The Fishbowl: Ben Walmsley, The Sun

The Fishbowl: Ben Walmsley, The Sun

The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media industry’s top salespeople 10 revealing questions, drawn from our fishbowl. The questions will be drawn at random and contain some tricky posers set by the commercial chiefs themselves.

This week is Ben Walmsley, managing director of The Sun at News UK.

Ben Walmsley joined News UK as digital commercial director in 2016. He became commercial director for publishing in 2019 and managing director of The Sun in 2022.

He has previous leadership and sales roles at Sizmek, Yahoo, Hearst Digital and EMAP.

Describe your leadership style

I like to help people achieve their own aspirations and contribute to the success of our business with their own ideas.

I’ve experienced cultures that encourage people to bring their true selves to work and those that demand conformity to a type.

The former makes for a great environment that produces results and I’ve tried to reflect those positive experiences in my own style.

Recently I’ve been following the work of Gervase Busche on Generative Leadership. I can’t recommend it enough.

If you could learn any new skill from scratch, what would it be?

I’m a dreadful singer. That would be a standing start, I assure you.

** Peer question** What’s your favourite business-related quote?

Maybe it’s not specifically a business quote; Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It’s been said by others, but the essence is to be brave and accept personal vulnerability. I like to work with people who are courageous enough to believe in a better future and take a risk in getting there. Perhaps Del Boy was most succinct with ‘he who dares’.

** Question from Simon Kilby, managing director of Bauer Media Advertising. 

Who is the smartest person you know?

Jonathan Wilson, chief financial officer at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Last year I was lucky enough to study at Oxford Said Business School and met him there.

As I was working around the clock to keep up, he’d leave it to the last minute, complaining endlessly, and then get a distinction.

I can’t imagine what he’d be capable of if he put his mind to it. He’s erudite, eloquent and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of, well, everything.

What’s your favourite ad of all time?

Nike’s “Dream Crazy”. It was overshadowed by its political provocation which ultimately worked out well.

Despite some people burning their shoes, Nike’s market cap grew on the back of it. Putting all that aside, it’s a powerful and inspiring message.

**Peer question** As a sales leader, how do you prioritise how you go about empowering your team members to become great sales leaders of the future?

Last year I took on a wider remit and I’ve had less time to dedicate to sales, so I’m fortunate to have a team of great sales leaders of the present, led by Owen Griffiths.

In my career I’ve seen publishing sales evolve from high-pressure, shouty leads meetings to facilitating people to address complex customer challenges with an increasingly varied and customisable product set.

Great sales leaders of the future demonstrate and inspire curiosity, celebrate diversity of all kinds, are authentic and allow others to be. I try to do those things.

** Question from Jem Djemal, global new business lead at VIOOH.

What is one non-work related goal that you would like to achieve in the next five years?

I have a nine-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. My goal is to see them happy and fulfilled and I hope they find the thing they really love doing (other than watching YouTube).

What keeps coming up in conversations with clients at the moment?

Brands are increasingly thoughtful about where their spend is going in published media.

There’s an undervalued premium web that presents an opportunity to invest responsibly in real human attention in powerful contexts. We spend a lot of time talking about the measurement of that.

Brands rightly want to know the impact their spend is having on tangible business metrics that matter to them. The onus is on quality publishers to prove the huge opportunity they offer advertisers to reach enthralled audiences.

**Peer question** If you could work with any other media owner on a collaborative campaign for an advertiser, who would it be and why?

We love campaign collaborations, such as working with Channel 4 who broadcast The Sun’s Who Cares Wins awards, sponsored by Camelot. That said, media owners need to collaborate far beyond an individual campaign to meet new challenges.

We’re most excited about building businesses that address shared challenges and cater to unmet advertising needs.

As News UK, we’re proud to be founding shareholders of Ozone and Octave alongside traditional competitors. We’d love to see all quality publishers join us on that journey and solve the big industry problems of our time.

**Question from Emma Callaghan, Reach sales and invention director.

**Peer question** What if anything is your business planning on doing differently in 2023?

The pace of cultural and technological change affecting publishing is greater than ever and will get faster still.

Businesses often fail to unlock talent at all levels of the organisation, and young people look at leaders thinking how they’ll do things differently when it’s their time to lead.

Companies that thrive through disruption make everyone realise their time to drive change and make a difference is now. Our team has delivered some brilliant innovation from within.

So, this isn’t a new realisation, but we’re really questioning ourselves how to be better at it than ever before.

**Question from UK managing director and Europe commercial lead at Clear Channel.

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