The Fishbowl: James Fleetham, The Guardian
The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media 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 is James Fleetham, director of clients, marketing and research at The Guardian.
James Fleetham started his career at Haymarket Media Group, moving from its graduate scheme to senior advertising manager in six years.
He then joined the Festival of Media, where he led sponsorship for its two biggest events, Festival of Media Global and Festival of Media LatAm.
Fleetham joined The Guardian in 2015 as client director. He became head of client sales in 2022 and took on his current role in 2023.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Gazza. That’s less appealing now than when I was 11.
Why are you passionate about media?
The media is basically what’s going on in the world. Who doesn’t want to know that?
I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about all media. My first job was selling classified adverts in the back of a magazine called Packaging News, lead chasing from our fiercest rival Plastics and Rubbers Weekly. I couldn’t get passionate about that (although some did).
I’m passionate about The Guardian. It’s a privilege to work with smart people, telling me everything I need to know about politics, the Premier League or what programme to watch on telly tonight.
**Peer question** What (if anything) keeps you awake at night?
Nothing keeps me up at night. I sleep like a log. But there’s a lot happening in the world that could.
The climate crisis really scares me, but I am proud to work for The Guardian, whose environmental reporting really is the best in the world — and our decision to ban fossil fuel advertising was inspiring. In turbulent times, we need good journalism more than ever.
**Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales for UK and Northern Europe, Spotify
If you could take a year off from work, what would you do?
I’d travel to as many countries in the world as me and my family could go.
To bring it back to advertising, Expedia ran a good campaign with Ewan McGregor that asked: “Do you think any of us will look back on our lives and regret the things we didn’t buy? Or the places we didn’t go?” For me, life is about experiencing things, not owning things.
**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?
I am very lucky that I have the best team. In 15 years of media sales, they are the most talented people I’ve worked with. I try to set a clear strategy. And then give them the tools, the confidence and the freedom to deliver.
** Question from Jem Djemal, global new business lead, VIOOH
**Peer question** What has been your biggest, or most insightful, mistake and what did you learn from it?
I definitely believe that you learn more from mistakes than successes. And that you shouldn’t be afraid to fail.
I’ve made so many mistakes, it’s hard to pick just one. I learned a long time ago that when you make a mistake to own it and never lie. Honesty is always the best policy.
**Question from James Cornish, vice-president of international sales, Vevo
What key thing has changed in conversations with clients this year compared with last year?
I think advertisers are finding it harder to achieve scale. There’s fewer moments when everyone is looking in the same direction. We’ve been talking about media fragmentation for years, but this year feels like a tipping point.
That’s an opportunity for The Guardian. People don’t automatically associate us with scale, but on average 9m people a day read The Guardian. That’s bigger than any commercial TV show this year. The integrity of The Guardian means we have huge influence over those 9m people that can deliver impact for advertisers.
What is one of your greatest achievements?
Well, my sporting achievements probably peaked at primary school and academically it was all downhill after secondary school.
I know it’s a cliché, but my daughter Matilda (two at Christmas) is what makes me happiest and proudest.
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
I’m more of a telly man. I loved The Last of Us. Bake Off is brilliant (especially while following The Guardian’s live blog). And I’m delighted Deal or No Deal is coming back with Stephen Mulhern. He’s funny.
**Peer question** If you could live in somebody else’s shoes for one day, whose would you choose?
Paul Whitehouse, so I could spend a day fishing with Bob Mortimer.
**Question from Ryan Rummery, commercial DAX director, Global
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.