The CMO Show:
The CMO Show: Grant Torrie...

How do you get to know a digital audience of over two million? Fairfax New Zealand’s Grant Torrie had to do just that.

How well do you really know your audience? Do you understand what they want, why they follow you and how to connect with them?

The task of building an audience is not new to marketing, but crafting meaningful connections with a legacy audience poses its own set of challenges.

And it’s a challenge that Grant Torrie, acting CMO at Fairfax Media New Zealand, knows all too well. From his early days at Fairfax to now, Torrie and the executive team have worked hard to develop marketing automation literacy across the organisation, breaking down organisational silos and replacing the “spray and pray” approach to marketing.

It’s the soft skills such as empathy that he says are critically important in effectively communicating with your audience and managing organisational change.

“I don’t necessarily know that people fear change but they do fear loss,” says Torrie. “We need to understand the grieving process that comes with changing things and taking away things is real and totally valid.”

Tune in as hosts Mark Jones and JV Douglas explore what it means to fully embrace marketing automation, how to understand your audience, and why your team are the agents of organisational change.

Listen to the podcast above and subscribe on iTunes and SoundCloud.



The CMO Show production team

Producers – Megan Wright & Tom van Leeuwen

Audio Engineers – Jonny McNee & Daniel Marr

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Participants: Hosts: Mark Jones and Jeanne-Vida Douglas

              Guest: Grant Torrie (GT)

GT: I don’t necessarily know that people fear change but they do fear loss and when you change things that potential loss of the opportunity to work on things they love is real for people.

JVD:  Welcome back to the CMO show.  I’m JV Douglas.

MJ: And so am I.  Actually no, it’s Mark Jones.  Thanks for joining us.

JVD: Today we have Grant Torrie who is the acting Chief Marketing Officer at Fairfax in New Zealand, which is lots of fun because we both used to work for Fairfax too.

MJ: That’s right. You’ve come across the accidental Fairfax alumni club.

JVD: But the really interesting thing I guess for us is that Grant’s facing a challenge that a lot of our listeners will be aware of and that’s moving an organisation from a position where they have lots and lots of listeners.  They have a big audience, they lots of customers, but they don’t really know who they are.  So he’s going to tell us a little bit about how he went from not knowing to knowing.

MJ: And also we’re keen to understand how he’s managed that internally.  So from a stakeholder management perspective, change management, all these sorts of things, which you feel like the soft skills that are around the marketing profession.  Once we get away from the analytics and the numbers and the creative stuff.  It’s also about, you know, colleagues and team and so we’re really keen to drill into that kind of stuff.

JVD: Absolutely.  Let’s switch over now.

# # # #

MJ: Our very special guest today is Grant Torrie who’s the acting Chief Marketing Officer at Fairfax in New Zealand.  Grant, thanks so much for joining us.

GT: Thank you for having me.

JVD: What we’re really interested in finding out a little bit more about is this whole idea of marketing to the people you know.  Because, of course, large organisations often have great big legacy systems full of contacts and data bases and audiences and so forth, but they don’t necessarily know who they are.  So where do you begin?

GT: We do have large legacy systems full of customers, fortunately over the last couple of years we have invested a lot of time in learning who those people are.  About two years ago we started our marketing automation journey with a goal that we knew that, for a business like ours, which is talking to millions of people every day, that actually knowing who those people are would be vital to our marketing activities going forward.

MJ: And it’s worth clarifying too, when you say marketing activities, in the Fairfax context, does that look similar to the sort of marketing activities that your advertisers would be doing?  Do you want to just explain to us how that works?

MJ: What does marketing look like for you?

GT: Sure, we have a lot of our activity in digital marketing, not surprisingly.  Fairfax Media in New Zealand, are the publishers of  Just to give you a bit of context for Stuff.  It attracts 2.2 million UBs a month.

JVD: That’s a lot of stuff.

GT: That is a really big audience by New Zealand standards.  Just to put that into context for you, we’re the fourth largest website in New Zealand behind Google, Facebook and Twitter.  So pretty significant audience.  So obviously a lot of digital marketing, a lot of digital display, both for our commercial partners and for ourselves. But also we’re still publishers of nine daily newspapers, a couple of Sunday newspapers, four magazines and around 60 community newspapers.  So we do still have a proud legacy and a lot of traditional marketing activities.  So we still do a lot of direct mail, we do a lot of inbound and outbound telephone, and we do SMS as well, so right across that marketing mix and of course lots of print.

MJ: When it comes to the brand side of things, one of the, if you like, the pillars of content marketing from a brand publishing perspective is an audience persona, and I was just reflecting on the size and the scale of the work that you’re doing there.  You must have an enormous number of personas, given that you would, I presume, reach almost all demographics.  Presumably there’s probably a long way that you could go in terms of getting to know all of these people, but how do you get your head around that persona question and if you feel like trying to simplify it?

GT: That’s a good question.  We do have personas that we use for determining our own digital audiences and some of our activities that we like to target to them. New Zealand has, you’re going to catch me a little bit, I think it’s around 35 demographic groupings, which is broadly representative of different parts of New Zealand, and it’s a really useful way for us to target their audiences.

GT: We’ve had a really rapid development in our literacy and understanding marketing automation and marketing to the few, I guess, instead of sort of spray-and-pray, that we used to do.

JVD: And what were some of the, I guess, business conditions or initial drivers that, I’m going to say sent you rather than forced you down this path, but what were they?  When did it become apparent that this is the road you needed to take?

GT: So around three years ago we initiated a marketing restructure.  Previously like a lot of businesses, we had all of our marketers operating within silos and in publishing not uncommon to have people working within product silos.  But as a commercially focused business and a sort of outward looking business, it was pretty clear that our commercial partners were demanding a high level of, I guess, marketing sophistication from us, and we needed to be a lot more efficient with what we were doing.

MJ: Now I think, and if you look, you know, back now and you’ve been running this for a little while, one of the things all marketers love is data and numbers and stuff, right?  Excuse the pun.  So what have you learnt from an analytics point of view, what are you discovering now that you didn’t know then?

GT: All marketers should love data, I don’t know that they all do love data.  They all love data that tells them what they want to hear.

MJ: Maybe I’m being generous.

GT: Yeah, maybe a little generous.  This marketer loves data.

MJ: There you go.

GT: It was a very interesting process.  I think when you operate in a silo, a lot of people believe that their customers are their own and that there’s not a lot of crossover between customer groups but we found, when we put our digital customers together with our newspaper customers, and with our magazine customers, the level of crossover was massive and it changes the way you think about how you’re going to interact with those customers because historically a magazine stakeholder say, could talk to the customers any way they liked because they were looking after the relationship between their magazine and their customer, but what we discovered was there was a holistic relationship between how they interacted with us as a magazine customer but also I guess unsurprisingly given, 2.2 million New Zealanders are on Stuff, chances are if you are a magazine or newspaper customer then you are also a Stuff user because most adults are.

So, you know, it changes the way you consider how you’re going to approach your audiences and what you want to say to them, particularly around, as we move forward, you know, we’ve added a lot of capability to how we handled customers and a bit like Peter Parker’s uncle in Spiderman, you know, with great power comes great responsibility.

JVD: And what have you learnt through this process?  What have been sort of some of the surprising lessons that you’ve had to internalise?

GT: I’m going to sound very modest if I don’t say there weren’t any surprises.  I’m sure there’s plenty.  I think really important to take an open mind to anything that you do.  You do get results which are not what you expect and you can’t have sacred cows and so you do need to be prepared that if you get into something and the results are not what you expect that you need to pivot quickly and do something else.  I guess historically in the lack of results, a lot of marketers could operate on face.  You know, back in the old days you’d launch your marketing campaign and sit back and wait six weeks for the mail pieces to roll back in and see your results at the end of that.

Now it’s, you can run your AB split test, wait an hour and a half and then roll with the rest of your results.  So part of that I think is resisting that temptation as a marketing leader to proclaim from on high what the headlines should be or what the creative execution should be and put faith in your marketers to test and come up with the right results and allow them to go with it.

JVD: So tell me Grant, too, you, you didn’t actually graduate initially from marketing you started out with a degree in commerce and actually spent some time in China.  Tell us a little bit about that and I guess how it’s coloured your approach to marketing and your approach to your career.

GT: I did, I actually started out at university as a horticulture student, so I was a terrible horticulture student.  So I like plants but that doesn’t mean I could make a living off them.  So yeah, I did change to commerce and I was very lucky to land my first marketing career, my first marketing role at SkyCity.  I learnt a lot there.  China was following my heart so I moved there for love, I moved there with my now wife and yeah I lived there about two and a half years, so I did a year in Beijing and a year and a half in Harbin, in the North East of China.  In terms of how it’s coloured my outlook on life, I think it makes you more open to new ways of looking at things and that a lot of things that we take for granted are just the way things are done or the way we live our lives are really culturally specific and are not the way people do things in other countries.


MJ: I think it’s very easy in marketing to put people in boxes, create silos as you spoke about, and get all analytical and we forget that there are real human beings with you know, thoughts, feelings, and cultural biases, and other stuff, so when we drill into how do they behave, you know what is the data telling us about how people behave.  I guess this is part of the ethos behind design thinking about other schools of thought.  Again, I guess kind of a really big picture but it sort of speaks to that, you know, we can’t take the people out of these activities can we?

GT: No, absolutely not.  So fundamentally we are about changing behaviour and part of people’s behaviour is influenced by cultural backgrounds amongst a lot of other things.  So changing behaviour is, perhaps we’d like people to buy things off us but it’s also about getting people to read our content and provoke thought and maybe change minds from time to time.

JVD: And I guess that whole sort of change management piece internally it’s fundamental to have some human insight to carry that through.

GT: Oh absolutely.  I don’t necessarily know that people fear change but they do fear loss and when you change things that potential loss of power or lose of influence or loss of the opportunity to work on things they love is real for people and we need to understand that grieving process that comes with changing things and taking away things and different pressures at work is real and totally valid.

JVD: So what would you say are the core abilities or capacities that you’ve needed as a change manager?

GT: I think empathy is important, so the ability to understand that people from time to time struggle with it, equally you’ll recognise other people that will just love it and will reach out and grasp the opportunities.  So I think that opportunity to identify talent is really important as well.  I would say tenacity because once you start with a process you really need to see it through.  I think your team, if they think that you’re going to prevaricate or go back will sense that and that’s not good for the team.  And an open mind as well.  I think you won’t get everything right so as you get into a process you’ll discover things and go, “oh actually that’s not right, I shouldn’t do it like that, I should do it like this.” You really need to keep that open mind and be prepared to change the way you think.

JVD: Listen Grant, there’s some fabulous insights in there I think for anyone who’s going through this kind of process at any stage so thank you so much for taking us through the process you’ve been through at Fairfax.

GT: Oh my pleasure.

JVD: Now we’ve got a bit of a cheeky session that we like to finish with called 21 Questions.


JVD: So what are you grateful for?

GT: I’m grateful for lots of things, I think.  Every day I get to come to work and work with a fabulous bunch of people.

MJ: Do you like rain?

GT: Yeah, I like Pina Coladas too.

JVD: In the movie of your life, how would play you?

GT: In the movie of my life, do you remember “Weekend at Bernie’s”?

MJ: Yes?

GT: Probably Andrew McCarthy.  I haven’t looked at Andrew McCarthy lately, but if he’s put on a lot of weight then definitely.

MJ: What’s your greatest career fail?

GT: My greatest career fail.  Sort through them all…

MJ: You can just pick one.

JVD: I love a bit of honesty.

GT: Yeah, look I joined Fairfax about seven or eight years ago now and I can remember having a conversation with my manager at the time, talking about the need for marketing automation and in my hubris, I thought it would take me about six months to get it across the line, four and a half years later still trying.

JVD: Beach or mountain?

GT: Sea, forest?  I don’t like sitting around on beaches and I’m too unfit to climb mountains.  We do a lot of bushwalking here, it’s a lot of fun.

MJ: Somewhere in the middle, eh?

GT: Yes.

MJ: Best ever career advice?

GT: If you’re ever given an opportunity, take it.

JVD: Summer or winter?

GT: Summer, definitely.  I lived at Harbin in winter, Harbin in North Eastern China is about -30.

JVD: No that’s horrible.

GT: So, that is horrible so I’m over winter.

MJ: Who is your hero?

GT: I follow baseball closely so I would say my hero, had just retired last year, would be David Ortiz the amazing slugger at the Red Sox who was still bringing it over the age of 40 which I like.

JVD: If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a…?

GT: I was a school teacher in China and I loved it.  It was very, very rewarding, not money wise that’s for sure, but in terms of what it does for people and how you influence and mould lives it was a wonderful time.

MJ: Chocolate or strawberry?

GT: Definitely chocolate.

JVD: What did you have for breakfast?

GT: I had toast with jam that I made myself.

MJ: Well done, and what would you rather have had?

GT: Coco Pops!

MJ: There you go!

JVD: What was the last conversation you had with your parents?

GT: My last conversation with my dad was for his birthday.  Sadly my dad suffers from dementia which is a very sad thing, so it means you often have the same conversations over and over again but every day is very special that you can spend with a parent.

JVD: Conversations I know well.

MJ: A very important question.  Scrunch or fold?

GT: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

MJ: [Laughter] Well, look, we’ll go with tissues for example, in your pocket.  Do you scrunch them or fold them?

GT: Oh scrunch.  Why would you fold a tissue that’s ridiculous.

MJ: Believe it or not this is a thing.

JVD: If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be?

GT: More honest conversations I think.

MJ: Can you ride a bike?

GT: I can ride a bike, yeah.

JVD: What’s your greatest frustration?

GT: We need to go really fast in this business and sometimes it’s hard to go as fast as I think we need to.

MJ: Now, of the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell, which would you sacrifice to save the rest?

GT: I definitely love music so I wouldn’t want to lose my sense of, my hearing and I have one of the world’s nerdiest hobbies, geocaching so I would hate to lose my…

JVD: That is super nerdy.

GT: It is super nerdy, isn’t it.

GT: So probably smell I think.

JVD: Dogs or cats?

GT: I have a six year old Greyhound so definitely dogs.

MJ: Favourite book?

GT: This is going to sound incredibly clichéd, but The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger.

JVD: If you could change your first name what would you change it to?

GT: I don’t think I would.

JVD: What if you had to?

GT: My mother wanted to call me Alistair but was voted down, which I’m kind of grateful too, but maybe in honour of my mother I’ll go with Al.

JVD: That’s terribly sweet of you.  Grant Torrie, thank you so much for joining us on the CMO show.

GT:   My pleasure, thank you for having me.

# # # #

MJ:  You know JV, the thing I like about Grant is that he’s clearly got his head around the big picture of profiling customers and data and analytics and that sort of stuff.  He also understands the value of people and how to connect…

JVD: Yeah and I guess it’s fundamental when you’ve gone through any change management process to really bring people with you on that journey and I think what he said about having empathy for the people, people who like to change but also people don’t like to change and bringing them all along with you.  I think that that’s fundamental no matter what the size of the organisation is.

MJ: And a cracking quote, “people fear loss not change itself.”

JVD: Chills.

MJ: I know right.  Stick that up on your inspiration board or something.

JVD: So we’d love to get some feedback about what you guys thought of the show too.  You can always reach out to us through Twitter.

MJ: and make sure you give us a good rating on iTunes if you get a spare moment.

JVD: Absolutely.  Leave a review because that’s the way other people will find us.

MJ: So thanks for your time this week on the CMO show and we will…

MJ: See you very soon, bye.

JVD: Bye.


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