Andrew Saunders on what he sees from atop The Globe and Mail

Last week, The Globe and Mail announced that Andrew Saunders was taking over as president and CEO, replacing Phillip Crawley, who has led the company for the past 25 years. His appointment takes effect on Sept. 1.

Most recently chief revenue officer, Saunders has been with the Globe for 21 years, a period that coincided with massive upheaval in news media, as readers migrated from print to digital, and platforms like Facebook and Google stole away a huge chunk of revenue and people’s attention.

The Message spoke with Saunders about taking over from Crawley and what’s next for the company. His responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about the new role, as well as any short-, mid-, or long-term goals you may have set for yourself?

From my perspective, journalism will remain at the heart of the organization. We are committed to our mission to deliver essential news and information, as well as analysis and insights. I think Phillip set high editorial standards, and I will continue to support that.

We’ve got a very strong foundation and I think there’ll be a lot of continuity between Phillip’s leadership and what I’ll be doing. My goal is to strike an appropriate balance between the heritage of the brand, the strength of our printed product, and obviously the ambition we have in expanding our digital footprint.

What will be your key areas of focus be as you look to strengthen the brand?

I’m going to continue to focus on the growth of the organization and spur on innovation. We’ve been very successful over the past number of years on building a very strong digital footprint and strong brand equity, and we’re going to continue to focus on that area in order to expand our influence.

We’ve built great partnerships with the likes of Google and Apple from a distribution perspective, and we will continue to work with those partners in the future.

We’ll continue to invest in our user experience, and provide a higher level of personalization, and we see a wonderful opportunity in the future to leverage artificial intelligence to augment what we’re currently doing. That’s going to obviously support overall practices and UX enhancements, and we will use it for our subscription growth. And obviously, the advertising team will continue to see how we use data in a very smart way to deliver more personalized, targeted opportunities.

What would you say you’ve learned from your many years working alongside Phillip, and how will you apply that in your new role?

He’s a great ambassador for the organization and the industry as a whole. He had tremendous foresight in anticipating some of the major changes [in media] and really ensuring we’ve got the right strategy, with an intense focus around operational excellence and the right alignment across the organization.

He’s a highly respected individual and I have a level of affinity and respect for him, and you can definitely see how his strong operational excellence made a massive impact on the organization. It always comes down to relationships, and he obviously carries a tremendous amount of credibility within the organization.

How would you characterize the Globe‘s place in the current Canadian media landscape, specifically from an advertising perspective.

We’re a great premium offering, a premium environment, and we offer a premium service to the marketplace.

At the end of the day, we understand that clients have business objectives, and we’ve invested heavily internally to kind of create multiple lines of marketing services to support our advertisers.

What I mean by that is whether they’re looking for sponsorship opportunities, or they’re looking for custom content or branded content or data solutions, or even environments like video or audio, we’ve ensured that we’ve created an environment to give our advertisers the ability to reach their audience and deliver on their business goals. We’re premium service and premium environment, and I think we provide the best journalism in a great, brand-safe, environment for marketers.

Brand-safe environment seems like a key phrase these days

Brand safety is critical. Customers want creativity, but they want to have their message in a brand-safe environment. We’ve invested in a number of different marketing services at The Globe and Mail, in addition to ensuring that we have sufficient scale to deliver on that.

We created the Globe Alliance, a premium network of brands that includes The Guardian, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN and Hearst, which collectively reaches about 18 million Canadians on a monthly basis. So we built a platform that allows marketers to reach a very influential and affluent audience in a brand-safe environment, and we’ve tried to really focus and bring a level of productivity to the table by broadening our internal marketing services to help them drive business results.

Are you happy with where business is at from a revenue perspective, considering the well-documented pressures the publishing industry continues to face?

We are. I can confidently say that we’ve seen good revenue performance over the past number of years, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

First, we have transitioned the organization to a digital-first subscription business , and the majority of our revenue comes from that model. Second of all, our advertising business has been very healthy over the past number of years as we’ve recovered from the pandemic, and we’ve also very intelligently diversified into the events and conference business.

When you look at The Globe and Mail, it’s a very diversified revenue picture, where I think we have a very strong foundation, with growth occurring across all those lines of business. I think we’re in a very healthy position as it relates to the revenue and the financial performance, and it’s because of the diversification model that we’ve deployed.

We were the first to embrace digital subscriptions with Globe Unlimited, which has been a great, great success [more than 200,000 digital-only subscribers], and we’ve also been fortunate to have a very loyal reader base.

Why people turn to The Globe and Mail is the quality of the independent journalism we offer, and we’re constantly ensuring that we’ve got the right balance between enterprise journalism, investigative journalism, general breaking news, beat reporting or commentary and features, and that’s what we’ll continue to work on.

Our [subscription model] is critically important, but we still see advertising being a very important contributor to the organization.

In recent conversations with media buyers, there seems to be a growing awareness of the importance of local media investment. Do you get that sense?

We’ve always championed the importance of local journalism and the Canadian market, especially with our market leadership position.

We’ve worked very closely with the Canadian Media Directors’ Council and all of our agency partners to ensure that we have articulated the value and the importance of supporting local journalism. We’re also big supporters of Cannes, the CMDC, and sponsor a number of industry events because we believe that supporting the Canadian creative, communications, and media industry is important. We will continue to make sure our voice is heard and our support is there.

We have noticed over the past year a higher level of discussion and dialogue taking place as it relates to supporting local media and journalism, especially since the CMDC created the “Media Manifesto”  companies like Facebook and Google]. We’ve had a number of positive agency and client discussions on that front, and I hope they continue, and we can continue to see that level of investment.

We all know the importance of journalism, how it supports democracy and provides a more informed society. So you look at that, and then you look at the affluent and influential audience we bring to the table, and then the brand safe environment, and the level of creativity that a publisher like ourselves can bring to the market to our advertising base. When all those get aligned, we think we should have the appropriate representation in the market. There seems to be a lot more positive discussions happening.

We do need to have a very healthy, viable, local media ecosystem in this country.

Chris Powell