S01E02 – Alex Wood

Award-winning editor and broadcaster, Alex Wood, joins Brendon and Zoe in the studio to reveal how a tutor changed his life by sending him on his true path as a reporter, while studying in Japan; the entrepreneurial drive that led to him founding The Memo – acquired by Forbes Media last year – and what’s next for him as Europe Editor for Forbes.

Alex is a visiting lecturer at London City and advises that budding journalists spend more time listening and researching and less time broadcasting on social; you’ll hear how Alex overcame his smartphone addiction through posture theory and boundary setting, and why the PR industry is critical, when relevancy is made the priority.

Alex is passionate about the power of a considered, insightful point of view and shares his insights on why founders and spokespeople should worry less about product launches and business milestones and instead tap into their unique experiences and knowledge when it comes to building a name.

Before founding The Memo, Alex has held several roles in the media industry, including Editor in Chief of Tech City News, TV Producer at Bloomberg LP, Co-Founder of international current affairs magazine Not on the Wiresand Data Journalist at the BBC World Service.

Transcript:

Zoe Clark: Hi there, I’m Zoe Clark, and welcome back to our next episode in the Without Borders podcast series. Today we’re joined by the fantastic Alex Wood, whose publication, The Memo, was acquired by Forbes earlier this year.

Zoe Clark: Alex now leads Forbes Europe operations as their Europe editor.

Brendon Craigie: Hi, and I’m Brendon Craigie, and on this episode Alex is gonna share some more background on Forbes’ expansion plans. He’s gonna tell us why he thinks budding journalists should spend more time researching and listening and less time broadcasting on social media. And he’s also gonna tell us about how he overcame his smart phone addiction.

Zoe Clark: So tell us a bit, first of all I guess, about where it all began for you. So, how did you get into this world of journalism at the beginning?

Alex Wood: So I have quite an unusual story when it comes to journalism. I actually started my career in Japan. So I was out there doing a year of university there. I learnt Japanese at school as well. I went to this very unusual school in the middle of nowhere in Cotswolds, that decided to Japanese, Chinese, Russian-

Zoe Clark: Amazing.

Alex Wood: -every European going. I thought that was normal until I got to my undergraduate and realized that other people didn’t have this experience of international exchange students in the school all the time, but when I arrived in Japan I had a tutor at the university and he actually changed my life. A man called Professor Hadar. Because he said, “What kind of internship do you want to do, and work experience?” I sort of looked at him and said, “Well I guess I do Japanese and business.” A bank? I think that seems like a good start in my-

Zoe Clark: A good solid start.

Alex Wood: -opinion. Make the mother happy. And actually he sort of looked at me steely eyed, straight through into my face and with the glare of a Samurai, it really was, and he just knew that that wasn’t me and asked me what I really want to do and it was to become a reporter.

Alex Wood: Fast forward a few months and he got, I believe one of the first foreign internships at a Japanese newspaper. I sussed out a newspaper called the [sang-gei-shin-bin 00:02:05], and ended up writing in Japanese before even writing in English. Still, to this day in Japan people call me “Long Legs” in the media, because if you can imagine I was that much taller than every single person in every news room and every press conference. And that’s really how I started off in journalism.

Brendon Craigie: That’s an incredible story.

Zoe Clark: That’s quite phenomenal, isn’t it. From somebody who also, funnily enough, studied Japanese at university-

Alex Wood: Oh really?

Zoe Clark: -would you believe? That’s quite phenomenal that you can write and do journalism in Japanese. Incredible.

Brendon Craigie: I’m guessing that forced you to be especially disciplined with your language; maybe provide sort of like an extra level of rigor when you’re writing in a foreign language?

Alex Wood: I mean I’m not gonna lie, it was challenging as I’m sure you’ll appreciate-

Zoe Clark: Yes.

Alex Wood: -especially written Japanese is very different to spoken Japanese as well.

Alex Wood: I was very lucky and very blessed that I think a lot of my colleagues at the newspaper recognized how hard this was, and of course I had a lot of coaching and sub editing as well. But I think I’ve always been surrounded by languages and I was really lucky even when I was at school. I used to spend my summers, and it’s bonkers when you think about it. When I tell people,

Alex Wood: “I used to go to Japan by myself at 15. I used to get on a plane.” And the host families that I’d made friends with from the school exchange invited me back and my mother thought this was great, you know, I can go off for a summer, experience life, and so I’ve always been really adventurous and very open to languages and other cultures. I started to pick it up.

Zoe Clark: Do you think that kind of experience, I know certainly for me and some traveling and doing that kind of year abroad type thing, or putting yourself in these very, very foreign worlds, gives you a certain kind of no fear attitude in general?

Zoe Clark: I think obviously form what we can see from your career and the different things you’ve done, some really incredible sort of building blocks and achievements. Do you think that no fear attitude is something that you can relate to and has helped you throughout your life?

Alex Wood: Yeah, absolutely, and I think also about being relatable and understanding where other people are coming from. I’m guessing you’ve been to Japan many times as well.

Alex Wood: I remember vividly experiences like walking the dog in the summer when I was 15, and people would actually slam the brakes on their car in utter shock, because I was in the middle of nowhere. I was near Mount Fuji in the countryside. My host family were peach farmers.

Alex Wood: So, the shock of seeing this foreign kid just walking around the dog and actually just striking up a conversation and explaining it, and making friends, and I think people often underestimate that about Japan in particular; that it’s a very developed country, but they’re really not used to foreign people outside of the big city.

Alex Wood: I guess, yes. It kind of gave me a kick to be more open minded and not be afraid to try and strike a conversation.

Brendon Craigie: And so, if you were chatting the sort of people that were considering a career in journalism, you were giving them the same steely eye that your mentor did to you; what do you think that people need? What, in terms of their character and personality, what do they need to be a successful journalist? Do you have any sort of advice as well about things not to do, et cetera?

Alex Wood: So, this is something that I think I have a lot of experience with. I’ve had a really interesting career, where when I came back from Japan, ended up in City University’s Journalism School. They put me in the international course, which was purely because I’d never written in English, and as far as I were concerned, I was an international student. Turned out to be an absolute blessing. Again, got to meet lots of people from around the world. But, years later, they asked me to come back. I’m still a visiting lecturer at City. It’s now my eighth year.

Alex Wood: I can tell you it makes me feel really old, because they’re the same age every single year, and you’re one year older.

Alex Wood: I used to be the young, cool lecturer. Now I think I’ve sort of graduated out of that part of my life.

Brendon Craigie: I think you can still qualify as young and cool.

Alex Wood: I hope so [crosstalk 00:05:52]

Brendon Craigie: Certainly in this room, anyway.

Zoe Clark: Oi!

Alex Wood: But, through doing that, obviously, I get asked a lot by my students about advice and careers and one thing I really wanted to share with you is that I think if I was to look back at my own experience and other people who’ve broken into the industry, I think sometimes we put too much of an emphasis on social media and on the digital side of our life.

Alex Wood: That might sound quite counter to what seems to be quite a tech themed podcast that you’re working through, but it’s something that I’ve really noticed.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s almost like the more you sort of huff and puff and push your opinion, then somehow that’s where you should put all your effort rather than potentially spending more time on the development of ideas, if that’s what you mean.

Alex Wood: Yeah. To give you a tangible example, we have amazing guest lecturers at City University and we’ll have the head of the BBC as a regular guest, for example. We’ve have instance in the past where students have spent the entire lecture furiously tweeting with their heads down at their phone, and actually, not necessarily in that example, we’d had speakers actually complain to us, saying, “Why aren’t these students actually engaging with us, listening to what I’m saying?”

Alex Wood: But, at the end of it, I also think when I was at journalism school, and I remember Hugh Pimm was there, and the second he stopped speaking, I was ready on the edge of my seat to dart up there and try and grab my internship. Grab that opportunity. I think sometimes, in this digital world, we’re forgetting, that actually that face to face moment, that communication, is so very important.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: So, how does that kind of your opinion and thoughts that you have around social media and using it in journalism relate also to the idea of 24 hour news today?

Zoe Clark: And also, online media; online news, which obviously is totally your world. How does that fit together?

Alex Wood: I think it’s something I’ve really been thinking about with the transition from having my own business to Forbes as well.

Zoe Clark: Okay.

Alex Wood: I think Forbes is in a really unique position, having over 70 million unique readers every single month, but as I’m sure we’ll delve into in more depth, we have the contributor model as well.

Alex Wood: But, in an increasingly competitive news landscape, I’ve come to the realization. It was the same with the memo as well, that there is little point in playing in this game of being the fastest; being the most reactive. All that ends up is everyone just telling the same line. Everyone following the news wires.

Alex Wood: I believe actually, it’s about smart takes, and that’s very much Forbes’ view as well; that it’s okay sometimes if we have a real careful piece of analysis that’s even a day later than when it broke. But, if we’ve got the one that actually moves a market, we’ve got the one that people really care about, I think that’s more important than that.

Alex Wood: Rebuilding that level of trust, I think, with readers is really important. I hope that we see it in the rest of the media as well.

Brendon Craigie: Do you think, how does all sort of relate to the discussion around fake news? Do you think part of the issue is that we’ve got sort of addicted [crosstalk 00:08:55] to news?

Zoe Clark: Race to the bottom.

Brendon Craigie: And is that part of the problem, do you think?

Alex Wood: Yeah, I think there’s some fundamental issues with both the fake news issue and also that the business model around news is one. In some ways, I’m very uniquely placed to comment on because I’ve had my own news business as well and I’ve seen both sides of it. I think there has to be a bigger conversation. I think if there’s anything good to have come out of, let’s say, the Facebook scandal, or other issues that have been out there, is that that consumer awareness is now increased. I think people on the street are actually saying, “You know what? Am I getting the right news?” Or, “Is the thing that’s at the top of Google News; is that the most trustworthy source?”

Alex Wood: In general, in technology, I believe that we often think of everything as being in hockey stick growth curves or just neat lines that go up, but actually, in reality, innovation goes up very sharply and then comes back a bit, and that’s very healthy, in my opinion. I think we need to have a little bit of a return backwards, and then consider, and then, continue on.

Zoe Clark: Yeah, makes sense.

Zoe Clark: So, tell us a little bit about how life at the moment? How’s it all going? What’s your daily, not routine, but what’s the day in the life of Alex Wood like?

Alex Wood: Life is good.

Alex Wood: I honestly, I wake up in the mornings and I still pinch myself thinking this is just an incredible place that I’m at.

Alex Wood: I even said to my journalism professors a couple of months ago that taught me. I didn’t expect ten years after going to journalism school to become the European editor of Forbes. It is honestly beyond my wildest dreams. So, I still feel like it’s fresh, even though it’s six months.

Alex Wood: But, a normal day for me; I start the morning with reviewing the news. Usually, a mixture of radio, TV and good old fashioned newspaper, but no my iPad.

Alex Wood: I think it’s really important in my role to have a good understanding and a broad view of what’s happening in the world. And again, I’ve already come to appreciate newspapers in the last couple of years. Actually that curated, editorialized view of what is in the world, rather than necessarily sort of going on the anxiety bandwagon that is Twitter.

Alex Wood: You know, just a never ending stream of things without any actual curation, I think, actually newspapers are good.

Zoe Clark: Yeah.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. I guess they give you that broad perspective, don’t they? Rather than just a narrow viewpoint of things that the people you follow might identify with.

Alex Wood: Yeah, exactly.

Alex Wood: I know I’m sounding like I’m reinventing the wheel, ’cause newspapers have been around for years, and I’ve only really got into them in the last five, but I’ve also really come to appreciate great comment writers, recently, as well. And, commonness, and realizing how important, particularly the Times, I think, has excellent experts in many spaces.

Alex Wood: So, I find that’s really useful. And I interpret that about what’s happening in the news and what’s gonna change in the news in the future as well.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: So, how have things changed, going from the Memo to Forbes? How has it changed things for you? Are you feeling in any way you have to toe a certain line now, being part of a bigger group? How does it work?

Alex Wood: So, I think before the acquisition happened, obviously, I had many advisors and mentors with the business, and I had to really do a lot of soul searching to ask myself if the time was right and if this was gonna be the right fit as well.

Alex Wood: I realized very early on, when I first met with people from Forbes, that it was gonna be a great fit. The reason why is because so many of the senior management within Forbes are actually former entrepreneurs themselves.

Alex Wood: My direct boss, Randall Lane, has been a media entrepreneur for many years, as is our CEO, Mike [Feddely 00:12:33] as well.

Alex Wood: And, I’m sure you guys will know this from the entrepreneurs you work with in your agency as well. That you just know there’s a certain type when you’re dealing with entrepreneurs. We just got on right away, and without naming names, the first person I met, we were meant to meet for dinner. And, I think, two bottles of wine later, four hours later, we were still having an amazing chat. I think if you can sit across a table from someone and you get on that well, it’s a fabulous sign.

Alex Wood: Transition wise, obviously, it is a very different world. I’m working with, gosh, so many more people, hundreds of people across continents now, but I think generally, the entrepreneurial spirit, and also, the kind of family business spirit that Forbes is founded on 102 years ago-

Brendon Craigie: Wow.

Alex Wood: -is still very much there.

Alex Wood: Steve Forbes is still around the office. Moira Forbes is there as well.

Alex Wood: You see them, and I think it’s a very unique media company. We’re not part of a much larger stable of publications, either.

Brendon Craigie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that whole working with entrepreneurial types is they’re just very single minded and have a vision and that’s very intoxicating. Isn’t it? It just rubs off on other people, which obviously, you know ’cause you created your own business beforehand.

Brendon Craigie: What was the inspiration for you creating the Memo previously?

Alex Wood: So, the inspiration for the Memo, if we go back one step, so after going to City and ended up at the BBC World Service as well, I worked at Bloomberg TV as a producer, and this was, as I’m sure you’ll both remember fondly, back in the kind of crazy silicon roundabout [crosstalk 00:14:09] tech City days, I think you were [crosstalk 00:14:11] very nearby.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah yeah yeah, absolutely.

Alex Wood: And, I was covering big market Bloomberg stories. But then, I was the really irritating, precocious young junior producer who was jumping up and down going, “Guys, we’re in Finsbury Circus of Finsbury Square in the center of the financial district.” But over there, literally on our doorstep, is something really exciting, and I eventually got my way a couple of times. The let me do a couple of TV packages.

Alex Wood: I’ll never forget, actually, the founder of [Monzo 00:14:40] and when he was at his last startup, I was one of the first TV crews to go out and interview him. He was literally across Finsbury square. Did the TV package. It was great. You know, it was little bit rough around the edges. It’s a startup. I brought it back and I remember I got a severe telling off by my executive producer because they were all wearing T-shirts and why are they not wearing suits? They should be wearing suits on Bloomberg, and it was one of those funny, defining moments. I was like, “This guy’s gonna be big and now, look at him now.”

Zoe Clark: Now you are showing your age.

Alex Wood: Yes, I really am.

Alex Wood: But, while that was happening, I remember there was a publishing house [inaudible 00:15:17] street that said they wanted to launch a magazine covering Tech City as it was known then. And, a couple of coffees later in conversations, I somehow ended up taking the job as the launch editor for that.

Alex Wood: I think it was a really interesting entry into entrepreneurial journalism for me personally, because I took the job and I got to office on the first day, and I had this kind of image of this buzzing news room and a team and things going on. There’s literally no one. They had a domain. There was a sort of business plan. But, you know what? That’s a great challenge. And so, I got given a huge amount of freedom to actually build it and start to build a team. We have great commercial people on the side as well, who came in and grew that side of the business.

Alex Wood: Over the course of two and half, three years, we built it to the market leader within that space. But also, as you mentioned, infectious entrepreneurial types being based in [Old 00:16:19] street, you’re just surrounded by them.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah yeah yeah.

Alex Wood: I got to meet them. I got to cover them. I still consider many of them as my close friends, as well.

Alex Wood: So, there came a point where I thought, “I have to have a crack at this, really!”

Alex Wood: And, the whole time while this was happening, I also noticed, and this was really the inspiration for the Memo, that lots of my friends who worked in the city or worked in SoHo kept saying to me, “It looks very cool. What you’re doing. It looks very interesting. Haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. You keep saying this word disruption. You keep talking about pivoting. And all these bizarre words, and you keep putting something with tech.”

Alex Wood: I know you were a Fintech specialist, but back then, you maybe wouldn’t know what that was.

Zoe Clark: Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Wood: The real inspiration behind the Memo was, what if there could be a magazine that sat in the middle and act as the friendly bridge between the big business corporate world and everyday life and the cutting edge of technology? And that’s why it had a intentionally not tech name.

Zoe Clark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brendon Craigie: Yes. Great. So, sort of like, de-mystifying. And, making it more accessible.

Alex Wood: Yes, exactly.

Zoe Clark: Any particularly cringe-worthy moments along the way or any sort of mistakes you can draw on that you’ve necessarily maybe learned from, or have you?

Alex Wood: Oh gosh. What can I think of? I might need a moment to think about this. From the Memo more specifically? Or, just in general?

Zoe Clark: In general. It sounds like you’ve definitely thrown yourself into some situations in life. Sounds like it’s all gone brilliantly, but I’m sure-

Alex Wood: No, there’s been, I thank-

Zoe Clark: Maybe some will come to you while we’re talking.

Zoe Clark: Don’t worry. [crosstalk 00:17:54] we can move on.

Alex Wood: I can. Yeah. I think I might just have some water.

Alex Wood: Is it just mean, or is it really hot?

Zoe Clark: It is really. [crosstalk 00:18:00]

Alex Wood: I did a yoga class earlier, so I dunno if I’m just hot from that.

Zoe Clark: There’s been a lot of hot air, chatting today.

Brendon Craigie: Yes.

Zoe Clark: It’s not you. It’s all us.

Alex Wood: I think, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a direct mistake, but I think something that I’ve learned along the way is about focus. And, I think you’ll hear that from many entrepreneurs I’m sure, in your work.

Alex Wood: But again, in my work in journalism, I think it’s so easy to get really excited by a meerkat, periscope, all the latest, shiny new thing, and I think it applies just as much to communications as well.

Alex Wood: Actually, throughout my career and I think throughout my teaching as well, I really try and champion craft and actually going back. I think if I had spent a little less time worrying about live-streaming video, and a little bit more time on actually being a better writer in terms of developing interviewing skills, things like that, I think it’s so easy to be overlooked, and so, that’s maybe one regret I have.

Zoe Clark: Yeah. No, that’s a fair point.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: I think we, as a business, obviously, starting up any new business, that’s a bit of a key thing we keep thinking about, isn’t it? How to focus on the real priorities and what’s really important [crosstalk 00:19:06]

Brendon Craigie: Yeah, sure.

Alex Wood: Are you a year in now?

Brendon Craigie: So yeah, we’re just coming up to be a year in October.

Alex Wood: Yes.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah, so it’s going really well.

Brendon Craigie: We sort of surpassed all of our expectations, and we’ve got a team now across [crosstalk 00:19:19] Europe.

Zoe Clark: Yeah, we’re pleasantly surprised.

Brendon Craigie: And, got a couple more people joining in the next few weeks, so it’s super exciting. When it’s just like, I came from a large business, relatively large, 250 people around the world. And then, I think, just the opportunity to define yourself against what exists. And start with a blank sheet of paper, have lots of conversations and sort of really pinpoint how you’re gonna be different, and then to go after it, is very exciting.

Brendon Craigie: But, when you start that journey, you have this vision, you don’t quite know whether people are gonna buy into it, so it’s satisfying and also reassuring that one year in, that a lot of people have bought into it [inaudible 00:20:09] in terms of the employees and clients.

Brendon Craigie: So, it’s very motivating. Very motivating.

Alex Wood: I think the self-doubt is probably one of the most powerful things.

Brendon Craigie: Totally.

Alex Wood: [crosstalk 00:20:21] yeah.

Brendon Craigie: Totally. I mean, you think. See, I always harbored a desire to start my own business, you know? So, I was part of a team that grew a very successful company from the start, but I was never the founder, as such.

Brendon Craigie: Throughout that 17 year journey with one company, which grew from nothing to 250 people around the world, I always had this thing about wanting to do my own thing. But, you always felt that, “But what if it doesn’t work? You know?” Like, what if it’s not successful?

Brendon Craigie: Despite having probably pretty good credentials for something to be successful, you always have that doubt.

Brendon Craigie: I think there are so many people out there that question their ability to make something happen.

Brendon Craigie: I think if there was anything you could do to sort of give people more confidence, then the world would probably be a better place.

Alex Wood: Yeah, and I think coming back to what I was saying about digital and the over-reliance on it, ashamed to say it, it took me about 18 months to realize rather than obsessively Googling things and trying to find the obscure answers to very niche entrepreneurial problems, actually ringing another founder and actually picking up the phone or going for a coffee, and I’m sure you’ve [crosstalk 00:21:42] both had this.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: That actually, when you step out of the office and just-

Brendon Craigie: Talk to people. [crosstalk 00:21:46]

Alex Wood: Unload it all.

Brendon Craigie: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think, yeah. For us, it was that process of having some ideas and really questioning them with other people and sort of that honing your idea but through a process of discussion and getting feedback from people. That really helped sharpen up what we were gonna be, and what we were different, and then going out there and testing it.

Brendon Craigie: Question for you. Obviously, you’ve been closely involved with the technology sector for a long time. It’s probably over that time had good press and bad press and so, it feels like it’s maybe going through a bit of a challenging time at the moment with technology associated with lots of problems.

Brendon Craigie: What’s your perspective on that?

Alex Wood: I think it’s like I was saying, earlier, about cycles. I think we’re in a kind of cycle where we’re pulling back a bit, but it’s actually a very healthy thing.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: I think something that I’ve really notices particularly covering bubbling startup hotspots if you like, is actually the number of times that people are trying to solve problems that are respectfully first world problems.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: You know, the problems that really don’t need to be solved, like finding a restaurant to met your friends that’s near the train station for convenient for both of you.

Alex Wood: Things that don’t really matter. I think there’s been a really interesting movement, especially in the last year or two, around social impact startups. That’s not to say that the capitalistic money making side of that’s not important as well, but I think it’s really interesting that people are starting to think about purpose and mission driven businesses.

Alex Wood: So, that’s something I really enjoyed about Forbes, actually; the 30 under 30 initiative they have, which is just bonkers. We just had our first summit in Amsterdam just two weeks. I’m sill recovering from it. 600 people in the city going absolutely nuts, but when you meet people like that; the future leaders of tomorrow, it’s amazing how so many of them, core to them is about their mission and their purpose.

Brendon Craigie: Right.

Alex Wood: And how they’re actually going to be a good thing for society, as well as make money. And, I think that’s really interesting.

Brendon Craigie: That is really interesting.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. Actually, I was at that event you were talking about. Yeah, so that was really exciting.

Zoe Clark: Yeah, it’s really encouraging, isn’t it?

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: To think they’re like that.

Zoe Clark: So, tell us a bit more about Forbes and their plans. Because, I mean, it’s surprising, really, that Forbes has only just come across the pond after over a hundred years in journalism, right?

Alex Wood: Yes.

Zoe Clark: So, what can we expect?

Alex Wood: Expect a huge expansion of everything that we’re doing. So, prior to the Memo acquisition, we had two staff writers and about 180 contributors across the continent.

Alex Wood: On the contributor front, we are doubling down. We are looking towards 500 contributors across the continent. That’s a huge part of the work I’m doing, and for anyone that’s not familiar with the contributor model, what it essentially means is that Forbes works with a network of experts. They’re not always journalists. Some of them are journalists. Some of them can be academic. Some of them are analysts in financial houses, and we welcome them to share their expert view on what’s going on in the world and Forbes. And what it does is it gives us this humongous reach. We have over 2,000 contributors on the platform right now.

Alex Wood: As an editor, it’s really interesting, actually, because in some ways, it means I have to let go control. I don’t have oversight of every single piece that goes out there. Yet, at the same time, we have a really good quality system, where, actually, we make sure that we vet people. We understand who they are. We make sure they’re not conflicted. And, we actually say, and I say this a lot of contributors, putting my hands up, “I don’t know everything. I cannot be an expert in every single space.”

Alex Wood: We have one guy that writes about the Russian gas market, and he’s one of the world’s leading authorities on that. He does very well. And, Forbes is a platform for him to be able to share it, so one key part of it is really on that contributor model.

Zoe Clark: Okay, interesting.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. So, we live in this world where there’s just so much content.

Brendon Craigie: And, you talked a little bit about what type of journalism you value.

Brendon Craigie: Do you think, in this world where everyone wants to publish, or self publish or publish, do you think that the best content and the best journalism does rise to the top?

Brendon Craigie: Does it get through? Or not?

Alex Wood: To be honest, I don’t think we’re living in a perfect world.

Brendon Craigie: Right.

Alex Wood: I think even today, we’re not always getting the best journalism rising to the top.

Alex Wood: I do believe, at least based on my own personal viewing habits, and also other people I speak to, that people are starting to re-evaluate the brand that’s associated with it.

Alex Wood: Forbes is not unique in having a contributor model. There are other publications that do that, and I think people are starting to look. I mean, the FT is somewhere that I hugely admire, and I think particularly, with what’s happened economically around the world and politically, the FT has really shown that you need a trusted brand in that space, and you need real experts. So, there is a certain realignment that I’m seeing. I think it’s a positive thing.

Alex Wood: Like I said about our contributors, they are very very niche experts in their space. They’re the people who are speaking at the key conferences and those spaces, and very well-regarded. I think our readers start to build a relationship personally with those contributors.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: And we very much insentivise them to create a loyal audience, to make sure that people keep coming back for them as well, and I think it’s a really unique model in journalism.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah, and I guess you’ve obviously in your past roles and present, you come across a lot of really interesting people; these entrepreneurial types. Is there anything, any advice you would give to them? If they’re trying to find their voice. ‘Cause I think, often, some very smart, clever people are just a little bit nervous of sticking their neck out there.

Brendon Craigie: Do you have any sort of advice to them in terms of how they might become a contributor and how do they become a successful contributor? What does it take?

Alex Wood: I think first and foremost, it’s about having a point of view. And also, not being self-promotional. So, the one thing that we really do watch carefully is about being self-promotional.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: But, the really smart contributors are the ones that are plugged into the industry that they work in. They understand what’s going on. Sometimes, they’re gonna take a contrarian view. Sometimes, they’re gonna do a take down. They’re gonna have a strong opinion. But, that’s what really works; a strong, considered opinion backed up by a lot of industry expertise, can really work for a contributor.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. Yeah, no. That’s interesting about the point of view thing. ‘Cause I think that’s something we advise our clients [crosstalk 00:28:40] very strongly.

Zoe Clark: Yeah.

Alex Wood: I mean, I speak to many people PR and communication.

Alex Wood: I imagine that that is a challenge when you’re speaking to people, ’cause people don’t wanna put their neck out on the line, and they don’t wanna upset the apple card.

Zoe Clark: You do have to encourage people sometimes. Don’t we?

Brendon Craigie: I wonder if you can elaborate on that in terms of this point about a point of view.

Zoe Clark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brendon Craigie: What sort of things? Could you maybe elaborate on that in terms of what does that mean, exactly?

Alex Wood: I think if we zoom out from just the contributor model, and just talk about news in general, what I say to a lot of founders who maybe aren’t working with an agency yet, or just doing it by themselves, is that, respectfully, and I know this ’cause I’ve been in that position myself, you raising some money, not that interesting. You launching a new product, not that interesting. It’s actually, what view do you have on what’s happening right in front of you? What interesting internal story do you have?

Alex Wood: I mean, just from my memory, some of the most interesting people I’ve spoken to in recent years was a famous female founder who said, “do you know what the problem with women in tech is? Women in tech.”

Alex Wood: I won’t elaborate any further, but what a fantastic way to get my attention.

Brendon Craigie: Yes.

Alex Wood: And she had a strong point of view. And I think she wasn’t afraid to say it. She may have lost some friends in that. But I think she actually did put a considered viewpoint across there. So, I think it’s so easy when you’re stuck in your business in the thick of it, to look at each milestone, because I know I’ve been there as well, you want your investors to see [crosstalk 00:30:12] you’ve got that press coverage. It’s been noted in the public record, but actually, people that have said to me, in the past, people who’ve said that certain events I the tech space are awful and “I wouldn’t want to be seen dead there. They’re a waste of money. They screw over startups.” That’s a great story.

Alex Wood: You know? Things like that where, talk about what’s really happening. I’ve had founders that-

Alex Wood: Sorry, go ahead.

Zoe Clark: No no, I was just gonna say this is definitely an issue and a challenge we face with clients sometimes. A, in giving them, empowering them to feel like they should be able to put their opinions out there, but equally, something else we often find challenging is that don’t feel necessarily qualified to speak about particular things. Where would you say the line is there?

Zoe Clark: Like, how way out, or how far out should people go? Or, how near should they stick to their notes [crosstalk 00:30:59]

Alex Wood: I think nobody wants to be talking for the sake of talking.

Zoe Clark: Sure.

Alex Wood: And, not come from a position of knowledge, but I think, also, journalists today really value personal stories and personal experiences, and just because your personal experience isn’t, or we don’t run the biggest company in the world, or you don’t have the largest wealth of experience of [inaudible 00:31:22] doesn’t mean that it’s not at all valid.

Alex Wood: I remember, to give another example of a founder I spoke to whose really tiny company absolutely fell apart because essentially, she hadn’t taken control of the domains and all the technology for her startup and she had a falling out with her contracted developer who wanted equity, et cetera, et cetera. You know, these kinds of things happen all the time in early stage businesses.

Alex Wood: But actually, yes, that’s a tiny tiny story and in a Bloomberg sense, that’s not going to move a market. But, I think it’s a really interesting example how not getting your house in order early on in the business, and not understanding ownership, and I think that’s something that I would love other founders out there to hear about. So, it’s little things like that that I think are really, really valuable.

Zoe Clark: Okay.

Brendon Craigie: Obviously, PR’s a pretty 24 hour type of thing, in terms of the type of how news can develop, and so, always needing to be switched on, which I’m guessing is exactly the same for you in the world of media. How do you juggle your work responsibilities and the need to be connected to everything that’s going on with staying sane and human and disconnecting? How do you manage that?

Alex Wood: I’m hopefully doing a good job of staying sane and human so far this year. I think, it’s something that I’ve really explored a lot myself and my own work in the last couple of years. Much to the amusement of many people around, I have a Blackberry.

Alex Wood: Yes. I have one of the new Blackberries that have Android. So, it’s not quite as embarrassing as having a traditional Blackberry. But, Forbes very kindly agreed for me to do that when I joined.

Alex Wood: It’s a very conscious decision, so, I have an iPhone for outside of work, and a Blackberry for work stuff. One of the reasons why I did that, is because they are completely different form factors. So, I used to write a lot about smart phone addiction and technology overwhelm-edness and things like that.

Alex Wood: One academic I spoke to a couple of years ago, and it’s really stuck with me, told me about how, if you think about 10, 15 years ago, when we would be at work, you’d be at a desktop computer. It would be very much one posture. You go home, and you’d watch television and perhaps you may be horizontal. It’s up to you.

Alex Wood: But, those postures are very different and there’s been a link that they found in academic study between relaxation and working and how your body is being held.

Alex Wood: If you now fast forward to how you are today, most of us work on a laptop. You go home, watch Netflix on a laptop and we use our smart phones during the day and at night.

Alex Wood: What he told me was that your brain isn’t actually properly slowly down.

Brendon Craigie: Switching off. Yeah.

Alex Wood: Even though you are watching a program on Netflix. And maybe, you have notifications, as well. So, I’ve been experimenting with this for the last six months. My Blackberry, I’ll show you afterwards, is about three times of this tiny little iPhone with an obnoxious keyboard, but I’ve done it intentionally to have a completely tactile feel.

Alex Wood: I put it in a different room when I’m at home as well. I militantly do not bring it in my bedroom. I go to the work phone and sort of use it as a way of trying to split those things apart.

Alex Wood: All of need to be switched on all the time, but I think for me, it’s about having clear boundaries of when I’m eating a meal, my work phone’s not there, and things like that. I find that’s usually beneficial for me.

Brendon Craigie: No, I agree. I think having those separations is so important.

Brendon Craigie: If I’m out at the weekend with my kids and going for a walk or something for an hour or so, I’ll deliberately not take my phone with me. ‘Cause I don’t need it.

Brendon Craigie: Actually just having those times when you’re completely disconnected. You’re not tempted to take a photo and share it on Instagram, or whatever, I just think it’s so healthy just to have those moments of pure disconnection and actually spend time focused on the things and the people that you love. Not in a sort of filtered, or sharing them with your phone, but actually, giving yourself to them.

Zoe Clark: Surely, it’s not also just about switching, but it’s at those times where you actually get the inspiration to carry on maybe new ideas [crosstalk 00:35:42] come to mind.

Brendon Craigie: I think that’s a really important point, is I think that process of disconnecting, and having completely different experiences is what allows you to mentally and physically recharge, but also, I think to give inspiration to be creative. ‘Cause I think if you’re constantly operating in this sort of same world, same environment, you’re not mentally recharging with different perspectives that’s gonna allow you to be creative.

Alex Wood: and it’s so funny. I know you’ve seen a piece that I wrote about 18 months ago about smart phone addiction where I came out as a smart phone addict and talked about how I cured myself. Which, oddly enough, became a TV program later on as well. Stranger things that’s happened in my career.

Alex Wood: Since doing that, and I don’t want to sound arrogant or pretentious, I’ve become so aware of other people.

Alex Wood: Often, I’ll just be sat there with my friends and I’ll literally go one, two, three, four, like, you are all staring at your phones. Ones you’ve gone through that process of re-evaluating and realigning what you do with your devices, you just realize that everyone’s walking around like zombies. It’s like you’re in another world. And I do think, again, it’s a really positive thing. I know that the new version of iOS for apple, which I think is coming out today, is going to automatically track people’s Instagram and other usage and sort of nag you and point out your addicted. And I think we really are on the wave of something that’s changing.

Brendon Craigie: I don’t know who it is, but there’s some sociologist that talked about the expression of being alone together. You know, so when you are with this group of people and you’re all on your phone, you’re sort of alone but together. You know? ‘Cause you’re not fully engaged in that. In some ways, it comes back to you point earlier about journalism and needing to listen and observe and if you’re not, yeah.

Alex Wood: I’m married to a lawyer, so it’s a similar kind of career path of constant emails and things like that.

Brendon Craigie: Do they keep you in check?

Alex Wood: Yeah, he’s worse than me, actually.

Brendon Craigie: Right.

Alex Wood: And he’ll hate me for saying this on your podcast, but I am constantly nagging. But yeah, I think it’s again it’s that culture and the expectation. I think working in the law, you’re expected, working with clients, to be reachable and I think it’s very difficult, ’cause you just can’t disconnect.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah, no sure.

Zoe Clark: Absolutely.

Zoe Clark: So, there’s a question we want to put to you about your desert island desk. Which is, a new concept we’re coming up with relating to the Without Borders theme of the podcast. So, something we’re really passionate about [inaudible 00:38:18] is not being constrained by any particular place. We can work anywhere. We have what we call a location agnostic model. So, I guess the question for you is, if you could work anywhere, if you could work to any particular process, what kind of setup, what kind of process, where in the world might that be?

Alex Wood: Gosh, that’s a really good question. Thinking back to my Memo days, where I had a huge amount of freedom to create these things, I feel really passionate about having absolutely no physical files or storage on a machine. I built that business from the ground up. Everything was in the cloud and people got severe tellings off if they saved documents onto machines. And, what that actually meant was, in the six or seven coworking spaces we were in in three years, every fire alarm that happened or anything that went wrong with the office, it never ever impacted the business.

Alex Wood: I remember fondly, the second office we were in in London Bridge, someone drove a transit van into the broadband switchy thing; the green things you have on the street. Took out the internet for the office for a week. My business was fine. [crosstalk 00:39:22] and I’m sure it’s the same for you guys, having this remote model as well.

Alex Wood: And I think it’s incredibly liberating. So, that would definitely be something, as part of that. But, at the same time, and I’ve had this since I’ve joined Forbes as well, because we’ve been thinking a lot about how we lay out the office and I have quite a unique challenge, actually, in that I’ve inherited some staff. My staff from the Memo have come across. There’s also a great commercial team that have been based in London for a long time as well, so we’re fusing together lots of people at once, and I’m a bit of a design nerd, and I’ve been really thinking about how we can create collaboration spaces for want of a better expression. How we can make sure that we can be coming together.

Alex Wood: In terms of tools, as well, I think to kind of name drop one tool that I really like and I’ve recently reintroduced to Forbes, is [15/5 00:40:19]. I don’t know if you guys have come across [15/5 00:40:19].

Alex Wood: So, if I tell you it’s a sort of employee reporting tool, many people will switch off, but it’s actually brilliant. It’s called 15/5 because it’s meant to take no more than 15 minutes for each person on a Monday or a Friday or whenever you like, to fill in a basic form of what’s going on. But, it uses a lot of behavioral psychology and delight and surprises.

Alex Wood: The form changes every single week. It asks really simple things, like, “How do you feel today?” And, it’s a sort of sad to happy. And then, it also asks people to talk about obviously what’s going on their week, but it asks you some really silly things, like we put in today actually, how likely do you think the plants in the office will last until Christmas? Little things like that, to who would you love to go for a coffee with in the company that you haven’t yet?

Alex Wood: And it constantly rotates and just encourages communication and encourages sharing, but one thing I learnt from having it at the Memo was working with younger staff members, I find other people are not always confident about sharing their feelings or about at least verbally putting it out there in a company. I found a lot of people who were more introverted absolutely loved this, because when you put your information in this form, it then forms part of your one to one meetings. And, everything gets discussed face to face, but at least you can share something; maybe something that’s happening at home or there’s something that’s impacting your work, and I am a big advocate of that.

Zoe Clark: Yeah. Is there a certain type of person who, thinking introverts, extroverts, in your world? I’m wondering are, journalists, do they tend to be more on the introvert side?

Alex Wood: I think [crosstalk 00:42:01] there can be a real mixture. I notice it with my students. I think at least on the surface people tend to think of journalists as quite extroverted, but if you actually watch them news rooms, these days, they don’t pick up the phone so much. And I’m sure you find they don’t answer the phone so much as well.

Alex Wood: I think it’s interesting. A lot of journalists are so deeply nestled within their beat and their own world and their own projects, their stories, and not necessarily the bigger picture of an organization. So, I think that’s one of the interesting challenge is I have no being an editor, is about trying to oversee what everyone is doing and how that fits together into the bigger editorial piece.

Alex Wood: But yeah, would you agree with that? That you think introverted or extroverted?

Zoe Clark: This is a very sweeping statement, and it’s probably a stupid general, not generalization, but sort of assumption, that possibly people in PR, as I was thinking, might tend to be more of the extroverts.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. No, I agree.

Zoe Clark: Can you see where I’m going with that?

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Zoe Clark: From our perspective that journalists might be more on the introvert side.

Brendon Craigie: I think so. I guess, you know, it lends itself to that sort of more researching, reflecting, listening, whereas PR people tend to be quite loud. Yeah.

Zoe Clark: Possibly.

Zoe Clark: What do you make of the whole PR journalism interplay? What role do you think PRs play? Are you a fan?

Alex Wood: I think PRs are absolutely critical and essential. I think there’s been a lot of misunderstandings or miss-alignments, and I think particularly having had my own business, I can understand where people are coming from in a better way.

Alex Wood: My concern with PR, just to do a big sweeping generalization, is that model of where I know, because people ask me to recommend PRs, and I’ve seen new proposals and things like that, where it’s almost a tick box exercise of, “We have contacted X number of journalists, and then we have nagged them.” Call sheets. Things like that. I think when that business model exists and it [inaudible 00:44:02] is then put over to the journalist, it starts to just deteriorate relationships.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah.

Alex Wood: I think of the best PRs, who I consider friends as well and have known for years, sometimes I don’t hear from them for six months, but it’s because I’ll hear from you when you know it’s the right thing. [crosstalk 00:44:15]

Zoe Clark: You’ve got something. [crosstalk 00:44:16]

Alex Wood: And I know we’ve all got a job to do and sometimes you’ve got clients that have demands, but I think when you have that business model of it’s just hitting as many things as possible, it starts to cause misunderstandings.

Brendon Craigie: Yeah. We’ve got this whole philosophy of perfect partnership, so that means perfect partnership with our clients, but perfect partnership, also, with journalists and other sort of stake holders, because we have a duty of care to manage those relationships with the same level of care and attention that we would with our client relationships, ’cause ultimately, they’re mutually important to each other, so we totally agree with you on that.

Zoe Clark: Great. Well, thank you ever so much. [crosstalk 00:45:00] I think we are probably out of time.

Brendon Craigie: Thank you so much, Alex. It’s been great having you on the show. [crosstalk 00:45:01]

Zoe Clark: Yeah.

Alex Wood: Thank you. Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Brendon Craigie: Thank you.

Zoe Clark: Thanks for listening to Without Borders. If you like what you’ve heard, why not subscribe? And, if you want to find out more about Tyto and what we’re up to, you can find us at TytoPR.com. That’s T-Y-T-O-P-R dot com.

Tyto brings you Without Borders, a regular dose of inspiration for passionate communicators, courageous creatives and entrepreneurial business brains. Expect candid chats with the wisest old hands, bleeding edge innovators and left field thinkers and doers.

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