19th May 2020
The Corona virus lock down has brought about a not previously witnessed impact on how consumers access our industry’s brands. This has necessitated tremendous flexibility and adaptation by all sectors in managing current trends together with setting a vision and strategy for the future. The team at Ace caught up with John Bardsley – Managing Director at Intermedia, who reinforced the importance of leadership and management communication in this time of significant disruption to working practices and increased supply chain pressure.

In a matter of a few short weeks, a huge effort was made by every organisation in our industry, to enable their employees to work from home. This is an incredible feat, and one that is worth acknowledging. What has been your biggest learning personally from this and how strongly would you agree that home working, if only partially, is now an asset to business and here to stay? 

The changes we have made to our own working practices largely followed our business continuity policy, and so we were able to instigate the change quickly and efficiently, whilst ensuring the safety and well being of our staff, and maintaining service to our clients.

My biggest focus has not just been the area of operational practice, but equally the importance of leadership and management during times like these. As a management team, we have gone to great lengths to ensure the most effective communication processes are in place with both clients and staff, and to also recognise how members of the team may be feeling working alone and remotely. Regular video calls, team chats, mid-week quiz nights and end of week round ups have certainly helped.

There is no doubt that long term change will arise from the current situation we are all facing and home working will certainly see an increase long term. Like a lot of things in life, all things in moderation is probably the best approach and we, like most businesses, will aim to apply all the positives as well as learn from the negatives.

The Government in their briefing on Monday 11th May encouraged businesses, where possible and necessary, to engage with their staff and allow them back to work. What steps has Intermedia taken to manage a safe return to work and how has this impacted working practices?? 

We are currently reviewing our approach to bringing staff back into the workplace. We are looking at all the necessary health and safety measures, and will only begin this implementation as and when we and our staff are satisfied that it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we will continue to maintain high and frequent levels of communication with everyone.

Intermedia offers publishers a broad range of services including subscriptions where we have witnessed dramatic increases in consumer purchase. How important has this been in balancing revenues across the Intermedia Group during lock down and what strategies are needed to retain these consumers in the years ahead?

Across the three component parts of the group, namely retail newsstand, subscription marketing and fulfilment, and through our subsidiary company Intermedia Solutions eCommerce fulfilment and direct mail and direct parcel distribution, our retail business has faced the biggest challenge owing to store closures. This has necessitated a large program of changes to publishing schedules and a clear focus on print volumes and copy allocations, although our focus is now very much on the transition to store openings, hopefully over the coming weeks.

Our subscription business has without doubt seen an upturn and thanks to our highly committed customer service team, we have successfully maintained a business-as-usual approach for clients through our customer call centre operation, albeit with increased customer traffic, particularly across certain sectors such as puzzles and children’s which have seen significant increases in subscriber volumes. Equally, our eCommerce and direct mail business has seen significant volume increases with Intermedia Solutions achieving a 100% month-on-month increase in despatch volumes during April and our forecast suggests volumes have been maintained so far throughout May.

Discussions with our publisher clients consistently suggests that there has been a significant shift towards subscriptions over the course of the last two months, however it is difficult to say at this stage, the extent to which newsstand sales will feel this impact over the long term. Increasingly, we are working with clients to align newsstand and subscription strategies and I think this will become increasingly important going forward in pursuit of total audience growth, as well as kick-starting newsstand sales through innovative category activity.

Intermedia has a resourceful, talented and youthful team supported by a strong board with significant industry experience. How far do you see this mix as an advantage in driving the business forward into 2021?

In our ten year history, we have worked incredibly hard to build a talented and committed team and we take the development of our people extremely seriously. I am incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the support and commitment of my Board colleagues who bring significant experience to the table and continue to play a pivotal role in helping shape the direction of the business and constructively challenging the decision making process. Equally, we have a very strong management team, all of whom have grown through the business over the course of the last ten years and it is especially rewarding to see people develop in this way. The two combined, makes for an incredibly strong ingredient and has served us well over the years and I have no doubt, will continue to do so.

It has been argued that in certain areas of the industry, lock down has brought in a matter of weeks market changes thought to have been years away. Would you agree with this view and if so where have you seen this most clearly demonstrated?

Change is inevitable whatever industry you happen to work in, but there is little doubt that trends and changes that we previously saw, may will take place a lot sooner than we previously thought. Changes that we didn’t previously see may also take place too!

In most cases, consumer behaviour will be the underlying determinant of changes which will take place. There are winners, and sadly losers, in every crisis but new opportunities will open up and we only have to look at the retail marketplace to evidence this where some retail channels previously challenged, have seen a positive upturn as consumers move to shop locally. No doubt, those businesses which embrace change will position themselves best for a successful future.

Few Newspaper and Magazine businesses, if any, can expect a return to the same working and operational practices they enjoyed only six months ago. The industry may need to introduce greater agility and flexibility in the supply chain so that they can respond to the shift in consumer culture and dynamics. What steps is Intermedia taking now to prepare for and drive change?

Core to our strategy, has always been our commitment to invest in our future and we have, and will continue, to do this in a variety of different ways. We have invested very heavily in our core technology over recent years spanning both our retail and subscription business, and has proved instrumental not only in attracting new publishing clients, but also in relentless pursuit to drive maximum efficiency and deliver service excellence to our existing and growing client base. We have worked hard with our industry partners and suppliers to achieve this and will continue to do so in order to ensure all areas of our business remain scalable and match-fit for inevitable change.

Even as they deal with the immediate impact of COVID-19, Newspaper and Magazine industry organizations should be thinking about how they’ll thrive in a post-pandemic world. What advice would you offer to them?

I think any business aspiring to remain fit-for-purpose and as future-proof as possible, must recognise that what got you to here, probably won’t get you to there. There is nothing wrong with any business daring to be different, challenging the status quo and importantly, being accepting of the fact that not everything will work, perhaps not the first time. As an industry, we are incredibly resilient, boast one of the best supply chains in the world, not to mention some of the best newspaper and magazine professionals in the business. Whilst some of the challenges we face will be significant, I have every confidence that through collaboration and forward thinking we can make positive and progressive change – after all, there are winners in every crisis!

Ace would like to sincerely thank John for his time sharing his insight, experience and vision for this interview.


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