Launched in August 2000, in Toronto, Metro English Canada has grown to become the largest publisher of free daily newspapers in Canada. Much more than just a print publisher, though, Metro is a total news and information company with not only a significant web presence but a mobile one as well, catering to more than one million monthly unique visitors in both mediums. The organization was the result of a partnership between Torstar Corporation and Luxembourg-based Metro International (save for in Halifax, where the partnership also included TC Media). Here’s a numerical outline of Metro English Canada’s evolution and milestones with the help of Phil Jameson, the organization’s vice president of finance.
Phil Jameson joined the company in January 2012, shortly after the Torstar Corporation made a large increase in its ownership percentage of Metro. Jameson was recruited based on a previous role as the vice president of finance and a trusted advisor to the owner. Similarly, that business was faced with the challenge on maintaining a successful culture when a much larger company had acquired it.
“My role was to liaise with the public company while keeping them out of the day-to-day operations so as to maintain the culture,” Jameson says. Success in that role was highlighted by 50 percent revenue growth in the five years after the acquisition—all the while delivering to the public company the information and overall comfort that it required from its subsidiary. “I have never put much importance on industry when taking a job,” Jameson says. “To me, the fit with the company culture and the CEO is of greater importance.”
As he has done before at other companies, Jameson has evolved into a trusted advisor to all parts of Metro’s business. For example, he was named the project leader in the outsourcing of the advertising sales function for another Torstar property, the Toronto Star, despite not a being a sales leader. “My ability to ask the right questions of those who have industry experience makes my presence sought after by my leadership colleagues,” Jameson says.
Today, Jameson’s challenge is to remain forward-looking and push the business in order to execute on its strategic plan. Jameson has six managers who report to him, including the accounting manager, the financial-analysis manager, the credit and collections manager, the advertising-support manager, the distribution manager, and the IT manager. Additionally, about 40 people report to those six managers.
According to a Nadbank survey in 2013, Metro’s Canadian audience is 1.6 million daily readers and 4.2 million weekly readers. This has been achieved through Metro’s focus on metropolitans, which also allows the media company to deliver a young demographic to advertisers. A typical worker’s commute takes about 20 minutes, so Metro is designed to be enjoyed on the way to work, over lunch, or on the way home—with much more content than just a single trip. Additionally, Metro focuses distribution of its periodical through public transit.
“Metro fills a gap in a person’s day when they are riding transit and simply want to know what is going on in the world,” Jameson says. To further drive that focus home and remain relevant, Metro employs individuals in the same target demographic to craft its pithy content.
Metro has a presence in 14 of Canada’s largest-market cities—15 if you include Montréal, which has a cross-sales agreement with Metro English Canada. That range places the company first in reach in Canada with adults ages 18–24 and ages 18–34. In the 10 years since its expansion beyond Toronto, readership has grown by 173 percent. And in that same time period, Metro’s revenue has grown by more than 500 percent.
How are you growing?
“We actually announced recently that we would cease doing the print editions in London, Saskatoon, and Regina. Instead, those markets will now only be served via digital editions. We see more digital content being created in the future, as our key demographic is moving more and more to consuming news in that format. As Wi-Fi becomes accessible on transit, this opportunity will grow.”
“We have opened new markets, closed markets, taken on the outsourcing of advertising sales from the Star, implemented a new accounting system, changed billing systems, and changed compensation plans in my two and half years at Metro,” Jameson says. “And I have led all of those projects.”
But what Jameson is most proud of is having introduced formal coaching practices for his direct reports, which are tailored to each individual. Essentially, taking two hours of his time every month with each direct report, Jameson works on each one’s growth, never discussing work tasks or projects. These are elements such as presentation skills, negotiation skills, dealing with difficult employees, and even how to read a financial statement.
A $130 million deal
Metro is undergoing tremendous growth. In March 2014, a deal was struck that saw Metro taking over all the advertising sales functions for the Toronto Star. According to Jameson, Metro and the Toronto Star were missing an opportunity to cross sell and instead were often competing for business.
“We wanted to change that dynamic and have one sales person selling all of our products in a way that they could tailor a solution for their client,” Jameson says. A Metro sales rep can now not only sell a client on the typical Metro print reader between 18 and 34 but also a Toronto Star reader. The remaining challenge is then to build a much larger sales force while training both old and new employees on the products the company can now sell. “Metro’s culture is a performance-based, quick-to-react, and highly creative one,” Jameson says. “The greatest challenge for the leaders at Metro is to transfer our culture to the people who have recently joined us.”