The Counterpuncher: The Guardian’s new CRO Hamish Nicklin is on a mission
Back in the late noughties, Hamish Nicklin took up boxing. He was drawn to the sweet science as a fun way to keep fit, and he spent four years sparring twice a week with former Google colleagues. There was just one problem in his short-lived pugilistic adventures: He punched so hard that he hurt his hand. “I just punched badly,” he laughs.
Now, as chief revenue officer at The Guardian at the most fraught period of its 195-year history, Nicklin is back in the ring. He’s learned to hit back at the pummeling the publisher has taken over the years as advertisers favor audience over context, quantity over quality, and clicks over impressions. And he’s not shy about saying so.
“We’re chasing the wrong things. The idea of bombarding people with ads for the sake of scale, at cheap costs, is a bit rubbish. It doesn’t work for advertisers or consumers, or publishers. We’ve forgotten what really matters, which is getting people to do something. We want the Guardian to be a catalyst for change,” he says.
And he doesn’t have the luxury of time. With a 2016 pre-tax loss of £69 million ($87 million), the Guardian is dangerously in the red. Guardian News and Media Group, which also owns the Observer newspaper, has a unique ownership structure. In 1936, its parent company The Scott Trust was established to secure the newspaper’s financial and editorial independence. But insulating such losses indefinitely is not a luxury even the trust can afford. As such, in January 2016, The Guardian announced plans to cut costs by 20 percent within three years. So far, that’s involved a voluntary redundancy program in London, which has resulted in the departure of 270 staff. Its U.S. operation will also need to scale back its workforce by 30 percent. And the publisher has also dialed up appeals to readers to donate and support the Guardian with various paid membership tiers.
Nicklin arrived midway through this turmoil, six months after the cost-cutting measures were announced. A lot has changed internally in that time. One of the new processes is a three-month objectives check-in, led by editor-in-chief Katharine Viner and CEO David Pemsel. That’s sped up internal processes. And it’s a system Nicklin is at home with, since it’s been borrowed from Google — where he spent nine years of his career, in various senior roles. That experience certainly comes in handy now. “I’m often asked, ‘What would Google do in this situation?’ It definitely helps put a certain perspective on things,” he says.
A crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste
Nicklin hasn’t been shy in making changes at the Guardian. Within weeks he’d radically changed the commercial team structure, which was surprisingly still very siloed. Now, there are unified client-facing teams, rather than three separate selling divisions, and there’s a laser focus on embedding the new commercial positioning with advertisers, as a “platform for action.”
This is intended as more than a pithy mantra. Nicklin wants the Guardian to take a leading role …read more