How does innovation happen in a large, legacy company such as the Financial Times? How can such a major global brand foster a culture of entrepreneurship and diversity?
These are questions that Virginia Stagni, business development manager at Financial Times (FT), has been asking herself during her four years with the company, during which she became the youngest manager in the organisation’s history.
Stagni is interested in continuing to evolve ways in which the digital disruption in journalism can be a game-changer. When she worked with the company while completing her master’s degree, she had felt a big gap in the way she perceived the FT brand — as an authority in financial news and perhaps a staid analyst — and what she experienced as a young student simply using the product as a consumer. She found it to be a thriving environment that was very inclusive and where she could learn.
“People with a very hybrid profile such as mine can help with the innovation of a newspaper,” Stagni told INMA members in a Webinar on Wednesday.
She quickly arrived at one key question: How can quality journalism continue to thrive when the business models and relationships with customers are utterly disrupted?
Financial Times business development
The business development team at FT that Stagni heads up is focused on the horizon, looking three to five years ahead of the business at emerging platforms with a focus on new trends and consumers. The role of the department is to:
Establish and support a growing digital business.
Create new revenue streams through commercial innovation and digital development.
Lead the development of new partnerships.
Create long-term cohesion between the subscription and advertising business across audience development, business development, audience marketing, and branded content.
“It’s really that kind of forward thinking that I want to push here,” Stagni said.
A company can achieve growth through existing devices by increasing advertising revenue and/or growing the subscription base. If further growth is required, this can be achieved through new business development. But what does it mean at a deeper level to do this?
Stagni said this can be achieved in two ways:
- Through innovation, which is doing things better and doing new things.
- Or through disruption, which is doing new things in such a way that makes the old things obsolete.
“I find myself working in the middle of these two forces,” she shared. “It’s about market development and it’s about diversification. But you still need to work with a system, for news specifically, and an ecosystem such as FT.”
She advised smaller players, when they have a good idea, to think about how it can work within their own system. Anything new is, by nature, complicated. And the role of commercial development is to quickly understand and develop commercially viable opportunities and then, most importantly, actually get them done.
“The way I’ve always been thinking is what are the kind of benefits I’m bringing [with the idea]? Is there revenue at the end of what I’m envisioning? What can you do from day one without a very clear and direct financial implication for the business?”
Thinking like a start-up
For Stagni, this means thinking like a start-up — and she believes all healthy businesses must think this way.
“You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to find the new ideas,” she said. “You can be an employee with an innovative, disruptive approach to your job.” She calls this role an “intrapraneur.”
She shared the process her team uses to pilot a new project.
Step 1: Establish the business. Determine the business field and product, and pull together the resources and team to develop a plan of action.
Step 2: Initial growth. Put the product or proposal on the market, acquire a customer base, and plan for future growth stages.
Step 3: Mid-term growth. Develop new competitive strategies, expansion, and transition to BAU.
Step 4: Long-term growth. Develop the product and market, expand team focus, manage P&L, and BAU.
Stagni is always thinking about how to make the new idea “business as usual” — in other words, how it can be integrated into the organisation and have an impact.
Intrapreneurs are needed in a company because they not only generate new ideas, but also develop the long-term vision and implementation for those ideas. They are not just strategic thinkers but visionaries. It’s about both vision and convergence, which is bringing other people into the journey with you.
“It means experimenting,” Stagni said.
Diversity and inclusion
Going back to the perception Stagni had of FT as a student before joining the organisation, though she used its journalism daily in her student work, she didn’t relate to the brand personally. The image of a stuffy older white male seemed to be the brand feel.
However, inside the organisation that was not actually the case. Stagni realised that forwarding diversity and inclusion as part of FT’s brand messaging was important.
“Diversity and inclusion are really key concepts today — not just for younger talent that want to get into a company, but it’s a business concept,” she said. “The business impact that diversity and inclusion has is huge. It’s not just a ‘nice to have,’ it’s really about shaping the business in the way we see that vision of three to five years [in the future].”
Organisations with inclusive cultures:
Are two times more likely to exceed financial targets.
Are three times more likely to be high-performing.
Are six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
Are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Have a 17% increase in team performance.
Have a 20% increase in decision-making quality.
- Have a 29% increase in team collaboration.
- Have a 70% increase in experiences of fairness, respect, value, belonging, and psychological safety.
“How is it possible that FT is such a diverse and inclusive place, or at least is really pushing for that — but to me, as a student and a woman, it’s not really coming across?” Stagni asked.
This is important for the overall business — specifically when it comes to recruiting future talent.
“They are much more eager to work for an organisation that shows their efforts in diversity and inclusion.”
FT Talent Challenge
With these two big considerations — Financial Times brand perception and the importance of diversity and inclusion — Stagni and her team ideated and launched the FT Talent Challenge in 2018. This international event selected the most innovative and diverse individuals from thousands of applicants, offering them to experience FT from the inside. FT Talent is the company’s hub for innovation, Stagni explained.
Stagni described the transformation as, “The FT turns from a place I get information from, to a place where innovation is happening, and I can be part of it.”