The Fishbowl: Caroline Fenner, BuzzFeed

The Fishbowl: Caroline Fenner, BuzzFeed

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

This week, Caroline Fenner, commercial director at BuzzFeed.

Caroline Fenner has held several sales and leadership positions across publishing and OOH.

Her career started at Arcadia Group as a senior sales executive, before joining Telegraph Media Group, first as a travel sales executive and then a property account manager.

Fenner then moved to Titan Outdoor (later acquired by JCDecaux), the Evening Standard and The Week, before becoming head of commercial at Future.

She joined BuzzFeed in 2022 as commercial director.

Why are you passionate about media?

The people. I have been blessed to have managed teams that I have loved throughout my career. I have been fortunate to work alongside some of the best leaders and now friends in the industry. I have amazing friends who I started in sales training with on my first day in media 20 years ago.

There are many like-minded people in this industry and I am very lucky to have made lifelong friends that I turn to when I am happy, sad or need advice or help, and I hope they do the same with me too.

I also love the creativity that we can bring to brands. I am fortunate to be a judge on some industry awards panels, and the creativity and innovation displayed in these entries are incredible. I am amazed at how creative, innovative, authentic and successful these campaigns are, with budgets ranging from zero to multi-millions.

Within reason, I also like to embrace change. Being in social publishing, we see a lot of change. AI is extremely exciting for us and we are proud of the customer-facing executions we have implemented across our brands, including Tasty’s first bot, an AI-powered sous chef named “Botatouille” which serves up dishes, meal plans and grocery lists when users ask for cooking advice or recipes.

Another example is the latest AI BuzzFeed game, Nepogotchi, where users try to keep their “nepo baby” alive and well.

What are clients talking about this year that they weren’t last year?

Optimism. Last year was tough. Over half of branded content partnerships that we received didn’t end up happening at all — most ended up going into display campaigns where performance, not brand, became the main KPI.

There was definitely a nervousness at the beginning of last year that I’m not seeing as much. This year, I have heard more clients talking about award-winning work and willing to take more risks than they have done in the last year.

I feel like there is more confidence from advertisers again, which is great news for the industry.

Which deal in your career are you proudest of?

One that stands out was for a dentist practice in Hungary. I worked so hard pulling hundreds of stats off TGI for him, but with a language barrier it took longer than I would have liked. After six months of back and forth, he finally booked six ads in the main Telegraph paper. We stayed in touch after that, sending Christmas presents to each other. I remember one year he sent me a tin cup.

I won an award for this campaign at the Telegraph, beating my friend who is now at Spotify. Twenty years later, I still remind him!

Another one was for a Lego win at BuzzFeed last year. The campaign was a huge creative success, thanks to the winning formula of combining studio shoots, great casting and engaging on-screen graphics. We are looking forward to working together again this year.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

I’ve only read one so far: Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. I would recommend it.

What’s your favourite ad of all time?

I was fortunate enough to be at Cannes Lions last year and the quality of work blew me away.

For me, two campaigns stood out for their creativity, innovation and use of technology.

“Love Squad”: An English study found that Fortnite was the reason in 5% of divorce filings, so Danish internet provider Waoo launched a solution for all lovers who are tired of gaming — a virtual hitman service where frustrated and neglected partners could order an in-game hit on lovers if they have trouble stopping the game.

“World Cup Delivery”: Amid the euphoria of Argentina’s World Cup victory, food-delivery service PedidosYa orchestrated a clever stunt by sending a “fake” delivery notification to half of the country’s population. The message, stating “Your order is on the way”, sparked panic among millions, fearing a hacking or scam.

However, upon opening the notification, their distress turned to delight. Instead of a typical food order tracking map, it directed users to real-time data tracking the flight carrying the champions and the World Cup trophy from Qatar back to Argentina.

Two amazing advertising campaigns that really captured my imagination and drove amazing results.

What’s been your biggest challenge this year and what are you doing about it?

Last year was challenging, as it was for many in the media industry. As a priority this year, we are looking at diversifying our revenue streams.

A focus for us last year that we are continuing to invest in is events. We do them well; we worked with a range of clients last year, putting on amazing events from Benriach, Sky and Netflix, to name a few. Having access to creators, impressive venues and an engaged, loyal audience means that IRL activations have worked really well for us and I’ll look forward to doing more of them this year.

Peer question: What was the last podcast you listened to?

The Rebooting Show — “Tastemade’s twist on the cable model”. Brian Morrissey is amazing.

Question from Sally Keane, head of enterprise sales for Northern Europe, Spotify

Peer question: Who was your first media industry idol and what influence have they had on you?

My first media industry idol was Cheryl Johnson (now Lowe), who was my manager at the Telegraph when I started in 2004. Cheryl had an infectious personality and people just wanted to be around her — both her team and her clients. She had incredible loyalty to her team — a trait that left a lasting impact on my professional values. Under Cheryl’s leadership, I gained valuable insights into developing client relationships and effective team management. In a corporate landscape dominated by more senior male leaders, Cheryl was an inspiration for the younger females across the department.

Question from Duncan Chater, managing director, Bloomberg Media

Peer question: From a work perspective, what were you most proud of last year?

One of my biggest highlights of last year was the success of Tasty UK. We launched our new strategy to reflect the UK market and to represent Britain, focusing on three core pillars: diversity, affordability and sustainability.

It has been an incredible success both in terms of increasing audience engagement and advertising revenue. Lidl has been a fantastic partner to work with since the relaunch, partnering with Tasty UK to create bespoke branded episodes of our cost-conscious social series, “Fiver Feast” — a truly integrated partnership across editorial and commercial that has been an incredible success.

Question from Kelly Williams, managing director, commercial, ITV

Peer question: If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you and why?

Seville. I love the city. I love the people. I love the food. And I love the weather.

Question from Lydia Parker, head of international agencies, Samsung Ads Europe

Read more Fishbowl interviews here and see what media’s top salespeople say about working in the industry and what concerns their clients. To suggest an interviewee, contact ella.sagar@uk.adwanted.com.

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