New Future SVP Sees the Growth Potential in Elevation of B2B, Led by Its SmartBrief Brand

SIIA Media Alert: You recently went through a major restructuring, with B2B becoming one of Future’s three major divisions. It seems like quite an achievement—and a challenge. How’s it going?
Amanda Darman-Allen, senior vice president of Future’s new B2B division: It is both those things, I think. The overall reaction among the team and the reaction among clients, partners, audiences alike has been incredibly positive. Future has long been seen as a very big player in B2C media, and it’s been borne out of a lot of different acquisitions… B2B has slowly but quietly been building and has also been built off of integrations of acquisitions. When we took a step back and looked at how the entire organization was running, we really knew that B2B had to have sort of a separate strategy.

Where do you start? Is it with the people?
Darman-Allen: Absolutely. In the background, we were planning for this for a few months. And then we launched it and announced it in mid-January after the holidays. The first thing that we did, of course, was hold a town hall and talk to our teams, which is roughly 300 people across the globe but largely in the US. [It was] just to talk about the reason why. Whenever you’re going through change management, I’m a firm believer in making sure people understand the reasoning why. This wasn’t a hard sell. To be honest, everybody has been itching for a broader B2B strategy within Future. At times you would hear our B2B colleagues feel like they were a bit of a fish out of water. In some of our broader town halls, talking about the B2C strategy, which just is inherently different than what we’re focused on in B2B.

Is that where you reassert your B2B mission?
Our focus, our mission that we talk about often is connecting buyers and sellers through specialist content. So that’s what we’re doing day in and day out, and while that’s reflective a bit in B2C, it’s not their main mission and focus. They’re very focused on passions right? At the town hall, we gave context for our reasoning, talked about the value and the foundation of our brands, [which] aren’t going anywhere. When you think about SmartBrief, and ActualTech, those brands are very important in the markets in which they play. We’re bigger together. We’re stronger together. And so that was the message. We started with the people and then we moved on to the structure.

Yes, I was going to ask about that.
Before the reorg, we were structured around brands. I used to run the SmartBrief brand, and we had Carmel King, who used to run the NewBay brands, and Scott Lowe, who ran ActualTech and a few different folks who had run things. What that did, though, was it created inherent silos, and we needed to start to break those down. We also needed to formulate a structure in which people who were structured by discipline and by function, could better learn from one another. So we centralized those teams. We now have a centralized sales team, content team, product and marketing and centralized operations. And so the different brand groups that work in those units all roll up to our leadership that are focused on those disciplines and those functions. Right now, we’re in the process of really breaking down the silos, making sure that we can learn from one another, cross-pollinate better, understand our products and solutions, and how we can take more to our clients.

Makes so much more sense.
Darman-Allen: They can share their experiences with each other absolutely. And the thing about the way that we acquired these various B2B brands is that they all brought a level of expertise. SmartBrief brings the email newsletter expertise. ActualTech brings webinar expertise. And if we can bring all those experts together, we can be more of a full-funnel solution for our clients. They can buy brand demand solutions through the newsletter. They can probably get lead gen solutions through webinars. They can buy web and print and events. What we’re aiming to build is an integrated, full-service B2B platform that our clients can find wherever they are in their journey.

What was your experience managing SmartBrief like? That’s the brand we all know, of course.
Darman-Allen: That’s what made my upbringing at Future so valuable. SmartBrief is still the dominant largest brand within our division. It still makes up more than 50% of the overall revenue; the other thing about SmartBrief is, it also covers the largest amount of vertical end markets—from retail to food and beverage, healthcare to finance, to education. SmartBrief is very diverse in that way. And so there’s just a need to better understand how certain products and audiences engage, which was incredibly helpful as we build out this [new] division and prepare to grow into other markets and through other products and solutions.

How do you see your growth playing out?
Darman-Allen: Our revenue mix is diverse, but it’s very concentrated into key areas—advertising, and that’s largely digital now; lead generation; and then we have smaller product sets in events and in content. When I look toward the next 1, 2, 3 years, we’re definitely seeing a lot of growth in the lead generation performance marketing categories. Covid and last year’s economic turmoil have forced clients to just demand more ROI. So lead gen will continue to be key, and that largely comes through the form of webinars, but also content syndication. Last year was obviously hard for most players in media, but we’re seeing a really nice bounce back, particularly in in certain markets on the digital advertising side. We’re still in print to some extent, but that’s sort of a managed decline. And we’re looking to do some transformation there. Only 5% of our revenue comes from events right now. But we’re looking for ways to expand upon that

You have all that knowledge and talent.
Darman-Allen: Exactly. And we just we really want to be thoughtful in terms of where we enter into, in particular, the live-market space. We’re doing a ton of virtual events and webinars, but we don’t necessarily consider those events in the same category. We’re absolutely looking into where we feel like there’s a gap in the market for live events, and where we [can] win.

How does culture get established at Future?
Darman-Allen: Future is an interesting place because nearly everybody in the business came via acquisition. So there are a lot of folks across the organization who still have an affinity for their brand. And that is true in B2B as well, [with] SmartBrief, ActualTech and IT Pro, and we’re not shying away from that. Having a cultural connection to your brand is perfectly okay. But we’re also trying to layer on top of that and build a new culture with Future B2B. How we can all feel like we’re a part of something bigger, and again, that that goes back to the town halls that we’re doing and the Friday notes I send.

Following the pandemic, do you still have a sense that you need to monitor how people are working?
Darman-Allen: I don’t think it’s post-Covid anymore. It’s our new normal because we are a largely remote workforce. We have some folks in the London office, and some in the New York office. But the entire management team is remote. I’m in DC. Our head of sales is in Boston, our head of products in Missouri. So we are very dispersed. And connection is still so important. For instance, last week we brought 25 of our leaders across the B2B division together in New York City, and it was incredible the connections that were made, the aha moments that happened when we sat around a table together for a few hours and talked about what was working. And honestly where our challenges were.

I had a CEO once tell me that 1 to 50 people was very manageable, then maybe up to 100 was okay. But then anything bigger, it just becomes so much more about processes.
Darman-Allen: I would be lying if I told you I had a perfect answer to that, or if there was a magic bullet, but process is important. When you bring four brands together to operate as one cohesive division, there’s some transformation that has to occur in terms of making sure we’re all speaking the same language because that that can cause confusion… I continue to go back to the communication piece. People need to know where we are going and why.

At BIMS, we had Mike Sealy from Informa come speak on DEI, which was really interesting. How does that work at Future?
Darman-Allen: Our DEI strategy is still in the early days, but it’s definitely a big focus for Eric Harris, our COO, and Jon [Steinberg] our CEO. They’re taking a look at it across the board with various groups at various levels, making sure that leadership is equally diverse, as is the rest of the business. What I can tell you about the B2B division is that we have really strong female leadership. That’s exciting for us to see. So we feel really good about what that represents for everybody in terms of their career growth. And across the division, we’re more than 50% women. So we’re proud of that. But it’s still a focus of ours. And we’re wanting to make sure it’s not just gender diversity that we have, but diversity across the board.

B2B media seems like it’s really on the upswing, especially if you compare it to how B2C is doing with its many layoffs. Do you get that feeling, too?
Darman-Allen: Yes, we feel very bullish and ambitious in the B2B space in particular. Our B2B business is largely built on a first-party data strategy and always has been, so that also positions us well—[especially with] the depreciation of cookies and the change in the algorithm around search strategy. I do think that B2B is a stable place and one that is right for growth, particularly in areas where there are vertical end markets that are coming back with a high degree of spending.

What’s next for you personally?
Come spring, I’ll be on the road a lot, traveling to various trade shows and events, meeting with our partners, clients, and team. So that’s been a bit of a shift for me. I have a lot to learn still, across the different brands and a lot of people I want to meet, but I’m having fun doing so.

Thanks Amanda!

Comments are closed.