On Friday November 8, a number of industry voices will be convening under one roof at the PPA Independent Publisher Conference to talk about a variety of topics including product management in publishing. I spoke with Laura Jenner, Product Director at Immediate Media, who will be presenting on this particular subject, having established herself as a key player in product management within the publishing industry. We spoke about her journey from editorial to product, the difference between the two when it comes to deadlines and the ways in which product has evolved over the last decade.
*What made you want to work in the publishing industry? *
I always loved words. My degree was word based rather than numbers. After graduation, I went into a government job which involved publishing a series of materials and I really loved that, so that gave me an idea of the kind of direction I wanted to go in. I went into science publishing and went from there.
Chart your career journey from the start to where you are now.
After university, I joined a government agency – after 18 months I legged it to travel for a year, and got a temporary job at a science publisher when I returned, which turned into a full-time editorial production role. I went from there to GameSpot UK as a sub-editor, and then moved up to production editor. I moved to CNET’s B2B titles as production editor and managing editor before moving across to be product development manager. When GameSpot relaunched in the UK I was site manager, but after maternity leave I moved into the product team at CBS Interactive who were very early movers in having product managers, and I worked on both B2B and B2C titles. In 2013 I joined RadioTimes.com at Immediate and I have stayed at the publisher ever since, but now work on the product team across a range of titles.
How does product management work within the publishing industry?
It’s still relatively new, although it is much more established than it was. Product is often about being the link between a bunch of different groups, particularly in a digital publishing set up where you have editorial teams, commercial teams, brand teams and software development teams. Product is in the middle of that, working with all of these stakeholders to work out what is the best way forward for the customer, which clearly benefits the brand and monetises it. You then work with software developers to deliver this.
Why is the relationship between product and editorial so important?
All of the relationships for product are important, but if you happen to be a product person on an editorial brand then you often have two types of customer. You have readers who come to your site, use it, engage with it, but in order to publish that, you need tools for the editorial team to use. They know their brand and audience and they will have ideas, so you have to balance their ideas with priorities. You’ve got the same end point. The editorial team are creating content and we are creating ways for that content to be shown, but we will be building tools for the editorial team to use.
How has your role evolved over time to meet the needs of the industry?
Product has become an established part of the industry, which it definitely wasn’t 10 years ago. All of the major publishers have relatively big product teams and it has been part of bringing in processes that really look at what is best for our end users.
How does being member of the PPA add value to Immediate as a publisher?
All industries need a way to come together. Publishers compete for ad revenue and eyeballs, but we are all trying to do the same thing. We need to collaborate and learn from one another. The PPA Festival is a good example of that.
How do you handle your deadlines?
There are two types of deadline. There are the ones that have been agreed, so you have a good handle on how long it is going to take you to do it. I was really strict on deadlines when I was in editorial. It is much harder in software development to learn how long it is going to take to build something. We have to be more flexible about the way we approach work, rather than starting with a deadline.
What would your typical day involve?
It starts by looking at the numbers, seeing where the traffic is, where the spikes are. I deal with a lot of e-mails and a lot of meetings, because it is about bringing people together to collaborate and share. It is quite varied.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
What’s the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
There were a couple of jobs I was advised to go for. Not getting them was not much fun and I think I learnt to trust my instincts on that kind of thing.
What’s the last photo you took on your phone?
I got a smart meter installed and I took a picture of it to demonstrate what happens when you put the kettle on – it goes red – so we are having cold drinks from now on.
What would be in your Room 101?
Passwords and daddy long legs.
Introvert or Extrovert?
I hate the divide between those two words. It makes people put themselves in a box. I have seen the term ambivert used, which I like.
Optimist or Pessimist?
I am a big sports fan and I hope right up to the last minute so I guess that makes me an optimist.
Film or TV?
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury, as long as I can still have cake
What magazine would be your long train journey read?
The New Yorker, Grazia and Heat