Profit vs Objective Reporting: Product Management at BBC

This week, Product School hosted Clare Appleton, Senior Product Manager at BBC, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Clare answered questions regarding what it’s like to PM at a media company and how the company balances its business goals with its editorial responsibility.

About Clare

Clare Appleton, Senior Product Manager at BBC

Clare is an experienced Senior Product Manager currently working at BBC.
She has been praised for her communication skills, especially when it comes to client relations.

Prior to her three years with BBC she worked in a variety of fields including IT, customer relations, and business analysis. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Information Systems from Liverpool John Moores University, graduating with honors.

As a PM at a media company, how do you balance giving viewers what they want (vapid clickbait) vs what they need (information)?

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Great question. It’s a constant balance to understand our users’ needs vs wants. We try to offer a balanced view on their homepage, including current news, news from their location as well as understanding what they may be interested in, vs what they might have clicked in the past,

We offer variety, and hope that we can strike a balance of being informative based on current and topical news, as well as offering them articles which will interest them.

You might also be interested in: Product Management Skills: Market Research

Is it necessary for a product manager to understand the technology before becoming a successful PM at a big organization?

I do believe it’s necessary to understand the technology to some extent, of course we can’t be experts in everything! I think it’s important to have a high level of understanding, and have a great relationship with the tech owners.

Read next: Become a Technical Product Manager Using No-Code Tools

What were your struggles as a new PM and what advice would you give to yourself in the first 90 days?

Well, I suppose everyone’s struggles would be different. I myself came from a business analysis background, so the struggles I found were that of being too detailed. It took me a while to get out of the detail, and engage in a higher perspective, a bigger picture vision.

How did being a Business Analyst carve your way towards your choice to pursue the PM career path?

It was a process for me. I loved being a BA, and I love analysing things.

A lot of the BA tools and techniques – PESTLE analysis, Porter’s 5 forces, TOWS and SWOT are extremely helpful in the world of product. I eventually started getting involved in more strategic conversations which led me down the path of product management.

How do you integrate business and editorial while still maintaining objective reporting and preventing conflicts of interest?

This is something we have worked hard at the BBC to bring together.

Previously our editorial teams were very separate and often had different requirements from the product’s users, which could cause conflict. We changed the landscape by having editorial involved very early on in the product journey, involving them in workshops, understanding data and sharing the way we make data-driven decisions, and helping them understand our desire to solve audience problems.

It’s a different way of working, but I truly believe collaboration and understanding of why we do things, and making things a team effort, knowing we are all one team (not product and editorial separate) can help.

Read next: Understanding Product-Market Fit: A Product Manager’s Guide

How do you manage the constant ask of the sales team for more advertisement space vs the editorial team for more content space?

Woman on train wearing mask and reading newspaper

We are lucky at the BBC that we don’t have to have specific space for advertising.

We have spaces for promos that are changed constantly based on what new content or new product offering we have going live on that particular week. We work with partners and share their content, but only if it relevant to the audience of that particular product.

Do you think PMing is about a specific set of skills that can be used across industries, or is important to stick to a single industry?

I think the PM set of skills is very transferrable across domains. I would advise any new Product Managers to upskill themselves in everything product, allowing them to take a tool bag of skills to any industry they find themselves in!

Read next: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

Can you tell us about a situation where you had to convince a skeptic to join your initiative, and what your approach was?

Absolutely. I often refer to facts and figures when trying to convince a skeptic. I find making decisions based on data, research, and user feedback can inform the best way of moving forward.

I keep it about the user, I don’t bring opinion, I don’t bring emotion, I bring the information I have based on the research which has been done and I often find that the facts can talk for themselves. At this point, there is often not a lot of ‘convincing’ to do 🙂

Any final advice?

I think my final advice would be to know your audience/know your customer. Get feedback loops in place that allows you to have constant communication with them. Rely on data, facts, and research, and always follow your gut instinct.

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