One of the things Cecilia Campbell loves most about her job as chief marketing officer for United Robots is working with, “the greatest team in Malmö, Sweden’s most international city.” Her 25-person team represents at least 12 different nationalities — some have dual or even multiple citizenships.
Campbell said that over the past year, United Robots has moved the news publishing industry to seriously talk about how content automation can support journalism, not the least of which is local media. “We’ve become the go-to-guys in this field,” she said.
INMA recently caught up with her to learn more about her.
INMA: What big lesson have you learned over the past couple of years that helped shape your plans for 2022?
Campbell: Well, since 2020, I have essentially gone from being a journalist trying to do marketing to becoming more of a marketer — albeit focused on the business of journalism. The biggest lesson has been to always keep an open mind and try new things. And that a good story is gold, whether you’re doing journalism or marketing.
INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning?
Campbell: Nothing — the journey has really been the whole point. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the leading edge of news media’s digital transformation. From the early days in 2005–2006 when our team at WAN-IFRA was helping publishers imagine a world of news in mobile devices, to tracking the emerging reader revenue business from 2011, when we visited The New York Times shortly after their paywall launch. And now, United Robots are breaking new ground with automated content. It’s been such a trip!
INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it?
Campbell: In 2006, my husband and I launched Artisan-food.com, a Web site focused on everything food in the English Lake District, where we lived at the time. However, digital publishing was too modern and challenging for the conservative marketers of the Cumbrian hospitality industry at the time, and we never really made any money.
But we learned a lot, made some lifelong friends, like food historian Ivan Day, and we made it to the final in the Independent media category of The Guardian’s Media Innovation Awards in 2009. The same year, the BBC iPlayer won the overall innovation price — just to put it in historical context.
INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Campbell: To trust my instincts. And that I am good at asking pertinent questions — I just need to do it and not worry about what people will think.
INMA: What do you do to relax?
Campbell: Cook! Walk my dog. And sea swimming all year round — with a sauna in the winter.
INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your backup plan?
Campbell: I didn’t really have one. I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was young. I never really had any plan beyond that — my career has been more about seizing opportunities than planning ahead. The former, at one point, led me to retrain as a Montessori nursery teacher and spend a few years teaching 2- to 4-year-olds, which was lovely.
INMA: What is your favourite thing to read?
Campbell: The best book I’ve read in a long time is Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. It tells the story of the Sackler dynasty, how they started the movement of relentlessly pushing medicine through marketing, and their central role in the recent opioid epidemic in the U.S. [It’s] journalism that reads like a thriller.
INMA: What do you find the most challenging/interesting about the news media industry right now?
Campbell: More challenging than interesting: the contrast between publishers who embrace change, are happy to test new things, and trailblaze in order to produce the best journalism they can for their readers, and the ones whose default is still to not rock the boat.
INMA: What are you most excited about for 2022?
Campbell: Travelling to industry events again and finally meeting all the publishers who have become our partners since the start of the pandemic. I’m really looking forward to INMA’s Media Innovation Week in Copenhagen in September — just a 30-minute train ride from my house.