Hearst's James Wildman on not making staff cuts and moving towards virtual events

Wildman: missing spontaneity of bumping into people
Wildman: missing spontaneity of bumping into people

In Campaign's latest 'Leadership in lockdown' series, Wildman discusses the importance of wellness and positivity in the current climate.

Working from home continues for much of the nation. James Wildman, UK chief executive and Europe president at Hearst, has been keeping busy with weekly all-staff virtual meetings, making sure there are no pay cuts, furloughs or redundancies and trying to follow the company's wellness advice. 

Where are you spending quarantine and how do you run your day?

I’m at home with my family in Surrey, striving to effectively manage my time and finding it progressively easier as I’ve adapted to working from home.

Like most people I speak with, my days are very busy with wall-to-wall video calls. I stay in touch with our teams across the business and catch up regularly with our customers to hear their news and ask how we can best support them. I am also in close contact with our colleagues in New York and across Europe as we share experiences and support one another through the crisis.

I’m trying hard to follow our own wellness brands’ helpful advice: to eat well (which I find challenging with the fridge so close!) and exercise. I try to get out most days for a run and push myself to not open the wine too early during evening wind-down. I’m reading more and consuming loads of our fabulous content, some of which is featured in our weekly "positivity posts", which have been winning huge industry plaudits.

What were the biggest adjustments that you had to make in the first few weeks in terms of your work, your team and your clients/external partners?

Over the past few years, we’ve been working hard to modernise our business and culture and, as we’ve encouraged more agile working across the business, we were well-equipped and able to all start effectively working from home, and we decided to do so before we had to.

Once we’d ensured our people were as safe as possible and our business continuity was secure, we prioritised strong internal communication so that everyone felt informed and supported. I started sending daily all-staff updates, which include a summary of the news, practical support about working from home, how to maintain a healthy/work life balance, information for parents and advice to support both mental and physical well-being.

We’ve also been showcasing some of our own brands’ positive content that’s even more relevant and supportive right now. Similarly, I host a weekly virtual all-staff meetings where we come together as a business on a Friday morning to update on our progress and to feel more connected generally.

In terms of our commercial partners, we’ve become even more innovative to super-serve them during this time. We evolved quickly and launched many initiatives including our home-working "Creator Network" that comprises photographers, videographers, illustrators and animators, all combining virtually to provide a valuable creative solutions service to our customers despite these challenging conditions.

How has your business made savings and why have you chosen certain routes?

We have been working extremely hard to ensure business continuity and to conserve cash. However, I’m delighted to report that we haven’t furloughed any of our people, made redundancies or asked anyone to take pay cuts during this crisis. We are very fortunate to be part of a successful global business and are strongly supported by our parent company.

What has been the hardest part and what has been the most uplifting part of lockdown?

I tend to look for the positives in most things, but the current climate would challenge even the most optimistic among us…

I'm highly sociable and so have really missed seeing our people and our customers. Zoom and Teams etc are enabling virtual meetings and communication but these are linear days and I miss the spontaneity of bumping into people and the camaraderie and creativity those informal meetings spark.

However, there have of course been many positives to take out of the situation too. I’m so impressed by the way our people have adjusted and the ingenuity and resourcefulness that our talent continues to demonstrate across the business.

What are you working on?

The overarching priorities for our business are unchanged, although this crisis is clearly speeding up some of the long-term trends and opportunities we’ve been facing into for a while. We remain focused on supporting our people and ensuring our product is of the highest quality to safeguard our future. Similarly, driving closer collaboration across Europe and serving our customers with empathy and understanding are key to our continued success. I am confident that, by doing the right things now, we will emerge on the other side in a changed environment but stronger and with deeper customer relationships to deliver significant benefit going forwards.

How do you find inspiration?

I’m thrilled with how our teams have come together to collaborate and support one another and our sense of togetherness is inspiring. And I continue to be inspired by how our talented storytellers have continued to innovate through these turbulent times to ensure our audiences are kept informed and engaged. As a company, our purpose is "to get more out of life" and this is particularly apposite right now.

I’m also inspired by how we’re adapting to the current challenges. For example, we’ve pivoted from large-scale live events to virtual iterations, pulling off an amazing virtual Women’s Health Live last month and hosting our first virtual Country Living Show. We’ve also launched B2B initiatives such as insight webinars, highlighting how changing consumer behaviour is affecting the food, health and wellness, fashion, finance and beauty sectors etc, winning industry plaudits for our proactive and positive approach.

And, mostly, alongside the millions of people we super-serve with our product, I’ve been inspired by the positive and uplifting content our brands produce.

Has the experience taught you something that you’ll change when you get back to working from an office?

It’s clear that we’ll not be returning to what we considered to be normal any time soon and it’s likely that "working from the office" will be more of an exception than the rule for many people given social-distancing rules and tech-enabled home working. As someone who never worked from home previously, I will personally work remotely more.

What change do you expect to see in the industry when this is over?

At this moment in time, it’s hard to imagine too many positive industry outcomes from an economic perspective, and there will be many challenges for most businesses in the media sector. However, I do believe there will be positive change coming from this too. We are already seeing a greater emphasis on creativity and collaboration, and I also believe there will be an increased premium placed on engaging, positive content from trusted brands.

Also, the pandemic crisis is speeding up digital acceleration generally and driving a greater emphasis on ecommerce, so there are significant opportunities for media owners who can adapt and pivot to effectively support advertisers’ shifting priorities.

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