How We Got There: Media Leaders

Created on

March 30 2021

Created by Medha Basu. This summary was largely done for my own note-taking, sharing it just in case it adds more value to other people. Any errors are mine :)


General Assembly 'How We Got There' series - 30 March 2021

  • Susie Hughes - founder of Framework Communications (moderator)
  • Maria Li, COO, Tech in Asia
  • Nicola Eliot, Vice President, BBC StoryWorks
  • Charlotte McEleny, Publisher APAC & Deputy Head of Content, The Drum


  • It's not uncommon to take on responsibilities and say yes to things you know absolutely nothing about early in your career - all while not getting paid much. While this isn't ideal (and needs to be addressed), it's a fantastic learning opportunity. You can fail with relatively less at stake.
  • Leading is a psychological and soft skill test. The way you measure your self-worth needs to change as you go from being an individual, hands-on contributor, to a leader. Mentors can help you look for signals of what you're doing well, even if you can't see that tangibly everyday.
  • Editorial/creative and commercial growth of business need to go hand in hand, and paywall is cleanest way to do that. If you publish great content, that builds up subscribers. Meanwhile on operations, media companies have kept an absolute firewall between editorial and branded content because that builds readers' trust.


How did you get where you are?


  • A fairly typical path into media through education focused on journalism: B2B journalist writing about media. A lot of work experience as a teenager (free work) - but that opportunity is a privilege
  • Graduated in a recession, worked very hard, took on loads of responsibility while not getting paid a lot: they weren't hiring anyone else, so just said yes yes yes


  • More accidental career path. Did supply chain and manufacturing operations at Apple and brought the functional experience of building revenue streams and operations into media


  • Started in media adjacent startup with degree in marketing and psychology. Started career with marketing in Estee Lauder and came to SG without a job. Ran into someone who was running local productions, with funding from brands. Was open to taking on responsibility, not getting paid much, and working very hard.
  • Digital was just coming to the forefront and social was becoming a thing. She was a young person so they thought she must know about 'these things'. Nicola was unafraid to do things she knew absolutely nothing about.

How would you advice people in media or aspiring to be in media to strike the balance between business and creative side?


  • Has an idealist's point of view on this: they should go hand in hand.
  • We're seeing a shift away from advertising (and relying on an external source as the primary business model). TIA is big fan of the paywall - it's the cleanest way to marry business and great content. If we publish great journalism, that will builds up subscribers.
  • Advice is to find balance where creative and business side are feeding off of each other. If you are setting them up to conflict, you're not setting yourself up well.

Observations on shift in landscape and what it means for people to understand knowing their worth


  • On shifts in types of work: Charlotte's role is a hybrid of commercial and editorial (includes client branded content).
    • It's very difficult to keep being a reporter and getting paid more. So people end up going into something that's more management or more branded content.
    • But some people don't want to do that. We need to figure out how to support journalists who want to stay independent
  • On knowing your worth: Charlotte ended up seeking male mentors because they are typically better at being confident in knowing their worth.
    • She was very stereotypical as a young woman - getting on with work and keeping quiet.
    • Important to speak to other people and build a really good network, create connections on behalf of the business that other people wouldn't be able to make. Go beyond meeting your deadlines.

How becoming a 'jack of all trades' has helped and advice on uncovering opportunities/trying different things


  • Nicola was brought into BBC to commercialise content - connect brand with quality editorial (similar to Charlotte, she straddles both sides)
  • What's been important in her career: the ability and technical skills to look across different platforms; ability to build a team and build something from the ground up; understand what is necessary for others to do their jobs.

What did it take to shift to a leadership mindset and focused on the team? And how have you kept your eye on your own career priorities?


  • It's not great to not get paid a lot, but it is a fantastic opportunity to try and fail without much at stake.
  • What you enjoy and what matters to you sometimes gets lost some in the fight to get somewhere, or beat the person next to you.
  • Think about: 'am I doing the things that are important to me?' Think about these from the beginning of your career: how can I get paid for doing the things I love and add value in that space.
  • For Nicola, that's involved checking in with mentors, who for her have mostly been women.
    • One particular challenge they've helped with: when she started leading a team at BBC, she came from a place where she was hands on with everything. Struggled with seeing her self-worth and value.
    • Mentors helped her take a wider perspective on the business and look at what else she can do. Other women helped her know where to look, and see signals that she had been doing well, even if she couldn't see that tangibly everyday. That was life changing for her.
  • Her advice is to have great people around you who are wiser than you

How did you talk to leadership about moving up the rungs?


  • She loved building things, and had a hunger for watching things grow. She took on boring admin stuff, learnt quickly, and that turned into other opportunities that she would've never gotten in a big org.
  • Her CEO spotted that hunger as well as she voiced it out too. She was offered her current position about 2-3 years after coming to Singapore.
  • Advice is to try new things, but as you get into leadership, need to think about how that's going to add to you. For eg, show leadership skills - put your hand up for new projects.
    • You have to feel ready to feel not good again. It's just new, you're not rubbish at it.
  • Important to have both internal and external mentor to coach you through things.

What made you aspire to be a leader and any deliberate steps you took towards it?


  • It came about stupidly. She wanted to make an impact; on the TV shows she watched, the people who seemed to be making an impact were the bosses.
  • Being a leader is one of the most humbling experiences. You're going to flash temper at the wrong moments, hire the wrong people.
    • It's a psychological and soft skill test to put needs of a team ahead of your own. Need humility and vulnerability to guide the ship.
  • As an individual contributor, it's enough to be really good at your job. As a manager, its much more about the team. Put the team, company ahead of your own needs
  • Good to start practising those skills earlier - shows you're ready for leadership

On privilege and access to resources

  • Charlotte: Industry cant rely on people willing to work for free. That only allows people of a certain socioeconomic class to enter. Paying a minimum wage, opens up opportunity to broader audience. That relates to race, background, gender.
  • Maria: Figure out your unique voice and point of view and find a way to put it out there. Give people a nudge if you need to and get your foot in the door
  • Nicola: part of the 'She Says' group. They have a mentorship scheme.
    • BBC similar to The Drum has an internal mentorship scheme. Can be specific about kind of mentor you want - can request for a woman for instance. BBC has been publicly working to improve diversity; female journalists have been vocal about equal pay.

Navigating between the paid side of the business and editorial direction.

  • Maria: TIA runs entirely different teams and runs a firewall between them.
    • Dont allow any cross collaborations - only people who see that are Maria and the CEO
    • People dont trust you if you prove yourself to be untrustworthy. TIA not writing hit pieces for the sake of it; its very data driven
    • This is a hard thing for brands to navigate, they were skeptical in the beginning. Prove your trust from both sides
  • Nicola: While her team at BBC works very closely with editorial to understand what's coming up, brands have zero influence on shaping the calendar. They don't have visibility on what's coming up on breaking news.
    • BBC has made huge tech investment to make sure brands dont get placed alongside breaking news, for instance
  • Charlotte: People that sit underneath her on editorial side will not touch commercial project. One of the challenges in her role is how to bridge that.
    • A big monetisation challenge is making subscription models work. Prefer to have that as the main source of revenue with the choice of working on branded content when there are interesting projects.
    • The Drum experimenting a lot with this and things change quickly. It has 15 diff monetisation models behind its content. This time last year it was heavily reliant on events (that's obviously not the case anymore).
  • Maria: Subscription growth has helped TIA's branded content.
    • It's been able to define its audience better. It's helped pitch more strategic and targeted branded content because they know their audience base better.
    • As one side of the business grows, the other side has grown