In Conversation with Dylan Jones

20th anniversary
type - in conversation
In Conversation
Chris Sanderson talks to one of the most respected figures in British media, GQ editor Dylan Jones. Here they discuss 20 years of creating meaningful content for men, the evolution of media platforms and The Future Laboratory’s successful prediction of the phygital revolution.

Read an excerpt of the conversation below, or scroll down to watch the full Zoom video.

Chris Sanderson: I’d like to kick off by asking you about the changes in your industry in the last 20 years. If you think back to 2000, what you were doing and where the magazine world was then, what are the most pertinent differences?

Dylan Jones: The most permanent change can be seen in the delivery systems; the way that we got to market 20 years ago is like a completely different world. The internet wasn’t in its infancy, but it wasn’t a particularly sophisticated experience and it wasn’t acknowledged as being the direct route to market that it is now. People didn’t have mobile telephones in the way that they do now etc, etc – we know all this. However, we’re living in an incredibly exciting time, particularly if you can pivot in the way that you need to. I have local conversations in my office, national conversations, international conversations on Zoom, and up until six months ago in all parts of the world about wrestling with how media tackles not just the future, but the present.

But I think it’s very simple: there are three things. It’s about having a very clear idea of who you are as a brand and who your customer is; it’s an obsession with quality; and it’s also about drilling down into the most pertinent, successful and efficient way to connect with your customer. If you’re talking about print in a world of digital, just look at the New York Times. Mark Thompson [CEO of the New York Times Company] has had an incredibly successful period there, turning the product into a subscription model. It’s a model that I think lots of people will adopt – and one that lots of people should have adopted already.

If you take a brand like ours, we have three big buckets. We have a print business which, even considering the challenges of the last few months, is still a considerable business. I think that if you were trading well when we went into the pandemic, you’ll be trading well when we come out of it. I’ve got no concerns about that at all. Regarding the digital part of the business, in September we had our biggest monthly traffic ever, 4.9m. We also have a hugely successful events business. I know lots of people have tried to pivot into events, but we’ve been in events for 20 years. Initially it was a marketing play, but recently it’s become a very important part of our commercial business.

I really do think that we have returned to a time when there is an appreciation of expertise. We’ve been through acres and acres and acres, and almost a decade now, of fake news, of stuff, of content; just piles and piles of unmitigated material which has been photocopied, abused and edited. I honestly think that people want, appreciate and will pay for really good content.

I was having a discussion with someone who disagreed with me and I said, ‘Well, even people who are 14 or 15 get their news from somewhere. It’s all mediated and there will be a way to make that person pay for what they’re consuming.’ It’s all about monetising your offer, and we’re getting a lot better at that. We’re far more sophisticated than we used to be and the industry as a whole is far more sophisticated.

Published by:

18 December 2020

Author: The Future Laboratory



It’s always a tragedy when journalistic operations go out of business, and it’s usually a combination of two things: the consumer doesn’t want what they’re being offered anymore and the brand wasn’t as adept or as swift as it needed to be in finding a route to market. It’s no more complicated than that. Solving it is complicated, but identifying the problem isn’t. Because of that, I see a bright, shiny future for what we do – we’ve just got to be very smart about it.

CS:       It’s interesting having the title ‘editor’ during a period when the value that is given to an editorial perspective and an editorial eye has been through highs and lows.

When I was speaking to Linda Hewson, global creative director at Selfridges Group, we discussed the role and future of the department store. For me, a great department store is like a great magazine because it has edited content, which means that some of the pain of choice has been taken away from you as a consumer – you place your trust in the hands of those who you feel are going to make the right decisions for you.

And this goes back to the issue of quality. I’m interested in the relationship between brands and media. In digital, the influencers and brand ambassadors sphere has started to grow up, but it still centres around the energy and friction that exists between a brand and a media platform.  

Where is your consumer moving to in terms of how they engage with content, and how has your consumer changed over the last 20 years?

DJ:       There are far more ways for someone to enter a brand now, and the flipside is that we have far more opportunities to connect with people: all the social platforms, digital, events and our ‘runway brand’, which is the magazine.

I’ve always looked at our consumer as someone who we’ll keep forever. If you talk to the commercial department they’ll say, ‘Well, he’s 24-38, he’s AB1, he’s urban, he’s this, he’s that…’ That’s fine, and in terms of consumption, they’re probably right. But I’ve always said it’s like a newspaper: if you can catch someone at 16 to become a Times reader, they’ll probably be a Times reader until they die. And that’s what I want. Some of our readers are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s; however, unless I can keep getting the 15/16 and 17/18 year olds, then I’m dead and the brand is dead.

CS:       So you’re thinking about what it is that the next consumer is going to want… 

DJ:       On any day on our website or in the current issue, I know there will be things that will appeal to men in their 40s, 50s or 60s and there will also be things that will appeal to men in their late teens and early 20s. And that has to be the case. Every day.

CS:       Absolutely. Is there something you want to ask me?

DJ:       I was very flattered when I was asked to be involved with The Future Laboratory’s 20th anniversary. You’re very good at subsets and saying, ‘It’s all about x and y, and in the future it’s all going to be about people who are wearing this and doing that.’ I’d like to know, out of all the market research you’ve done in the last couple of decades, what is the thing you’ve identified which is most appropriate for now and going forward, and you can say, ‘God, we were right about that’?

CS:       Oh, hands down, that’s an easy one because it’s still so front and centre for us. We coined the term ‘phygital’ to describe the connection between the physical and the digital environment, especially within retail. This was when retailers, especially in clothing, had whole teams dedicated to online marketing but they would sit in a completely different department to the traditional marketing team. It was only later that the idea of omni-channel emerged.

We came up with the term phygital to define what needed to happen for physical and digital to co-exist. We were trying to help businesses understand that it wasn’t about putting a natty iPad in the corner for the consumer to play with when they walked into a store, but it was about creating a depth of content and engagement before you even got into a store – while you’re on your mobile phone at the bus stop or in your car waiting for the lights to change. It enables a much more profound relationship between consumer and brand, which then takes you through the store, or to the point of purchase or when the package arrives at your door, whatever it might be.  

Now, I hear the word phygital when I speak to clients and I see it when I look around, so I think we absolutely got that one bang on and were ahead of the curve. We understood that these two

disparate elements of successful businesses needed to work and play together to create far more meaningful engagement for the consumer. That’s what’s been so interesting about that as a particular trend and journey. 

DJ:       Thank you!

Watch the full Zoom conversation between Chris Sanderson, co-founder, The Future Laboratory and Dylan Jones, editor, GQ, Condé Nast.