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Disruption name of game for Fairfax CMO

Fairfax Media’s chief marketing officer Michael Laxton is used to working in disrupted industries – in fact, he has built his career on it.

As head of e-business at an upmarket footwear brand in the early 2000s, Mr Laxton was at the forefront of digital disruption in the retail sector. He experienced it again at Warner Music, as downloads and streaming disrupted traditional music distribution channels and digital pirates robbed companies and artists of revenue.

Joining Fairfax in 2014 as director of digital marketing and search engine optimisation, he landed in the newly created role of chief marketing officer earlier this year. Mr Laxton felt he was in the right place, at the right time.

“I love businesses that are disrupted, I love finding that challenge and understanding it, because the nice thing is that it’s not the industry disrupting itself, really, it’s the customer disrupting the industry,” he said.

“What I’ve done over the past three years is build out the ecosystem, particularly with the subscriptions business, understanding who our customers are, where they are, what message they should be seeing, and what sentiment we should be driving, and tracking them through.”

Mr Laxton has been named twice in the CMO50 list – which identifies top chief marketers around the country.

“I am uniquely placed in this business to have a digital skill set for current platforms, and understand how to create revenue opportunities out of disruptive models. That’s why I love publishing,” he said.

It has been a busy year for Mr Laxton and his team, launching the redesigned and rebuilt Brisbane Times website, and the first brand campaign in three years.

His primary focus is on metropolitan publishing, reporting to the managing director of the division Chris Janz. In the 2016 financial year, Fairfax’s revenue from the division, which includes The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review, fell nine percent. In the same period, subscription growth rose 21 per cent.

The current financial year to date has seen rises in both these areas – with a 21 per cent lift in revenue.

“I’m just very proud of that revenue lift. I’m not going to lie, it has been definitely my highlight for Fairfax marketing. It’s validated the full price strategy, the strategy around content first, and that strategy around focusing on the customer experience.

“I think the lift in revenue shows that there’s a great opportunity there and we’re currently, I’d say, nailing it with my teams all the time,” he said.

Focused on 2018 and ahead

While 2017 has been a successful year, it has not made Mr Laxton and his teams complacent.

Fairfax has hinted at new products which have been extensively developed throughout 2017. The products are expected to make a debut in early 2018.

While coy, all the developments revolve around two things: keeping the customer and advertiser happy.

“We’ve got things planned for next year. It’s highly exciting if you’re a Fairfax reader,” he said.

“From 6 AM until many go to sleep, you’re most likely wired in. Isn’t that fascinating? People forget that. I’m super excited by that because the opportunity we have is you can disrupt someone’s day, you can interrupt, you can curate their day, you can follow their day.”

The medium also offers advertisers a brand safe environment – a characteristic on which Fairfax is capitalising.

“We’re very clear on our metrics around transparency and brand safety. I think that this has been a very clear pivot in the market around premium publishers and brand safe environments, of which Fairfax is one.

“So from our perspective, it means we have continuing conversations with advertisers and media agencies. We are the platforms of choice going forward because you can completely control it and you have 100 per cent transparency,” Mr Laxton said.

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