FT CMO Finola McDonnell on the future of communications

Marketing the FT: CMO Finola McDonnell on the future of communications

Finola McDonnell is chief communications and marketing officer at the Financial Times, and helped launch the content-led campaign ‘Letters to this New World’ which features a series of hard-hitting open letters addressing themes like climate change, the world of work, digital finance and global inequality. Here she answers Press Gazette’s questions for the latest in our Marketing Maestro series, produced in association with Lead Monitor – New Statesman Media Group’s marketing solution.

 Tell us about FT’s Letters to this New World campaign

 Through a series of hard-hitting open letters, we’ve invited our journalists and staff to reflect on life before and after the pandemic and distil any lessons learned. Each letter expresses a wish or a desire to see something change for the better in our future world, whether it be stepping up to meet the climate crisis or creating a better quality of life for essential workers. We hope it will stimulate debate about how individuals, leaders and policy-makers take us forward from here.

How has Covid-19 changed the media industry in particular?

 Covid increased engagement with digital media – obviously when people were in lockdown, their tendency to consume content more frequently and online was high. So there will have been another step away from print and into digital. It’s hard to predict the long-term impacts. But from a business point of view, we think that audiences want to be more involved in communities – to be part of the community around a particular publication for instance, by joining in discussions and debate with fellow readers and journalists – and that is an interesting area where media companies can grow. We’re investing in a series of FT communities of interest that are drawing professionals that want to network around specific areas of content or expertise.

What are the long term implications of Covid-19 on marketing, and on your role specifically?

Communications and marketing have become more human through the pandemic. While there was a big shift to online marketing in terms of platform, as the pandemic has evolved, I perceive that brands are leaning more into their human characteristics and being much more gentle in their tone of voice. Certainly, at the FT, our communications focus has been on staff well-being and welfare – and with our Letters campaign, we are seeking to validate individual experiences and acknowledge that everyone has a point of view and it’s worth hearing. So the conversation between brands and their audiences will only deepen from here: The days of selling in a one-way message are over. 

What media channels do you see as most important and best value when it comes to marketing spend and activity?

We do well in digital display, but interestingly, we are seeing more and more traction with audio formats – podcast advertising for example – which works very well in the US and with younger audiences. We have also started focusing on connected TV as audiences are at home consuming entertainment media and more available to us. 

What for you is the key to any successful marketing campaign – what actually makes a ‘good lead’?

For us it’s the quality of the content. We deliver content-led campaigns – in other words, we are always teasing out snippets of the kinds of themes and debates they can expect to find in the FT if they subscribe. If a new reader is going to have a positive experience, then they need to have had their expectations met. Content-led campaigns that showcase really powerful, inventive thinking perform very well for us in that sense.

How important is technology in modern marketing?

It’s important: but nothing beats the right messaging.

What are the biggest pain points in a marketing campaign?

The news environment is very fast-moving, so it can be difficult to find a message that has longevity. We spend a lot of time making sure that our advertising doesn’t date quickly. The other challenge for a global publication is finding themes and messages that resonate globally. All audiences are different and the competitive landscape varies hugely around the world. So we have local teams who ensure that in-market activity makes sense, while still having a global dimension.