Richard Reeves is the Managing Director of the Association for Online Publishing (AOP).

Econsultancy spoke to him about his work within the challenging landscape of digital publishing, why his role requires diplomacy, people skills and optimism, and his advice for anyone who is starting out in publishing.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

Richard Reeves: As managing director of the Association for Online Publishing, I work with our board members who represent the voices of the UK’s leading publishers, including News UK, TI Media, MailOnline, Dennis, Immediate Media, and Guardian Media Group.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Richard Reeves: To thrive at what you do, a balanced skill set is vital, and I think this rings true at any level. In my experience, diplomacy and the ability to listen are two essential traits, and being a people person also helps. Being able to understand the concerns and challenges specific to both the person and their operation, while recognising them as an individual, is key. Adopting a fair and balanced approach is necessary, especially when it comes to negotiation.

In publishing, optimism is crucial. It can be easy to get disheartened during challenging times – most recently, the industry has seen the gauntlet thrown down in the form of tightening browser policies and privacy regulations – but we’ve also learnt from our own history that addressing change is often what drives innovation and encourages future success.

Humans are resilient, and when things don’t go to plan, our resilience is what drives us to keep going and overcome. We’ve seen in the past that when publishers work together, they too can become an irresistible force. I believe this approach of collaboration and optimism is just as much a skill needed to be effective in my own role as it is needed for publishers to be successful in the year ahead.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Richard Reeves: From planning our programme of AOP Crunch events with the team and sitting on panels at events, to representing publishers at trade body meetings such as JICWEBS, the variety of my ‘typical’ working day keeps my role exciting.

The ever-changing, ever-evolving nature of digital publishing requires AOP to keep its ear to the ground and respond accordingly to assist its members and help shape the industry for the better. For example, following the implementation of GDPR, working with members to help the ICO understand the complexities of the digital publishing ecosystem has been important.

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

Richard Reeves: Having worked within the media and advertising industry for more than 30 years, I am grateful to be in a position that’s about helping the industry and bringing people together. I see the AOP’s aim as helping clear a smooth path for publishers in the digital landscape; if this is curling, we’re the sweepers with the brushes! There’s a lot of satisfaction in being a conduit for positive change.

What sucks? The sense of helplessness one feels at not being able to reverse the impact the new media age is having on the local newsrooms and the consequences that will have on local communities in the long-term. That, and there not being enough hours in the day.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

Richard Reeves: One of the factors I use to measure success within the publishing industry – which could also be considered a goal – is innovation.

A great example of this is the approach adopted by Marie Claire, which identified appropriate retailers and partnered with them as part of a campaign to develop an affiliate commerce product. This illustrated that publishers can boost their bottom line by moving away from solely relying on advertising, and harnessing the trust they have built among loyal readers.

I’ve also seen publishers who really understand their audiences and the context of their environment – such as Decanter magazine – to successfully create subscription models, again proving that creators of high quality, original content can move away from an over-reliance on advertising.

Meanwhile AOP is involved in trialling how distributed ledger technology can provide increased financial transparency and a more accountable ecosystem. Insights gained from these trials will help inform future publishing activity and best practice guidelines, including through forums such as JICWEBS.

Inspiration is also a great measure for success in our industry. The Ozone Project laid the foundation for how important collaboration is for publishers, inspiring them to work together to meet its goal of providing high quality inventory across trusted and transparent publications.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Richard Reeves: First of all, be open-minded. The publishing industry provides a variety of opportunities for any individual and, as long as they are willing to work hard, a myriad of possibilities is open to those capable of identifying them.

Secondly, embrace change; don’t be afraid of it. Change is what drives innovation. As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”

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