‘The doorbell doesn’t ring anymore’: News UK has had to change how it hires digital talent

News UK, owner of British newspapers The Times and The Sun, has undergone big changes in the last year. Restructuring its sales team to account for business changes such as the dropping of The Sun’s paywall, integrating social video startup Unruly, and pulling back from breaking-news products at The Times, were a few of them. And for that, it’s had to adapt how it hires.

“We may be changing fast, but the history of this organization has been print-centric. Our doorbell doesn’t ring anymore,” said News UK chief commercial director Dominic Carter. “We’ve got to knock on a lot more doors, and the culture has to be not about what we’re selling but what works for the client. And for that, you need people who articulate in the right way.”

That’s more than 700 doors to be exact. At least, in the last six months the News UK sales arm, which was restructured last year to cater for providing deeper, more consultative services to advertisers, has logged 730 meetings with clients, according to Carter. “The quality of relationships we now have with clients and agencies is fundamentally different to where we were 18 months ago,” he added.

That’s partly due to an influx of new hires to the commercial center — branded The Bridge to clients — 90 new people in the last year (which is a third of the total figure). It is also a result of the type of backgrounds it now targets for recruits.

Most of the new hires have been taken from agencies and clients, not media. Emphasis is more on people with planning backgrounds rather than just sales. “You need a certain kind of person who is always willing to go the extra mile,” said Carter. It’s not about getting to the buyers, but getting to the people who decide if you’re in the funnel of media selected, and for that we have to build relationships not just ad partnerships.

As for the digital team, that’s had an injection of 50 people in the last year. Among its newest recruits are its first head of programmatic, Ian Hocking, who joined last month, and this month several more directors joined the digital strategic sales and partnership department within The Bridge. Milton Elias, previously head of mobile and tech futures at OMD, has joined as head of mobile and video, while Joana Carrigan, former commercial editor at Huffington Post will become head of branded content.

Recruiting people with the right programmatic expertise can be tough and expensive. “The skills are different and inherently more complex,” said News UK digital commercial director Ben Walmsley. “From a sales perspective, publishers need people who can build relationships and also have a solid understanding of technology, auction dynamics, deal types and buying strategies,” he added.

That rings true for a lot of publishers trying to recruit for new types of roles such as programmatic analysts. Even just the type of interview questions used can make a huge difference in nabbing the right talent. “We look for people who are able to articulate a complex concept,” said Walmsley. “I recall someone with no technology experience explaining the theory behind plate tectonics with great enthusiasm and articulacy in an interview — a skill she transferred in explaining complex technical concepts to clients,” he added.

For a lot of its new hires, News UK has turned to Unruly’s hiring methods to ensure it’s attracting the right people. “I involved Unruly in the intake of digital expertise over the last year, from top to bottom in terms of the digital structure we needed,” added Carter.

Unruly’s methods of recruiting, even down to the types of questions asked in interviews, to the type of profiles they look for in candidates, have all been absorbed into News UK’s processes when hiring in digital roles, and all new directors brought in meet with Unruly founder Sarah Wood. “I use Unruly to help me benchmark what we look for in people,” he added.

Around the time The Sun’s paywall dropped, agencies predicted the integration of Unruly’s culture into the business, would be a challenge. Carter approached it by absorbing processes that Unruly adopted, such as shorter 12-week cycles on product innovations. “We call them sprints,” added Carter. This was a method used for new product developments such as The Times’ shift to an editions-based publishing cycle.


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