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The Fishbowl: Karen Eccles, The Telegraph

The Fishbowl: Karen Eccles, The Telegraph

The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media industry’s top salespeople 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 Karen Eccles, chief commercial officer at The Telegraph.

Karen Eccles joined The Telegraph in 2017 working her way from director of digital sales and innovation to chief commercial officer this year.

In her role she is responsible for the commercial team at The Telegraph overseeing advertising, editorially integrated partnerships, content syndication and ecommerce.

Eccles has over 20 years of commercial experience and started her career at Dennis Publishing as a classified sales executive, and has held sales and leadership roles at DC Thomson companies Shortlist Media and Beano Studios, along with Innovid, Global, Associated Newspapers, Wedding Group and Centaur Media. She is also a board trustee for the charity Young Lives vs Cancer.

What was your first paid job and why did you do it?

My first proper paid job post-uni was classified media sales at Dennis. I didn’t know what media sales was but I’d always loved good advertising. I thought getting a job in media sales — whatever that was — might be a way into a job at an agency.

I was assigned to selling ads on the back half pages of Computer Shopper, which was a huge doorstep of a magazine back then before search took over.

**Peer question** If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Equity of opportunity.

** Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales for UK and Northern Europe at Spotify.

**Peer question** How do you develop, motivate and engage your team in a hybrid working environment?

It’s simpler for us than for some businesses as we have one central office location. Like most news brands we are predominantly office-based, so although we enjoy flexible working our teams are together much of the time.

We invest in formal training and coaching, and ensure the teams have time and budget to have fun socially. We also have set days with minimal internal meetings so we can spend more time talking to each other across desks.

** Question from Mark Bucknell, chief commercial officer at JCDecaux UK.

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

The past four years have seen us reshape our commercial business to better balance advertiser interests and subscriber priorities. In this time we’ve established powerful integrated partner opportunities that share the space responsibly with editorial and work harder for brands, delivering market-beating attention and effectiveness.

Last year, based on those ad engagement and effectiveness learnings, we introduced direct and programmatic guaranteed (PG) ads into our most premium platform — our app. This move resulted in our best-performing ad inventory ever, and has nearly doubled our addressable inventory, with no loss of engagement, or reader complaints.

Creating advertising campaigns and partnerships that sit comfortably within a subscriber environment and deliver better ROI for brands is something we’re all very proud of.

** Question from Kelly Williams, managing director commercial at ITV.

What podcast do you regularly listen to and why?

Because my daytimes involve so much listening and talking I tend to take refuge in music or a book more often than a podcast.

That said, I do love investigative journalism podcasts like Bed of Lies and recently I have been listening to meditation and hypnosis podcasts to get better sleep.

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

Sustainability and transparency in digital-media choices are in almost every conversation, as is optimising attention.

It feels like sustainability concerns, especially, are prompting clients to move investment away from trading digital purely on the OMP. We are seeing a definite switch back to transacting directly with premium publishers via PG deals.

The market is also talking a lot about AI but we aren’t seeing that reflected yet in many client conversations.

Who is the smartest person you know?

Mary Kate O’Flanagan, a lifelong friend since she was my boss at Centaur many years ago. She’s now a screenwriting lecturer and script doctor and is the best read, wisest and kindest person I know.

My brain (and soul) stretch every time I speak to her.

Describe three qualities that make a brilliant salesperson.

Genuine interest in people and ability to build lasting relationships.

Integrity — earning trust.

Commercial ambition — able to spot commercial opportunities for their client and brand.

If you could have any job in the world (other than what you do now), what would you do?

I always wanted to be a writer.

What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?

My career so far has been happily squiggly, so I don’t have a particular role I’m aiming for. I hope to be still working in quality media, continuing to be a board trustee at a charity, and to start taking on NED work.

My children will be in their early- to mid-20s by then, so I seriously hope to be doing plenty of travel well outside school holidays.

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.

Mary Kate O Flanagan, Writer and Story Editor , A Dramatic Improvement, on 14 Jun 2023
“Karen! You’re a gift to business and one day I hope you’ll be a gift to literature too.”

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