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5 Minutes with… Lee Stephens



The CEO of Switch Digital Australia on why small companies should act big and how traditional publishers can navigate digital waters

5 Minutes with… Lee Stephens

As far as former roller skating champion Lee Stephens is concerned, many agencies, clients and publishers still need to, err, get their skates on and get their head around digital media and what it means for their business.

Lee has been a regional digital leader for more than 15 years – you can’t be a roller champ forever – and his passion is helping companies and clients connect with consumers. 

Stephens left his role as CEO of Aegis Media and the head of digital for Aegis APAC, to establish independent digital media agency, Switch Digital in 2010. Established with the belief that digital media will be increasingly complex and data intelligence-driven, the Switch Digital team is all about leveraging their independence to help clients nimbly navigate the ever-expanding digital media channels. ‘Evidence based’ and ‘programmatic trading’ are company watchwords.

It’s an area he’s more than familiar with. In his previous role of Digital CEO for Aegis Media Asia Pacific and CEO for Aegis Australia and New Zealand, he led the digital transformation of the agency group and part of his remit included the development and rollout of the region’s largest search and performance media company, iProspect. He’s also got inside experience of media owners’ tricky transition from ‘dead tree press’ to digital as the one time commercial director of Fairfax, the Australian media conglomerate.

Here he catches up with LBB’s Larissa Meikle to discuss his advice on how to make deeper connections with digital audiences. 

LBB> How do you plan to help clients transition to a new media environment over the next three years?

Lee Stephens> The easiest way to help clients understand where they need to invest more in online media is to focus on the behaviour, needs and wants of the audience they want to engage. You don’t have to tackle the massive organisation change required from adopting all digital media channels at once.

LBB> With such a full  background in digital, what advice would you give traditional print publishers looking to further expand their portfolio into digital?

LS> Forget about what your masthead stands for. Forget about the values you want to champion. Focus on the problem you solve in the minds of your audience. Understand that need extends beyond the delivery of content. You may be a facilitator of communities, you may be the most trusted destination to read product reviews and make purchases. Simply moving from print to online is no guarantee of commercial success.

LBB> What was the main challenge of leaving a CEO role at Ageis Media to establish your own digital media agency Switch Digital?

LS> Figuring out how the mail is delivered. There are a thousand systems that need to be put in place. The trick with small companies is to ensure you behave like a big company otherwise growth is difficult.

LBB> What kind of talent do you hire at Switch? What do you look out for when it comes to choosing staff?

LS> Attitude is everything. We would rather train someone with an amazing outlook than hire someone with extensive experience from another company with a different way of working. We hire young people, people from different backgrounds and mature age people that keep the values of team together. 

LBB> As the once commercial director of Fairfax Digital (leading Australian media company that owns the Sydney Morning Herald and numerous trade and consumer titles, digtal platforms and radio stations) how do you see the company placed now in terms of its digital capabilities?

LS> It’s a hard question for me as I still admire the company but also feel they have made some major digital blunders over the past decade. They risk being marginalized without a critical mass of inventory to remain relevant in the new world of programmatic marketing. Pippa Leary from Apex Media (the mobile JV with Mi9) is doing some good things.

LBB> What’s the inspiration behind the name ‘Switch Digital’. At the time of launch, were you still trying to convince clients to switch their focus over to digital?

LS> Trying to find a good name is hard. I have always believed your name has to explain what you do. Switch is about changing the tempo of our clients’ businesses and ramping up a profitable commitment to online. To be honest, it was also catchy and no one else was using it.

LBB> What advice do you give clients looking to make deeper connections with today’s always plugged in millennials? 

LS> These are the most advertising fatigued audiences in history. They don’t share the optimism of the GenX crowd in the late 80s. They are a more conservative, more skeptical and more discerning audience. Fortunately they are enormous consumers of music, stories and rich media. The key to engagement is aligning with this content in a meaningful way. The phone is also surgically attached to their hands. A mobile first strategy is essential.

LBB> What are the biggest hurdles facing brand managers and marketers navigating the digital landscape today?

LS> Digital media has become more fragmented than traditional media. Some digital channels are efficient at generating higher ROI, however poor at building brand awareness. Social Media, for example, is a great media for accessing audiences, however less affective at driving immediate sale. 

The key hurdle for brand managers is matching the strengths of each digital channel to different objectives of each campaign. One digital media channel can’t deliver it all.  Getting the balance right across all digital media channels and evaluating each on their purpose is still an enormous challenge for many advertisers.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 26 Aug 2015 16:51:49 GMT