The Fishbowl: Piers North, Reach

The Fishbowl: Piers North, Reach

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, it’s Piers North, chief revenue officer at Reach.

Piers North became chief revenue officer at Reach, the UK’s largest regional publisher and parent of The Mirror and Express, in 2020.

Before that, he was group digital director for three years and was strategy director at Trinity Mirror, Reach’s predecessor.

North spent more than nine years at Yahoo in planning, strategy and advertising leadership positions. He also held roles at Rivals Digital Media and 365.

Why are you passionate about media?

Because it is such a big part of people’s lives, from the content for the consumer to the advertising that influences behaviour, everyone has opinion on something they have read or something they saw.

From a news brand perspective, it so critical to our collective futures to hold people with power and influence to account that we must find a way for news publishers to build a sustainable future.

Who’s your best friend in the industry?

Well, that’s a dangerous question for the playground! I would just repeat the cliché, I guess, of any industry: it is the people you meet, and work alongside, that give meaning to most of it.

I had the privilege of working with some amazing people over the years, many of whom I would count as friends. I think media is especially fortunate that we can enjoy special moments, trips and events that make day-to-day working life that much more memorable.

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

A roofer — I needed the money for university. It was just with a local company that was doing work at the school my dad worked in.

I ended up doing it in the holidays for three years on and off through university. Loved it. I still bore my kids by pointing out the roofs, pitch or flat, that I have done in my parents’ village.

If you didn’t work in your current sector, which other media sector could you see yourself working in?

On the basis I feel I cover print, video, audio, digital and content to a greater or lesser extent, sometimes it’s hard to remember I work only in “publishing”!

I guess TV, if you want to call it that. I think the disruption of addressable, biddable platforms, the shift to digital etc — all things that I have lived over the past 15-20 years that disrupted the traditional model in publishing — mean I would feel right at home, I reckon.

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

Well, the obvious one is AI, impact or otherwise, on business metrics.

They continue to talk about sustainability, as well as a desire to invest more in accountable media and publishers. We need to tie all of those together to give clients reasons to do just that.

Peer question: What has been your biggest, or most insightful, mistake and what did you learn from it?

Early on in my career, I stayed too long in a role that was going nowhere and ended in redundancy.

That loss of control in your future was a big shock at the time and has meant I am always acutely aware of the value I need to bring and always looking ahead.

Question from James Cornish, vice-president of international sales, Vevo

Peer question: If you could click your fingers and change one thing about the way your company operates, what would it be?

I think being a plc is a tough gig. We are a rare beast in publishing now and I think the sort of LinkedIn commentary from well-meaning, but uninformed, outsiders on our very public results is sometimes a little tough to take.

Plus, of course, we are constantly needing to deliver results on behalf of our shareholders and prospective investors, so the pace is absolutely relentless.

Question from Dave Randall, commercial director, Future

Peer question: What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of new challenges and stretch yourself.

I started as a trainee journalist, then went into digital product and then ended up owning a massive sales number and leading a sales organisation of over 500 people as chief revenue officer.

I think my younger self would be a little bemused at my role now and how much I enjoy it.

Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales, UK and Northern Europe, Spotify; former UK general manager, Snap

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

We had a difficult year last year, but the team pulled together to keep delivering in spades across a diverse suite of new and traditional products.

In the wake of things like the Vice news and challenges across our sector, it is building a sustainable standalone publisher business that delivers for our advertisers, and also delivers a profit, that keeps me going.

Question from Kelly Williams, managing director for commercial, ITV

If you could take a year off from work, what would you do?

Head to the mountains — although family logistics may preclude that for now!

It is my happy place, as many people in the industry have found to their cost. I am a total ski obsessive.

There is a meme doing the rounds on social platforms about “skiing fixes everything” — for me, that is absolutely true.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a lift pass.

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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