AI, Remote First, Office Turned ‘Studio’ and Talent Take Center Stage in BIMS CEO Panel

“Audiences are now engaging with us 365 days a year, listening to a podcast, reading a newsletter, watching a webinar or something on demand. We’re embracing those opportunities.” GovExec CEO Tim Hartman and four other major media company CEOs laid out a 2023 blueprint, kicking off the first in-person BIMS since 2019, and definitely one for the—new—ages.

While the disruption caused by Covid and other societal forces led off Thursday’s Business Information & Media Summit opening CEO panel—“That’s a nice, easy question,” Endeavor Business Media CEO Chris Ferrell (seated far right) joked when asked about the future that lies ahead—it did not take long for the next big disruption to assume center stage.

But what’s most interesting is how panelists tied artificial intelligence to talent and growth.

“Peter [Goldstone, chairman of GovExec] and I and our board are hyper-planners; we think critically about the businesses we’re buying,” Hartman (second from right), GovExec CEO, said just a few minutes in. “Of the acquisitions we’ve made recently, 9 out of 10 operators have stayed with us. That person is usually very additive to our business in terms of talent. Our integration is off and running on day 1. We have a champion in that founder.

“The talent equation has been transformative for us. ChatGPT is the most disruptive [element] in my lifetime. Worrying about this, I thought who can I talk to that would really have a good strategy? [Most of] those founders are tech people; that’s where talent can really move the dial.” And that’s where Hartman turned.

“Just by communicating with those leadership teams,” he was able to get a good read on this new media order. “Move towards chat-based communication interfaces,” he advised. “Users will drive it faster than you think.”

To simply say that BIMS is back serves as an understatement to the 150-plus attendees in Orlando last week. BIMS set a new agenda.

Tim Andrews (center), CEO of Advertising Specialty Institute, wanted to know who else in his company was “playing with” AI. “’Let’s talk,’” he said in an internal email. “I got 20 emails back from people playing with it on their own time, 2/3 tech people. I was amazed by how much feedback I got… It’s scary how much better it generated leads than our internally written material.”

That led into a discussion of talent. Elizabeth Green (far left), CEO of Brief Media, a publisher in the veterinary space, spoke how being able to work remotely has given them a great opportunity to hire people beyond their Tulsa environs.

The unified commitment to remote work from the panelists opened up the question about the function of offices moving forward.

“We keep rethinking, ‘how do we use our physical space? What moments do we need to be together?’” Gemma Postlethwaite, CEO of Arizent, said. “So we replaced ‘office’ with ‘studio’ as a destination for clients to make meaningful connections. What are those meaningful connections? We’re challenging team leaders on how we are going to develop our talent”—especially when it comes to strategic planning and responding to ChatGPT.

“Let’s get everyone on to talk about it. Hybrid doesn’t work in my opinion; it goes back to that [idea of] second-class citizen,” where there might be advantages for those in the office. ”What are the meaningful ways to bring people together, to create innovation.”

While she’s “amazed by how much culture can be built around Zoom,” Postlethwaite does worry about the learning curves for her younger staff people. “How can they learn about the people they’re working with?”

“We’re in the office one day a week,” Andrews said. “I’m more interested right now in how we can better leverage Zoom with our customers? Incorporating it with a customer-service perspective.”

“We went fully remote during Covid, and we’re not going back,” Hartman said. “Gemma’s ‘studio’ is a great idea.”

“We have [staff] in 40 states,” Ferrell said. “We were a third remote before the pandemic, and now we’re 75%. We’re subleasing space and downsizing as leases come up. It’s changed the way I work.” He has two chairs—one gives him access to remote meetings. That’s now the one he sits in most of the day. Being remote “lets me participate in a lot more meetings; we have a Weekly Coffee With Chris for 10 or 12 employees who I usually don’t get to talk to and hear their concerns, what’s going well. We’re not going back.”

Green agreed that there is no going back, in many ways. “I don’t think the disruption is over,” she said. “We’ve seen new technologies. AI is not just changing what’s happening in the media, but in markets. We’re seeing veterinary disruptions in our market.”

“We’ll never have that stability again,” Andrews added.

“Everybody in this room is positioned well,” said Hartman. “Thinking back to 10 years ago, [the situation] was much more harrowing,” with data and digital transformation looming. “Look at the growth now, and you’re seeing a much healthier industry. Covid accelerated that and the thinking about what the new business would be. There will be a lot of risks and opportunities for everyone in this room. Follow where the customer is going.”

“It’s hard to be a small company in this space,” said Ferrell, who along with Hartman has overseen the most acquisitions over the last couple years. “Companies in this room have scale for multiple revenue streams. Our clients want us to do more than be a media company—lead gen, data, marketing. It’s more effective to pull small companies together into a whole. We are ruthless about migrating [our acquisitions] to our platforms—and onboarding them. We even built a platform to manage internal training and do some external work too. It’s important to have the systems in place to do that.”

More on a much-welcomed BIMS 2023 over the next few weeks.


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