Ep. 1, Featuring Nici Catton from PMC

The XWP Tonight Show  — Season 1, Ep. 1, Featuring Nici Catton

In the inaugural episode of the XWP Tonight Show, Amit Sion sits down with Nici Catton, Vice President of Product Delivery at Penske Media Corporation, and talks about our work with Rolling Stone, one of PMC’s many high-profile publications.

Want to learn more about our work with PMC and Rolling Stone? Check out our case studies on PMC and Rolling Stone.

Transcript:

[Intro voice]

Coming to you live from the  virtual WordPress theater, this is the XWP Tonight Show. Please join me in welcoming your host, Amit Sion.

Amit

Good evening and welcome to the XWP Tonight Show. My name is Amit and I’m your host. Tonight’s guest is Miss Nici Catton, the Vice President of Product delivery at Penske Media Corporation. PMC is one of the leading content media companies around the world. They have many notable publications such as Billboard, Deadline, Variety, Rolling Stone, and many more. They reach an audience of over 310 million people worldwide. Please join me in welcoming Nikki to the show. 

Nici

Thank you Amit, it’s great to be here.

Amit

Thank you, Nikki, I got to say you have a really cool sounding title, the Vice President of Product Delivery at Penske Media Corporation, I mean, Rolling Stone right, such cool brands, can you please tell us a bit about what you do at the organization.

Nici

My job is actually quite unique in that I actually oversee both product management and project management, which doesn’t normally happen. I’m really focusing on making sure that my team of product managers and project managers who work with engineers and data scientists, that we are delivering the right thing to the right people at the right time across our 20 plus brands.

Amit

As the great Michael J. Fox once said in his 1987 movie, “The secret of my success,”  what is the secret of PMC’s success?”

Nici

I mean, that is the million dollar question. I think there’s a few fronts, but I would definitely say PMC is incredibly good at making operational processes efficient. So we do have a number of brands—they vary in size and audience, in team size, all those kinds of bits and pieces. But what we’re really focused on very, very quickly, particularly with an acquisition or a joint venture, is making sure that the operational aspects of those brands are centralized. What that does is that allows our editorial teams now brands to focus on what they do best, producing the content, getting the exclusives, running the events, they can focus on the things that make those brands stand out. And we have the efficiency in the back office and behind the scenes that really allows for PMC as a whole to run as a smoothly oiled machine and be successful.

Amit

And onto our engagement between XWP and Penske Media Corporation, we had the pleasure of working with you on the migration of both the Rolling Stone publication and Variety to WordPress. What were some of the highlights of those projects together?

Nici

Yeah, definitely. I think across both those projects, there’s a real feeling of collaboration amongst our teams. You know, as a partnership, we never felt like we were trying to achieve different goals or different objectives. And I think that’s really, really important. When you’re working on a high stress project like Rolling Stone and Variety work, both of them had hard deadlines, you know, the Rolling Stone migration was being tied up with the relaunch of the print magazine, Cardi B was on the cover, it leaked, she put it on Instagram, you know, there was no way we could miss that day. And we knew that the eyes of the world were gonna be on the website on that launch day. And we never felt like there was, you know, disconnect between XWP and PMC working on that project. And that was incredible. There was a lot of complicated data mapping that happened on the Rolling Stone project. And the feeling of when we got to that final data Delta migration on the last night, and everything was in place was just an incredible, incredible feeling. So I really think the relationship between us and XWP, across every project that we’ve worked on, it’s never felt like we were trying to achieve different things or working at different levels, or any of that. It felt like a true partnership. And that’s something that I really value and I know my teams do as well.

Amit

With this being WordPress. PMC chooses to work with a great hosting platform, which we are very grateful to be a Gold partner of WordPress VIP, what makes them a great hosting platform for yourselves?

Nici

I mean, it’s similar, actually the feeling of partnership. It doesn’t feel like a client vendor relationship with WordPress VIP. And the level of respect between the teams, I think is hugely important. So we both know, both sides have non-negotiables. WordPress VIP have code standards that we have to meet. And we have things that we have to deliver for our businesses, and both sides respect those non-negotiables and work together to figure out how to move forward. And similarly when it comes to advice, we will often go to WordPress VIP. And say we’re trying to do something like this, or we’re trying to do like this. And WordPress VIP will always help us without ever feeling like they’re preaching to us or making us go down a route that we don’t want to go down. And I think that’s hugely important, we get the benefits of the safety net of WordPress VIP. We have the code quality, we know that if something goes horribly wrong, they will help us figure it out and they will help us get back on our feet as quickly as possible. But we still have the respect that they trust our engineers now and our architectural decisions and will help us to grow and to add more brands and to grow the existing brands that we have. And I think that’s quite rare, actually. The mutual respect is hugely important. And I think it’s something that can often be undervalued when we’re looking at client vendor relationships as well.

Amit

I think from the fact that it comes from the founders of Automattic. That gives you the confidence that you’re working with the guys that built the original tech. So absolutely, they’re a great partner for this. And we love working with them. Okay, so with regards to the project that we did together with either Rolling Stone, Variety, what are some of the impressive features that XWP delivered for those projects?

Nici

So on the Rolling Stone project, one of the big pieces was the list functionality. So lists are something that Rolling Stone had previously on their previous content management system. It was a huge traffic driver for them. It’s something that we had never built before, other brands weren’t using. And we could not afford to lose that functionality as we got the migration. So XWP really worked on developing that list feature, the codebase, the UI, the app interface, and making sure that all the previous lists were migrated as well. And that’s actually something that we’ve taken, and we’ve adapted and then rolled out to other brands. So it’s part of our core technology now. That’s a feature that we offer a standard to our brands going forward. And on the Variety side, I know that shortly after relaunch, there was a lot of work that XWP did there on speed that made a huge difference to our sites. So I think anything that involves adding new features, or making sure that we don’t lose functionality when we do a migration, particularly when it comes from acquisition, and improving speed adds such value to our team. And those two things sort of stuck with us. And we’ve taken and we’ve applied to other places as well, which is a huge benefit.

Amit

For us, we’re just so honored to have worked with such big brands, and I gotta say when I meet new organizations, and they might not have heard of the XWP brand, but I said, “Oh, by the way, we worked with Rolling Stone and Variety.” That helps a lot for people to recognize, oh, you know, these guys must be okay, if they’re working with those. Okay, quick lightning round of questions: one word to describe Penske Media Corporation?

Nici

Passionate.

Amit

Love it. And then one word to describe us, XWP?

Nici

Supportive, like a hug.

Amit

Alright, final question. What changes do you see for future publishers?

Nici

Yeah, this is an interesting one. And I think it’s a particularly interesting one in 2020. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the world right now. In general, the move away from direct sold ads into subscription and paywall models is an interesting change for publishers, and is actually a very interesting change for product teams as well. As we move to more sophisticated paywalls like dynamic payables, we’re now having to develop products and define products that increase engagement, but we don’t know how other users are necessarily going to interface with that. So for example, you might have one user that comes to a page and they get the hard paywall straightaway. How do we focus on conversion of that user into a subscriber, when at the same time someone might come to that exact same page and never hit a paywall? And we want to focus on engagement and retention there.

Amit

So first thing, and I really appreciate you sharing that, I think that other publishers who will see this will gain from that insight in the work that they do going forward. Nikki, I’ve got to say, thank you so much for at first working with XWP, we are proud to work with you. We’re delighted with the things that we’ve done together. And thank you for joining us tonight for the XWP Show and being our first guest.

Nici

Of course, I was happy to be here. This has been great. 

Amit

Great. Thank you everyone, we’ll see you next time.