience.

One of your successes is a multi-million increase in online merchandising revenues for the Guardian. What would you say are three key factors for success in online merchandising, and where can you see the industry going?

Inevitably it’s the increased use of data that will ensure future success. Not only raw data, but the industry is moving rapidly towards the use of psychology theories and personas. Understanding the audience comes from more than just using data – to personalise effectively, you need to have a thorough grasp of what users are doing when, and why. For the Guardian it’s a particularly unique challenge – we have an audience that is here to read articles and view editorial content – we need to allow users to do that without disruption, whilst also generating revenue from users who are interested in our products and services.

A buzz word every vendor has been using for a few years now is “engagement”. How do you define and measure it?

For us there are many forms of engagement. For Online Merchandising it is clearly how people interact with our campaigns, when they do so, and why. Our methods for measuring engagement change depending on what action we’re asking users to take. Many paths are deeper than others, and some conversions require multiple touchpoints and sessions, we have to adapt accordingly.

Thank you!


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