Nicole Sheffield: Forget eyeballs and ratings, think people

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 14 November 2016
Nicole Sheffield at Australian Magazine Awards

Nicole Sheffield, this year's Australian Magazine Awards 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and MD of News DNA has urged the magazine industry not to follow in TV’s footsteps - to think of readers as people rather than eyeballs.

Speaking at the Australian Magazine Awards breakfast last Friday, Sheffield compared her experiences as GM of lifestyle channels at Foxtel in 2008 to her time at NewsLifeMedia (NLM).

“When I moved to TV I was absolutely shocked. I rang Nick Chan [then CEO of Pacific Magazines] and said, ‘these people are talking about ratings, but they seem to forget every rating is a person’", she said.

“When we talk about readers at NLM we don’t talk about eyeballs or ratings. We talk about real people and the role we have in their lives. Our role is to service them. Until you connect with that consumer you have nothing.”

Julia Zaetta, Nicole Sheffield and Nick ChanJulia Zaetta, Nicole Sheffield and Nick Chan at the Australian Magazine Awards

Sheffield said that in one of her speeches after returning to publishing from Foxtel, she was questioned why she would want to work in an industry often described as dead or dying.

“People asked why would you leave this? They’d say print is dead. But print isn’t dead – that’s crazy,” she said.

Addressing the changing nature of the industry, Sheffield remained confident in the magazine industry’s ability to adapt and pivot.

“Yes we have been disrupted but who hasn’t. Yes the most content creation is sitting on YouTube – but is it curated? No. YouTube isn’t going away but how we work with YouTube and social platforms is really important.

“I look out our editors and think of them as the rockstars and the legends. Then I meet the pop stars – the influencers. But they are the zeitgeist and we need to embrace them,” she said.

“You can have the fastest pipe and you can have the best social platform in the world but ultimately people want to connect with content, which means you have to evolve. And yes that means you aren’t driving anymore, instead consumers are driving. You have to think about what they want in completely different ways.”

On her future in the industry, Sheffield says she has already seen the publishing industry go from controlling to enabling, and she is confident in the role content will continue to play in the industry.

“In the world of programmatic trading and a lot of digital transformations, the one thing I know for sure is we understand consumers," she said.

“My role is in the industry is far from over. NLM is still going strong and will be for a long time. As I like to think of it, our roles have changed and our biggest customer is now digital - our biggest provider is now digital.

“I challenge us all to think beyond just where the money is coming from, but rather where are the audiences and how are they finding our content. Because then we will find the money, we have to.

“We’ve done it time and time again and we will find ways to connect and inspire because I can tell you now, nobody just wants eyeballs.”

As a chairman of the IAB, Sheffield said she is constantly talking about premium publishing.

“The one thing I am most excited about is really stepping into the digital industry in a formal way. Every second conversation I am having with people in digital is actually about premium publishers,” she said.

“The industry has recognised that premium content still has big role to play and trust and credibility goes a long way.”

Sheffield paid tribute to Chan, who has recently taken the helm of Bauer: "I'm delighted Chan is back in the industry because we need a strong industry and we need a strong Bauer and I am certain he will do that.”

Chan and Pacific Magazines editor Julia Zaetta described Sheffield as a “diamond” in the industry.

"Nicole turned out to be one of the diamonds in my publishing life. To this day I don't know anyone better,” Zaetta said.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

Read more about these related brands, agencies and people

comments powered by Disqus