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Meet Damian Douglas, MD EMEA at TIME and president of the World Media Group (WMG)

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 28 January 2021

Damian Douglas on publishing, marketing, digital transformation and more

World Media Group (WMG) logo 150x150Social Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there for TIME and the World Media Group?

Damian Douglas (DD): I’m Damian Douglas, managing director EMEA at TIME and president of the World Media Group (WMG).

As TIME’s EMEA managing director, I’m responsible for driving commercial growth across the region. The brand is now under the ownership of Marc and Lynne Benioff and entering a new phase of its 98-year history.

As part of the new leadership team, my role is to identify, develop and execute on new commercial opportunities whilst growing and evolving existing ones. A key goal is to build a path forward that allows us to maintain the relevancy we’ve had over the last 98 years both commercially and editorially. As the world moves towards a newly established set of ‘values’ with the UN’s SDG’s in full focus, a key role for media will be to identify and support those that are shaping it – to celebrate them and hold them to account in equal measure. This has always been something TIME has done extremely well and it’s more relevant today than it ever has been.
As President of the World Media Group, my role is to lead our members in promoting the values of trusted and renowned journalism:
  • to celebrate and promote excellence in international content-driven advertising
  • to share best practice with the marketing and media community;
  • and to develop initiatives that improve the measurement and understanding of influential international audiences.

TIME isn’t unique in owning the values of truth, trust and integrity – we share these as a group. Our ability to promote these from our own differentiated perspectives is what sets us apart. We saw in 2020 that when communities across the world needed to make sense of what was happening, they rushed to our titles and platforms. Coming together to promote these has never been more important.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about TIME and the World Media Group

DD: TIME is a media organisation famously known for the magazine’s red border, and franchises like TIME 100 and Person of The Year. As I’ve discovered in my first 12 months, it is so much more than this and has an appetite and credibility that will allow us to explore and expand into many areas.  
  • Our media organisation spotlights influence, it champions next generation leadership, it’s an advocate for equality and social justice;
  • it’s an award-winning creative business creating feature length documentaries through TIME Studios;
  • it’s an educational brand facilitating home-schooling with TIME For Kids;
  • we also develop professional leadership and skills in partnership with Columbia Business School.

Photograph of Damian Douglas managing director EMEA at TIME and president of the World Media Group (WMG) 300x300At its heart TIME is a media organisation with over 100m consumers, but scoring so highly on trust and integrity values allows us to push into other areas, as long as we remain authentic and credible. One of our roles is to evolve in a way that protects the hard earned ‘quality stamp’ the red border represents, so as we look at this, brand integrity is sacrosanct.

The World Media Group is a strategic alliance of leading international media organisations, I’m fortunate enough to have represented both the Financial Times and Bloomberg at different stages in my career, which are both members of the WMG, and I continue to love both of these organisations. Our members share many of the same values and principles which are values-led and consistent. Our brands connect with highly engaged, influential audiences in the context of trusted and renowned journalism. The members include The Atlantic, BBC Global News, Bloomberg Media Group, Business Insider, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, Reuters, The New York Times Company, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and associate members: Moat and The Smithsonian. All of these brands share many synergies that we promote via the WMG. Equally, we have our significant points of differentiation, which make us unique as brands in our own right.

SMP: Briefly, what does your job entail and what does a typical day look like?

DD: I’ve been in my current role for just over 12 months and joined the business under an ‘evolution’ mandate, so nothing was ever going to be ‘typical’; the pandemic then secured this. As a brand and editorial department, we’ve talked a lot about how ‘digital transformation’ is reshaping economies and societies. Not only are we evolving but the fact we’re a new business (The Benioffs bought us in late 2018) has some real benefits. Our culture was in change mode and our business was being primed for growth. This allowed us to pivot to the new situation very quickly when Covid hit.

A renewed ambition within the organisation, a new 100-strong, energetic and motivated team, coupled with agility, enabled us to adapt to new circumstances quickly. What did become typical is a need to focus on the ‘now’ and not to future gaze. We focused on providing both ‘value and utility’ to our commercial partners and consumers, and we trialled and tested to varying degrees of success. 2020 tested everyone’s organisational attitudes to change and managing/shaping this was the commonality that linked my days and weeks.

As I step into the role of president of the World Media Group, much of my time will be spent continuing to raise our profile amongst brands and clients. Our footprint within the media agency community is a real strength but presence within the client community needs further development, particularly at a moment when their businesses are continuing to go through rapid transformation.

I’ll be reaching out to brands to look at how we can involve them in some critical conversations both within our industry and those looking more broadly at the economy. Last year our webinar series was hugely successful, bringing everyone together during Covid – we were delighted (and a little surprised) with the number of people registering, which increased throughout the year, as did the volume of re-engagement. This led to us launching our podcast, ‘The Media Navigators’. Determining where we can take this and who has a valuable perspective to share will be fun. Everything we do focusses on our unique ability to bring publisher perspective together on behalf of the advertising community to provide education and insight in a relaxed and informal environment. A healthy, diverse, robust, innovative, creative media community benefits everyone, and we have a role to play in cultivating this.  

World Media Group (WMG) Media Navigators Podcast image 600x322

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at TIME and the World Media Group?

DD: Like all brands the thing we’re most conscious of is relevancy. I’m not sure this should be seen as a challenge, but it is something we should all be very conscious of, anticipating how and where we evolve and meeting the changing demands of consumers. This isn’t necessarily a media challenge, it's one being driven by digital transformation – look at ecommerce, green energy transition, automation etc. The world is complex and any knowledge sharing around best practise is a good thing and has always happened.       

Staying front of mind with audiences during Covid has actually been fairly easy. A general rule of thumb is ‘when people want information they trust, they turn to international media’. We saw this at scale in 2008 during the Financial Crisis and again now (and, pre-dating me was the dotcom bust). Any significant global event reminds audiences of our relevancy, and the biggest challenge as an industry is how we effectively commercialise the value exchange between audiences, brands and publishers. As a publisher our role in this is to showcase our value. As an industry we need to come together around effective measurement, appropriate digital standards and best practise and the WMG provides a forum to have these sometimes difficult conversations amongst a group of people and brands that care deeply about, respect and value the industry within which we work.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

DD: The success of our annual awards was definitely a highlight for the World Media Group. Entries for the World Media Awards were up 100 percent year-on-year, which is testament to the awareness that we've created around the World Media Group and the quality of the work in the industry – it’s always fantastic to celebrate achievement.

More generally, I think the industry has really come together over the past year. Covid has brought about disruption but it has enabled us to learn to do things differently, which is a huge positive and there’s been a real camaraderie – a support for each other. This is a competitive industry but 2020 allowed us to showcase our real value in our editorial departments, who worked tirelessly to keep people informed, make people accountable and to celebrate the individuals and businesses that contributed towards progression.  

And of course, we've discovered we can all work remotely from home and still be as productive. At TIME we delivered a magazine globally for the first time in close to 100 years from bedrooms and kitchens. Operationally we haven’t missed a beat, like all of the WMG titles. This flexibility will live far beyond 2020 and we will feel a positive shift in our work/life balance when the full adjustment can be felt.

SMP: What are the biggest challenges for the publishing industry and why?

DD: It’s an incredible time to be in the media industry with some amazing opportunities moving forward. No doubt our brands have had to evolve and will continue to do so as the pace of change required picks up. Digital transformation has been happening for 15+ years now so this isn’t new or a surprise to anyone. A year like 2020 comes along and underscores our value – we must capitalise on this momentum after 15 years of taking a backseat from a PR perspective to the tech players or new entrants (some of which have been and gone). It’s important as a group of publishers we move forward with renewed ambition, with a pride and valuation of our business that is representative.

There have been many things for the industry to grapple with over the last 15 years but we’re still here and, in audience terms, we’re growing – both of which are significant. Our role is now to challenge ourselves in the areas of innovation, creativity, technology and measurement and play an active part in redrawing the value map between consumer, brand and publisher, as all three of these parties want a progressive industry. It’s exciting to be a part of this. I look at what the New York Times has done with design or the FT started doing a long time ago with subscription modelling and it’s these examples we all now need to embrace and be proud of as others follow our lead.

SMP: What do you think is going to be the most interesting aspect regarding content and publishing for the next 12 to 18-months and why?

DD: The notion of ‘values’ is becoming central to everything; it has been for a while but has been accelerated by the pandemic. Simply delivering shareholder value now is not the only measure of success, and this is why we have seen the rise of the socially conscious consumer and, more recently, the socially conscious investor. We as audiences, consumers and investors are asking more questions about our ‘preferred brands’. How is it made? By whom? Is it sustainable? What are you giving back? And we’re now making accountable decisions. This will present a huge opportunity for content as we enable brands to ‘requalify’ their position in a new ‘values-led world’. Where do they stand on profit versus purpose, inclusive capitalism, sustainable supply chains, the green transition, the enablement of youth education and opportunity; equal opportunities of all kinds? These things matter today; they mattered in 2019 also, but the pandemic has made this much more acute and we’ve been presented with a reset moment, in which brands have a crucial role to play.       

In terms of brands connecting with audiences, I think the ‘values’ and ‘human’ narrative is going to be much stronger – that emotional element is going to be really important as Covid plays out. With briefs, there’s always a business narrative, but the question is how we can do this in a way that is contributing to a progressive society and delivers shareholder value. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The UN’s SDG’s will come fully into focus with the next ten years detailed to be ‘The decade of action’. I’m also hoping the Olympics gives us a platform to be inspired, as generally this presents an opportunity to see what humans do best, which is to dream big, apply ourselves and celebrate each other’s achievements.       

SMP: More publishers are offering content marketing services through agencies being created; what are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

DD: When we talk about ‘marketing services’, we need to be careful how we use this term. I prefer to think about it in terms of ‘ideation’ and ‘automation’, and publishers need to be efficient and sophisticated in both areas. ‘marketing services’ suggests direct competition with agency groups, and this isn’t the case.

Our ‘Studios’ teams – and many of the World Media Group members have them, including TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Economist, The FT and The Wall Street Journal – offer creative services in line with the growth of branded content. Our clients have valuable perspectives, and what our creative teams try to do is frame them for our audiences, as no one understands our audiences and organisational tones better.

This should enable us to drive the highest forms of engagement and relevance against a specific agenda or objective. These teams often include strategists, creatives, analysts and editors, to ensure that we're producing innovative, integrated comms solutions that engage with audiences. An agency's role is to understand how this fits into a broader set of objectives across the media market. When working best, these are absolutely complementary and achieved in partnership. You're not going to get media owners analysing value and telling a client to use their marketing budget on a different project – this is a false economy.

For a client, the advantage of using an in-house studio, as opposed to an external agency, is that you can be sure the branded content is approached with the same rigour and integrity and held to the same high standards as our editorial teams, but this isn’t necessarily what a client wants all the time. If they want content to be multipurpose, agencies are specialised in enabling and advising around this, and managing measurement and implementation. This isn’t an and/or conversation as each objective will be different.  

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?

DD: 2020 was a year to test and learn, this is how we approached it both from a TIME and WMG perspective. Some things will stick and the WMG ‘Smart Events’ are an evolution of the events programme we ran prior to pandemic with some aggregated learning from our webinar series last year. We bring together industry leaders to discuss the hottest topics impacting the media, advertising and marketing sector and are always looking for contributors. The lockdown forced these events online, which turned out to be a great success, so we were keen to find other outlets to share this collective knowledge. Thus ‘The Media Navigators’ podcast was born.
We’ve been interviewing industry luminaries about topics such as AI, Sustainability, Events, Brand Safety, Audience Engagement, Diversity, Audio, 5G and Newsroom Development. There have been some fascinating conversations and we think the podcast series will be valuable to anyone working in marketing or media. You can listen and subscribe to it on the World Media Group website and on many of the popular podcast platforms.

In spite of the challenges faced in 2020, I remain hugely optimistic about the industry moving forward, I think our brands found their voice again doing what they do best. The statistics will tell you that consumers continue to respect and engage, and audiences continue to grow – we must now embrace this continual period of change and hold ourselves accountable to innovation, creativity, curiosity and talent development. It is these areas that we have been slow to develop over the last 15 years and now is our opportunity to maintain and grow a leadership position again. Brands and consumers alike respect and value our ‘legacy’ position but we have to be much more than legacy.

World Media Group (WMG) Smart Events image 600x351

SMP: Best way to contact you and TIME and the World Media Group?

DD: replies with
WMG Twitter: @WorldMediaGroup
Time Twitter: @TIME

WMG on LinkedIn
Damian Douglas on LinkedIn.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

DD: As we’re in January, I’m on a Joe Wicks lean and clean diet for a month so porridge (made with water) with maple syrup for breakfast and salmon with a portion of ratatouille for lunch.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

DD: A Crisis donation just before Christmas, which we do as a family every year. I try to make time to mentor talent outside my own organisation (perspective is different) so I spoke to two people regarding career advice yesterday, and I took my wife coffee in bed, which I do most mornings, largely because I’m an early riser.

SMP: If you weren’t working at TIME and the World Media Group what would you be doing?

DD: I often think about this – a chef. I love food and the process of cooking – the trial and error appeals to me – but I also love the idea of working in a fast-paced team environment where everyone has a valuable role. I’ve worked in some big kitchens before and the chaos/energy is incredible, but to see the finessed product on a plate, you wouldn’t know.   

SMP: When / where did you go on your last holiday and why?

DD: New York, too long ago in 2019, combining my wife’s birthday with a business trip. NYC has the most amazing energy. I’ve spent a lot of time stateside in the last five or six years but my wife hasn’t had the opportunity to spend any real time there, so I wanted her to experience it. I hope it recovers fully post-pandemic because the big city vibe is something I miss currently and is incomparable.

Have you got an interesting story to tell, or would like to share your expertise?

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