Q & A with Nicholas Wapshott

Questionnaire conducted by Angela Cason of 

Strategic Partner Interviews


-          How would you like us to introduce your business?

            I am an online content consultant with a proven track record in raising traffic, attracting new business, and sharply improving revenue 

-          Is there an approach or philosophy that sets your company apart from your competitor?

Yes. While the look of a site and its content are the starting point of the conversation with my clients, I believe that it is making the business intention of the owner come to fruition that is what I do best. That means discovering exactly what site owners hope to get from a site and letting them know that the site is probably far more important to their future business and to their marketing plans and brand image than they currently grasp.

Many CEOs think of their website as little more than an online version of the glossy hard copy company report that provides a rudimentary list of products and how to contact key personnel. Others think of their site as a mystery best left to others that they dare not take much interest in as they would reveal their ignorance of the online world. A great site, however, is the best shop window for their products and services, the gleaming front door to their virtual business premises. I offer a far broader, more holistic approach that places a company or institution’s online presence at the forefront of their business.

Most consultants concentrate upon the design, the look and the feel of a site, which I agree is important. But far too many sites are consigned to designers and technicians who can make something look good but do not understand how people actually use the internet today, through mobile means, through social media, and on tablets as well as on their PCs. They make cosmetic changes and convince the client that their site is now a beautiful object, but often it is not fit for purpose. I am concerned with enhancing the storytelling on the site, whichever platform it arrives on, so the visitor becomes engaged in understanding exactly what the client’s product or service is about and how they can take advantage of it. Making visiting the site a pleasure, an agreeable habit, and evoking a natural response is my aim. The story, not the look, is the key. The medium is not the message.


-          What do you find most companies need to understand before they come to you?

I have a long history of successful editorial management and directing creative people, with a proven record in sharply increasing traffic and sharply improving revenue. To many CEOs and chairmen, particularly those whose own online experience through social media or accessing the internet dozens of times a day is limited, the online world is an alien place, even intimidating. I put their minds at rest and explain clearly the revolution in business thinking and in the potential for global marketing and retailing that the digital revolution has brought about.

Often I find that the principals in a business are bewildered by conflicting advice and are easily persuaded by whoever last spoke to them. So I hear, most commonly, “I have been told we need an app. What does app mean?” Or, “We’re on Facebook, but they say we should we be on LinkedIn? By the way, what’s LinkedIn?” “My grandson tells me he saw it on YouTube. Can I get a YouTube?” Such questions betray the confusion about what the online world really is. Just as tricky are those that have a working grasp of the Web, know how important the Web may be in moving their business forward, but are wedded to their existing site and the existing ways of managing it.

The start of my conversations with CEOs is: what is your main business aim? And where do you want to take your company? The answer to those simple questions, which often flummoxes them because top managers are too busy dealing with the day to day to dream about the future, is the basis on which I begin to chart a coherent online strategy. I provide a framework for discussion about what their online strategy should be and chart a path that puts that plan into action. On occasion I have been tasked with executing the strategy, repositioning personnel and setting up a framework that will maximize the effect of the changes when I have departed. It is not unusual for senior staff to try to frustrate their chairman or CEO’s attempts to make profound changes to working practices: as an adept corporate player, I am used to overcoming such attitudes to ensure that the changes needed are put into effect.

In general I would say to a client that whatever they are currently doing online is probably nowhere near enough. That they do not change the content often enough, nor express it clearly enough, nor write it engagingly enough, nor pick the right pictures, nor tell their story well. In short, they fail to communicate with their customers and may even put them off. To charm and engage a visitor demands rare skills. Traditionally, online staff are either techies with few personal communication skills, new recruits with no understanding of business, or, most commonly, those exiled to the online product having failed to prosper in the mainstream business. As a result the staff employed to manage sites are often ill equipped to deliver attractive and engaging content that truly reflects the full potential of a company’s ambitions. It is my job to suggest how to make online managers key players in a company’s vision and profitability.

-          What are the biggest changes currently happening in your industry that your clients should pay attention to?

There is perhaps no faster changing environment than the online world. Each week there are innovations that offer new ways of reaching out to customers and enhancing the relationship between a company and its clients. It is easy, however, to be seduced into chasing rainbows. The rise of social media and the overnight success of the iPad are the two most obviously successful means in recent times of bringing companies and customers together. Each entails specific skills to maximize the effect. In the social media world, it is easy to antagonize your friends and followers by appearing too businesslike and mercenary. Yet it is the most brilliant tool for sending a targeted message. The great thing about the iPad is its obvious appeal to even the least tech-savvy person. That ease of use has opened up the Web to a new, older online audience. A good, confident PC based website, however, remains an important flagship from which other, more targeted campaigns can be launched on other platforms.


-          What is your best advice for clients? 

There is no easy fix. I have turned away potentially lucrative clients who imagined that if they employed me for a couple of hours I could impart to them the Mystery of the Web, as if I were a guru sitting on top of a mountain who tells people in a single simple phrase what life is all about. It is not possible to sum up in a sentence everything I have learned over decades about winning over a busy and skeptical audience, keeping them interested and entertained, coaxing them to make a product a familiar part of their daily lives, encouraging them to trust what I have to say so they are confident enough to part with money over the Net.

Also, beware the siren voices who say that all you need is for your site is a redesign. A wholesale redesign is a gamble; a poorly executed and expensive redesign often results in alienating existing visitors and a sharp reduction in traffic. You are far better off concentrating upon what you say on your site and whether you have good staff managing it for you. Making a site effective, attractive, and a reliable source of revenue takes more than a lick of paint.


-          Anything else you want to get off your chest while you’re at it…? 


Yes, many people employ me to change the online approach of their companies then spend a great deal of time telling me why the way they already do things is the best way to go. Many CEOs are not happy with having to rethink their business, which is what getting the best out of online is about. They are sublimely confident and convinced they are right even when their websites look like a dog’s dinner, do not work properly, and they employ the wrong people to do the wrong things. “I am told that you are a whizz at online. Tell me what to do, then let me go back to sleep” is not an approach I find attractive. I am a manager of change, a guide to a new exciting world of opportunity and enhanced revenues.

If you want someone to tickle up your site and changes the colors a bit, you do not need me. If you think that all you need is “a re-design”, you do not need me. If you want to understand how a carefully considered and clever use of the Web can propel your business in a new and profitable direction, let’s talk.  


Nicholas Wapshott is a best selling author and journalist whose successful editorship of the Saturday edition of the London Times is credited with forever changing the Saturday newspaper market in Britain. He helped found The Daily Beast for Barry Diller and was for an extended period editorial consultant to Oprah Winfrey’s enormously popular and profitable website oprah.com. His current clients include a leading New York cultural institution, a prominent cable media company, and a Manhattan picture gallery. He lives in New York.

            You can discover more about him and what he can do for you on https://sites.google.com/site/nicholaswapshott/