Steven Wakeling is the Commercial Director at Playbook, a new in-housing consultancy created by Forward, the independent media arm of lastminute.com.
Econsultancy spoke to him to find out how he keeps on top of the in-housing debate, his favourite tools for getting the job done, and how start-up environments have helped to prepare him for his current role.
Hi, Steven. Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the Global Commercial Director for Playbook, which is the new in-housing consultancy set up by lastminute.com’s media company, Forward, earlier in 2019.
At Playbook, we help brands become more competitive by in-housing their core media and marketing activities, and it’s been my responsibility to build out Playbook’s proposition from conception to launch – and now I’m building traction for the business.
I’ve become absolutely immersed in the in-housing debate and have embraced that high-energy start-up mode, meeting with as many clients and brands as possible to identify opportunities to in-house and figure out where we can support.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
To give you a bit of our backstory, Playbook was designed and built by the team behind Travelpeople – lastminute.com’s in-house media and trading business, which successfully increased its annual media revenues by 40% in just three years.
We saw there was a gap in the market and realised that we could use our experience to help brands take core media and marketing functions in-house, like we successfully did for Travelpeople. So we built Playbook from the ground up.
At the same time, lastminute.com wanted to evolve its media strategy, and launched a new independent media company called Forward – and now Travel People and Playbook both sit within this new media business.
I head up Playbook and report into Alessandra Di Lorenzo, Forward’s CEO.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I spend a lot of time meeting and speaking with clients or potential partners, so communication skills are key, as well as commercial awareness. I need to be able to understand the market and the issues that businesses are facing, in order to help them to thrive.
As we’re in start up mode, having the right attitude is so important, too. I need to be ambitious and have a clear vision of the direction we’re going in, while being flexible with my approach if our plans don’t quite go as expected. Loads of enthusiasm, a positive outlook and bags of patience are also really valuable for a successful start-up mindset.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I dedicate most of my time to building momentum for Playbook. On any given day this could mean working hands-on with the internal team or key partners to build or deliver a project, liaising with tech companies and suppliers, lead sourcing or exploring new capabilities or possibilities for Playbook.
Although we’re a small team, we’re essentially a new business within an existing business, so internal comms (or evangelising Playbook to other teams within lastminute.com) plays an essential role in ensuring that the whole company is in the loop and on board.
It’s important that I am completely engaged with the in-housing debate in order to get a clear understanding of the challenges that brands are facing, so Playbook can help to solve them. So I also make sure I stay up to date with press and media stories around in-housing.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love that every day is different at Playbook, as we’re always looking for new, dynamic ways to work.
I also appreciate the opportunity to be entrepreneurial in the way I work. I’m not just a cog in a machine – I can make a tangible impact to the business and if I don’t think something’s working effectively, I can change and adapt our approach to find a new solution.
What sucks? Patience may be a virtue in this job, but it’s not easy. The hardest thing about the job is realising that getting from A to B can take time, and at times that can be really frustrating.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Naturally, revenue will always be an important KPI, but our ultimate ambition is to be the go-to consultant and partner to help companies with their in-housing journey. Speaking to clients and getting their feedback helps us to measure traction, and more broadly, doing great work for great clients who push our thinking around in-housing is also a meaningful metric for us.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
For project management, I love to use Monday.com, which is brilliant for organising work between teams.
To help me keep my finger on the pulse of everything going on in the world of in-housing, I regularly check out LinkedIn to see who’s joining the in-housing conversation, and I keep an eye on sites such as Wired or specialised marketing press, to see what’s new in terms of innovative technology or new ways of working.
How did you end up at Playbook, and where might you go from here?
I’ve worked in media and commercial growth for more than 16 years now, having previously held roles at businesses such as WAYN, Centaur Media and Dennis Publishing. And, before helping to launch Playbook, I worked with lastminute.com’s in-house media division Travelpeople, leading on custom digital projects.
Working in start-up environments in the past was great preparation for the role I have now. At Travelpeople, for instance, I led on the commercial development of new and innovative products and solutions, building propositions from scratch.
At Playbook we’ve only just got started and there’s still plenty more work to be done to help companies future-proof their businesses. I’m looking forward to even more challenging, interesting work ahead, as for me that’s the biggest pay off.
Which campaigns have impressed you lately?
Spotify has done some brilliant work over the past few years with their in-house creative team, and I love the way they show off with their data insights – whether that’s just for its entertainment value, or to provide their customers with interesting content. For instance, their annual Wrapped campaign, where they package up personalised tracks and stats for each and every customer, is a great example of how a brand can use relevant data insights to engage with its customers.
What advice would you give a marketer starting out in 2019?
In its basic form, marketing is all about getting closer to your customers – don’t lose sight of this goal. If there’s anything that’s getting in the way of that brand-consumer relationship, consider how to overcome that hurdle.