News Corp sales chief Louise Barrett: ‘I love a challenge’

“We want to earn the right to be the primary media and marketing partner of our clients”

After close to three decades in media sales, Louise Barrett has had her share of challenges. Her latest could be her biggest yet – running network sales for News Corp Australia. While just a month into her newest position, Barrett has already been making some tweaks to the team and has been busy talking to advertisers about the hot topic of brand safety. She speaks with Mediaweek’s James Manning and Sky Business News’ James Daggar-Nickson.

MORE: Why News Corp is campaigning for brand safety

Speaking to Mediaweek, Barrett outlined some of her plans for Australia’s biggest publisher and she also spoke in detail about the brand safety challenges facing advertisers.

Of the move to News Corp Australia, Barrett admitted after a career in several media sectors, she had never come close to working for a newspaper publisher previously. “The thing that excited me about News Corp and its business is the people there. I worked for Lachlan Murdoch when I was at Ten Network and they are very, very good people to work for.

“The business is growing and News is prepared to invest in businesses that make sense for its future.”

A lot of major advertisers that Barrett has formed strong relationships with over the years at different places she has worked continue to be supporters of print. Indeed that was one of the reasons why Barrett initially went to News, to be head of partnerships.

Barrett: “People like Telstra, motor vehicle companies and big retail companies – Harvey Norman is our biggest advertiser. They are a massive advertiser and Katie Page [Harvey Norman CEO] believes in it. She won’t put her money anywhere she doesn’t believe in.”

Although she has only been recently promoted last month, Barrett has already made a mark with a few staff movements.

“In early June you will see us go to market with a whole new way to do business with News Corp. A lot of people said to me when I was coming to News Corp, please fix it because it can be so complicated to deal with. We are making it easier for our clients – much less complicated.

“There has been some confusion about how News Corp functions in the marketplace and we are going to make it really clear.”

The publishing giant offers the ultimate cross-platform opportunities with the biggest digital audience in Australia and the biggest print audience, “And a fabulous magazine business, let’s not forget,” adds Barrett. “There are some wonderful titles and some great brands from Vogue, Vogue Living and GQ to Country Style and Taste.

“The experience I have had in the past working in multimedia is serving me well.”

When Mediaweek and Sky News Business talk to media agency CEOs, many talk about a desire to continue supporting print. But industry data suggests that desire isn’t always followed with action.

Barrett: “Let me use Katie Page at Harvey Norman as an example again. She wouldn’t use print if it didn’t get a result. She has been with News Corp as our largest advertiser for many, many years. Print drives results for her and it drives results for retail.”

Barrett explained the consideration piece needs to return to print where a reader will see an ad, then start to consider if that product could be right for them. Barrett suggested that’s something that works exceptionally well in marketing programs for motor cars, but also travel.

“Travel is huge for us. Many people read our Escape section on a weekend and are suddenly thinking about going to Phuket or Europe or cruising in Europe. Print as a medium hasn’t done a great job recently in driving advocacy for our sector. We plan on changing that.”

Newspapers setting the daily agenda is something Barrett learnt when working in radio, and it’s something still alive today. “Look at what our papers deliver each day whether it be The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Courier-Mail or the Herald Sun. They still set the agenda for the day’s conversation on radio and TV. What they do is share that space a little more these days, but more often than not it’s with our news.com.au, which is also being widely quoted as well.”

Without any signs of a significant level of increase in ad spend, Barrett agreed for newspapers to recover some of their former financial glory they will need to attract some dollars from other sectors.

“We will need to prove our worthiness. One of our key assets is our audience engagement with print. At the same time we want people to spend a little more time with our digital products where we have massive audiences.”

One of the things under review at News Corp Australia this year is their annual Come Together event which could look a little different this year.

Both Barrett and News Corp Australia’s chief digital officer Nicole Sheffield will be let loose amongst Australia’s media agency elite at the Cannes Lions this year where they will be holding an invite-only event at a chateau outside of town.

Two firecrackers like Barrett and Sheffield working together should generate some cut-through. “There are a lot of women also like us at News Corp,” Barrett said, though she admitted this is the first time she has got to work alongside Sheffield. Some of the other outstanding women working for the company internationally with backgrounds that include working in Australia are Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer and global MD Dow Jones brands, and Susan Panuccio, recently appointed News Corp global CFO. Both executives previously held Australian-based positions out of Holt Street. “There are some really great women at News Corp and it is wonderful.”

Barrett on News Corp cross-platform

“It is massively beneficial to many advertisers. I have been selling across multiple platforms for many, many years now and having a suite of products like we have at News Corp is great. The biggest challenge I have is being able to train my staff and have them understand the complexity of the offer and how to best let our assets work for a marketer. They need to be able to understand the marketer’s business and that is the reason why we are changing the way we do business at News Corp. We want to earn the right to be the primary media and marketing partner of our clients.”

Barrett has arrived at a very challenging time for newspaper publishers. Does she feel News Corp has the products for the business to be successful?

“I love a challenge, you know that. They have wonderful products. News Corp is the best global media business. It has enormous credibility, it has an enormous legacy and history and it is a wonderful, wonderful business. In the past, cross-platform selling has been difficult at times, but now people get it. I am teaching my salespeople to act like salespeople but also act like marketers.”

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