Christopher Keller: Being multidisciplinary is the greatest way to harness creativity.
Ponder this: does creativity exist in modern journalism? It’s a prickly and contentious point, mainly because of the constraints and structures within which true journalists have traditionally had to work. Journalism isn’t typically considered a creative field, but digital media is swiftly changing that. Christopher Keller, the head of business development at the Telegraph, has helped lead the charge in harnessing this mode of creative thinking and impactful storytelling.
Chris recognizes the challenges all newspapers have had to face, particularly in defining what the business model will look like in a digital future. However, he also acknowledges that, in many ways, it’s still one massive question mark. His role as head of business development is, essentially, to diversify revenue channels, but what does that actually entail?
“The subscription model is very important,” Chris says, “but we also know the largest chunk of revenues used to come from advertising, which in the print world was extremely lucrative—very, very high yielding. As that slowly declines, the question is how would you replicate that [digitally]? That is a key challenge, especially because platforms like Facebook and Google, are, at the moment, much more competitive in that space, so the key priority in my work is to figure out what the other avenues [are] that we can grow revenues through, in order to make up for that decline in revenue.”
There are several key models they’ve been experimenting with, one of which involves consumer transactions, or commerce transactions, such as book clubs or wine clubs. Chris explained this was historically a way to deal with remnant ad inventory, rather than anything structured. Understanding the readership is key; what’s on their minds and how do they respond to stories and content? What are their passion points? Eventually, his team at the Telegraph realized they had a lot of clout in topics like travel, which led them to become the 10th largest travel website in the world, with more traffic than many major players in the market.
“It was mainly about just really improving the user experience and taking out the friction,” he notes. “That alone was enough to really get some good growth into the business… and that’s a really good example of how being close to what your audience wants, what your customers want, is so, so important in the digital age.”
Chris is also an advisory committee member of Creative Artists Agency’s Creative Labs, a start-up investment initiative that looks at emerging media and business models and aims to develop a global talent network. This is just one example of how he hones in on creativity in his work. He has always strived for a career that is impactful, one where he can look at the meaning within the material.
“I’ve always gone into a job, thinking: what positive impact am I having? I think, especially in these days… having really high-quality journalism gives people a sense of perspective on the world that is based on facts. Truth is so important and so meaningful, and that’s a huge passion point for me.”
The mission at the heart of Sonophilia is what attracted Chris to the network in the first place. In its curation of such a fascinating group of people, everyone leaves their own remarkable mark in their respective fields. Because Sonophilia meetings are limited to about 40 people, he’s able to form very intense friendships and relationships. Whether it’s something as structured as trying to get a new project off the ground, or simply using other members of the network as sounding boards to bounce ideas off one another, he walks away from a gathering with a renewed outlook on many different topics. These moments hold the most value for him.
“The wonderful thing about [Sonophilia] is everyone’s doing something different,” he says, “but if you go and you get people together, someone’s talking about robotics and heart surgery and the next person is talking about blockchain in the energy services and the next person is talking about advertising… Even though people are talking about completely different topics and completely different fields, you see, throughout the day, common themes emerging.”
For Chris, creativity occurs when we cross disciplines, or creatively apply “something that is true in one field to your own field.” This is often where creative ideas and initiatives are given the power to ignite change. With his experience and background, his advice to aspiring journalists would be to expand their horizons and not just settle on one aspect of the field. They must combine it with a deeper understanding of the subject message, as well as with a well-founded understanding of business principles. In a field that is so heavily disrupted, one that changes so rapidly, being able to not only keep up with it, but actually shape it means journalists must be multidisciplinary. “That’s the greatest way to harness creativity.”