Katy Alexander Joins the Digital Science Team
We are excited to welcome Katy to the Digital Science family! She joins us with a wealth of experience gathered in key positions across different sectors of the publishing industry. I sat down with Katy to talk about her vision for marketing and communications at Digital Science and her views on the industry as a whole.
You recently joined Digital Science as Global Marketing and Communications Director (congrats!) after many years in publishing. What prompted the change and why Digital Science?
Where to even start? I am passionate about what Digital Science is looking to achieve. It invests in and supports the growth of companies that are improving the discovery, collaboration, and impact of research, as well as the safety of researchers; in fact every dimension of the research workflow. In my view, it’s really helping to power the future of the research ecosystem by supporting and working in partnership with the community.
Not to mention that Digital Science and its portfolio companies are full of talented and dedicated people. It’s rare to find so many founders still engaged in and contributing to their original vision and I think this says a lot about the environment that has been created. I’ve seen examples across many different industries where established players look to innovate by investing in new businesses but because of mismatches in vision, strategy, operational capabilities and culture many times these investments can be a challenge and the businesses don’t realise their full potential. Digital Science encourages and nurtures companies helping them to retain their identity and freedom.
It’s also a very progressive company with a fully flexible environment, this is something new to me coming from the scholarly communication industry. I believe the way we can get the most out of people is by creating an environment that focuses on quality of output and outcomes. Companies that do this have an easier time attracting and retaining talent. It’s also a setup that makes a big difference to a lot of working parents out there, including me.
How did you get started in the industry?
I completely fell into publishing when I moved to London after University. I started at a small publisher and learned the basics. However, I was really eager to learn more about how other companies in the industry approached the big challenges the industry was and is facing. I had the privilege of working at a number of publishers including BMJ and Nature, where I saw different products and phases of the technological change within the industry. I have also done some consulting work for charities and businesses, including a bit of advisory work for a cultural institution in the middle east. Both, from what I’ve experienced inside the industry and outside of it, I’ve become really interested in the intersection of where strategy, marcomms, product development and data insights intersect.
Which brands do you admire?
I really admire Tesla and a group based in Silicon Valley called Humane Technology. Two very different organisations but they have something in common: Driving change on a global scale through innovation and technology.
Take Tesla. As far as I can tell (and do correct me if I’m wrong here) no company in this space has built a business – from the ground up – more singularly around the goal of sustainability. It shows you can hold on to your values to make the world a better place, but also innovate and build a commercial enterprise. They have, while creating a product, helped to broaden public engagement with sustainability. And, I’m a space nerd so I’m still in awe over the Falcon Heavy booster landing.
Humane Technology is different. There isn’t a product, as such, but I think they touch on a crucial issue we will all need to start discussing, especially as marcomms professionals – the misuse of technology, data, and to some extent behavioural science. I won’t go into all the good that behavioural science can do for product development, public health and even marketing (I’m a real fan of its use) but I think it’s important to start considering how we regulate how it is used. The founders of Humane Technology have seen a turning point coming; one that will hopefully lead us toward humane design, which they define as,
“when we move away from technology that extracts attention and erodes society, towards technology that protects our minds and replenishes society.”
What things excite you about working at Digital Science?
Apart from working with some great people, I’m really looking forward to continuing the incredible work Digital Science has done around supporting Women in Science and Women in Tech. It is something that is really close to my heart as I’ve seen, first hand, the challenges facing female entrepreneurs, but I also firmly believe as an industry we need to support diversity more broadly. We need to focus on encouraging, motivating and attracting the brightest and the best into research and tech, regardless of race, background, gender, sexual orientation or physical abilities.
Marketing and communications roles are converging within many organisations. What does the modern marketing and PR entity look like?
I think the modern Marketing and PR role is one that is aligned. There have been so many technological changes and it has changed what we do, how we do it, and the kind of people we need. We have moved from messaging to storytelling and are working more and more in a channel-agnostic environment, we also now have vast amounts of data that provide insights into our users. As a result, companies are increasingly better off when Marketing and PR functions are integrated and not apart. Successful marcomms strategies take engagement from across an organisation. There needs to be seamless collaboration or it doesn’t work.
Are there any external trends that you think will impact marketing in the coming years?
I think the move to full adoption of new technologies and devices and the availability of vast amounts of data is going to have a big impact on the profession. I’m not just talking about the estimated 2.5 billion smartphones that will be in use in 2020 but the data that the new technologies we use will generate. I’m really interested to see how this will impact researchers, research discovery and, of course, marcomms professionals. I’m hoping the added tech adoption will lead to much-needed transparency on behalf of companies and their marketing teams. With the growing adoption of technology, there have inevitably been data misuse issues; Cambridge Analytica is just one. Marketing & PR professionals get a bad rap, especially in the world of scholarly publishing, and granted sometimes it is merited, but I’m hoping consumers will be increasingly aware of which companies are promoting/marketing to them in an ethical manner and which aren’t. It will make it harder for many marketing and communications departments but that isn’t a bad thing. Raising the bar only helps drive innovation.
I can’t wait to get my hands dirty doing actual work. We support our companies in different ways depending on what it is they might need. We’ve got some exciting new investments in the pipeline (watch this space!) so I’m looking forward to working with the rest of the team on a wide range of business issues, including go-to-market planning, customer development, business development, data optimisation, pricing, marketing, communications, and PR. It’s an exciting time for Digital Science and I’m humbled to be part of the team.