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5 minutes with… Karen and Jonathon

This year’s co-chairs of the AOP’s Digital Publishing Awards, The Telegraph’s Karen Eccles and Arc’s Jonathon Whiteley, answer our questions about digital trends and the upcoming awards.

By Karen Eccles and Jonathon Whiteley

5 minutes with… Karen and Jonathon
Karen Eccles and Jonathon Whiteley.

Q: What excites you most about the outlook for digital publishers?

Karen: Audiences and advertisers are valuing editorial quality, which I believe will drive increased commercial investment back into journalism vs made-for-advertising (MFA) sites. This is so important for our industry, and ultimately for the state of the world. Whether the content is latest news, lifestyle, or more niche specialist interest, quality is king (again).

I believe that digital publishers with deeply engaged audiences, rich insights and first-party data have a strong future. It is also heartwarming to see the focus returning to brilliant creative and storytelling that respects the environment in which it lives – plus success that is measured in attention and real outcomes instead of clicks.

It’s also good to see the rise of direct collaboration between advertisers and publishers which is already resulting in better ideas and business outcomes. The challenges of recent years have instigated incredible innovation across digital publishing, leading to more opportunity than ever before for brands to partner with publishers for game-changing results. It is an exciting time for all involved.

Jonathon: The speed of evolution in the digital publishing landscape continues to accelerate and there are numerous aspects that excite me, but out of all of these, for B2B publishers, there are three key trends that will drive growth and revenue.

The continued evolution of personalised content experiences driven by data analytics and artificial intelligence is a game-changer, the ability to create more interactive and immersive storytelling experiences through audio, video and words opens new avenues for user engagement, brand loyalty and commercial opportunities.

Secondly, the acceptance of the subscription economy creates massive ‘membership’ opportunities for publishers with loyal audiences.

And lastly the rise and rise of content marketing creates a unique opportunity for publishers to connect brands with their audiences through performance-led marketing activations and relevant story telling.

Q: How should publishers be addressing the opportunities and threats posed by AI?

Jonathon: In short, by testing, learning, taking risks, failing, and understanding the ethical considerations. As well as the obvious workflow efficiencies created by AI tools, especially in CMS, CRM, creative and martech platforms, publishers should be embracing AI-driven content personalisation, SEO, user behaviour and data analysis.

At Arc, we have trialled several AI platforms and are running numerous trials – some more successful than others. An open culture, bravery, honesty, accountability, and an ethical approach are essential. For all organisations, the use of AI is in its infancy, and we shouldn’t feel defensive about that.

Q: What should be the top priorities for publishers over the next twelve months?

Karen: Be positive and concentrate efforts on the things you can control. Be obsessed with knowing your audience and improving the quality of your products to drive deeper engagement. This is proven to deliver better results, which will attract higher direct advertiser spend. This then opens up the opportunity to re-invest, for the benefit of all your customers.

There are also huge opportunities if our industry focuses on creativity, engagement and better business outcomes. Brands should lean on publishers who know their subject areas and readers better than anyone else, and better than ever.

Jonathon: An obsession with first party data and user engagement, effective AI integration, revenue diversification, a well thought through pricing and yield strategy and a commitment to sustainability and DEI.

Q: What skill sets are most in demand at digital publishing companies?

Karen: Strategic commercial people with great ideas who can forge long-term partnerships that deliver for both advertisers and readers. Experts in insight, data, creativity, and commerce, who are able to collaborate well and turn ideas into action. Innovators who are able to continually evolve products for the better and filter out the truly brilliant ideas from the rest.

Jonathon: From a hard skills and experience perspective, there is a pressing need for product management, data analytics and multi-channel content distribution roles but, as ever, in this great industry of ours the individuals, teams and businesses that thrive are curious, analytical, risk-taking, adaptable, diverse and commercially minded. Change is our constant and we need people that can embrace and thrive on that.

Q: What characteristics do successful digital publishers have in common?

Karen: Quality content that is enjoyed by engaged audiences, with commercial opportunities that respect and enhance the experience. Successful publishers know and play to their strengths so that brand, reader, and content all win.

Jonathon: Much as I said above, successful companies need to be brave, committed and prepared to invest but the most successful players are the ones that have committed to the universal strengths of the sector – excellence in journalism and content creation, profound understanding of audience needs, user centricity and commercial innovation.

Q: For publishers who are putting together their entries for the AOP Digital Publishing Awards, what advice would you give them?

Karen: Be human and punchy, ensure you are clear in your answers and tell the story:

  1. Articulate the challenge you were solving, or opportunity you were creating, and why.
  2. Concisely explain what you did and how. Why was that different? What was the innovation or action that makes this a standout entry? What people or teams made it happen?
  3. Tell us the results, how did they compare to expectations? Does your story have a happy ending?
  4. Why did it matter? What happens next?

Jonathon: Use plenty of case studies, supporting data and third-party endorsements and most of all, write a compelling story – it’s what publishers are so good at!

Q: For table organisers, what’s the secret of a great night out at an awards event?

Karen: Bring your favourite clients or most deserving team members, and enjoy the time with them and your peers. Respect every category even if (especially if!) you’re not shortlisted, and cheer on the nominees and winners as if they are your team. I hope everyone cheers for you too. We are an amazing community – let’s celebrate together.

Jonathon: No great secrets – just make sure that you invite a wide variety of people, be energised by the industry, the awards buzz, sit back and enjoy the celebration of all that’s best about our great industry.

The deadline for entries for the AOP Digital Publishing Awards is 14th March. You can enter here.

The ceremony and dinner will take place on 12th June 2024 at Old Billingsgate, London.

For more information, please contact: