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What recruiters want: Management skills in the age of digital publishing


FAQ/ Managing Creativity (download pdf)

By Siobhan O’Leary

Lorraine Shanley began her career at Book-of-the-Month Club and QPB (now Direct Brands). After rising to the position of Executive Vice President in charge of editorial, marketing, and merchandise, she left to launch her own consulting company. She returned to publishing to become Editorial Director of HarperCollins Trade Books, and then co-founded Market Partners International in 1990. Shanley, a member (and past president) of Women’s Media Group, is on the Advisory Board of New York University’s Publishing Program and the board of Fourth Story Media, a New York-based web development company. She is the Children’s Digital Media Program Chair for Publishers Launch Conferences (Frankfurt Academy & New York).

“Director Digital Publishing” – “Publishing and New Media Business Development Director” – “Digital Marketing Manager” – “New Account Development Manager” – “Digital Marketing & Channel Development” – “Digital Content Director” – “Director of Digital Publishing Development”.

A  slew of new leadership positions has invaded the job boards over the last few years as digital has become a more prevalent force in the publishing industry. The skills required of publishing managers 20 years ago aren’t always going to make the cut in the digital age. Today’s publishing leaders are often expected to have a working knowledge of the principles of SEO, healthy pre-existing networks in new media industries, strong knowledge of marketing on social-media platforms, and a passion for digital products and merchandising.

Lorraine Shanley, principal and co-founder of Market Partners International (MPI), a consulting firm launched in 1990 that caters to the rapidly changing needs of traditional and online book publishing, has witnessed a lot of these changes first hand. In addition to her experience in strategic planning, market research, content development, and more, she and the MPI team have frequently been retained to conduct executive searches by companies involved in both traditional and digital media. So what are recruiters looking for in top executives today and how has that changed over the years?

“The most important quality is a willingness to embrace digital, and to anticipate change. Even those without hands-on experience in digital have to show a familiarity with the players, business models, available social media, etc. In areas like children’s publishing, that is quite a lot to keep on top of”, says Lorraine. As transmedia content and enhanced e-books gain more traction, it is also not uncommon for companies to seek out managers who have experience with and networks in other creative and content industries. According to Lorraine, this was always a helpful quality to have. “I’ve always thought that individuals with a broader background – magazines, music, international, for instance – are better able to contextualise their experience”, she notes. “And they can draw on a greater number of business models, which is especially true in digital. For instance, someone with a direct marketing background has a real advantage when considering possible subscription models, or understanding the power of community”.

In addition to shifting once-distinct industries closer to each other, the digital wave has also led to headline-grabbing consolidations that present challenges for management. With Penguin and Random House set to join forces, and other potential mergers on the horizon, how can these different corporate cultures be integrated as well? Or should they be? What’s the best way to manage a global giant like Penguin Random House? Lorraine plans to take a “wait and see” approach to this. “But remember”, she adds, “that, relative to a lot of companies – Microsoft made over $20 billion in profit last year – these two combined companies are not so ‘huge’”.

At the end of the day, digitisation can also be viewed as a great equaliser – not only between managers and employees, but also between consumers and publishers. It’s important for everyone to think as a manager and to fill the role of “intrapreneur” – to highlight one’s own skills while investing energy and creativity in the future success of the company as a whole. As Lorraine describes it, “With little job security and endless change, employees need to be thinking about their career arc, and how they project their skills and ability to potential employers. They should make themselves known in their professional networks. But it’s important that they focus on how their company can move forward as well – what are best practices, where is innovation happening, how can processes be streamlined and rationalised? Employees need to look out, not just for themselves, but for the business. Disengagement is no longer an option”.

But does this mean that hierarchies are becoming a thing of the past as crowdsourcing and collaborative creativity gain momentum? “Theoretically, but try telling that to your boss”, quips Lorraine.

Three tips from Lorraine about what really matters if you want to get ahead:

  • 1. Curiosity always ranks high, and it is amazing how often a candidate stumbles by focusing on his or her experience, but showing no interest in the interviewer. That lack can extend to a lack of preparedness; recently, we had a very engaging candidate who went to the interview without having researched the publisher’s list, and without having thought through the kinds of questions he might be asked – or might want to ask. The meeting was a short one.
  • 2. Breadth of experience is increasingly important and sometimes this means an individual will have to take courses to fill in some gaps. Local universities offer courses, as do online companies like O’Reilly and Lynda.com. Even if these courses simply help familiarise someone with the concepts and vocabulary, that can be helpful in an age when everyone is expected to understand digital media and managers are expected to be comfortable with financial basics. A candidate with a traditional (non-digital) marketing background was able to put herself forward for several positions that required a full suite of marketing skills because she had (literally) done her homework. Another candidate was able to fill a larger position than his business development title would have suggested because he had mastered the intricacies of budgeting.
  • 3. Honesty seems like an obvious one, but small lies catch a candidate up, whether it’s claiming a higher salary in the last position held, or playing fast and loose with the years spent at a particular job or the reasons for leaving the job. A recent candidate was candid when asked by a prospective employer about the reasons for leaving a position, and after colleagues at the prior company explained the context, the employer decided to extend the offer. Particularly in a small industry like publishing, the truth will (eventually) come out, so it’s better to deal with it head on.

What to read:
Gallup’s Strengths-Based Leadership and StrengthsFinder 2.0 – along with its online assessment – are two useful books for those wanting to find out how their strengths can be put to use in managing others.


Meet Lorraine or her colleagues from Market Partners International (MPI) at the Frankfurt Book Fair (9 –13 October 2013)
BLOG: Join in the conversation on the Frankfurt Academy Blog