Stephen van Rooyen's Speech at ISBA Annual Lunch 2018

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Check against delivery  - 3 July 2018


Good afternoon everyone. It’s a huge pleasure to be here today. Thank you Phil for that warm introduction.

When I was first asked to speak at the ISBA Lunch, I thought it would be a small group of 15 people. I hope that by the time that I have finished, it won’t have turned in to that.

Many of you may feel familiar with what has happened at Sky over the last 12, or rather 18, months, but today I am not going to talk about the Fox and Mouse chase. I am not going to talk about the CMA or even the intricacies of media mergers, exciting though they may be.

No. Today I want to talk about the people that matter most to our business, and indeed to all of our businesses. I want to talk about getting it right for the customer.

Connecting to Purpose

To start, let me explain why this matters so much to me.

I grew up in apartheid South Africa. It was a hard environment, surrounded by discrimination and inequality. Information was controlled by the government. People – kids – everyone had to be tough.

For many people, TV offered an escape. As children, we had one TV channel for just a few hours a day. It let us look through a window into another world. For me personally it was more than just a means of escape, it was a means to grow my experiences and to broaden my understanding of the world.

Later, when new channels were launched, when American shows started to be broadcast; it became incredibly enriching. It enriched the minds and lives of my whole generation and, in many ways, helped move South Africa forward.

That has always stuck with me. I think that’s why I chose to focus my career in media, television and advertising. Our industry has the power to illuminate minds, show people parts of the world, and themselves, that they never knew existed.

Building Trust

Today’s customers are more sceptical than ever. And can you blame them? Just look at the recent scandals of Cambridge Analytica, the issues around corporate culture at Uber or the allegations that are facing Oxfam. They all point towards a lapse in either capability or character of an organisation, which can quickly erode consumer trust.

The halo effect of that means that governments, corporates and products can be seen in the same light too.

To win customer trust, today’s businesses need to act with integrity, with purpose and with a relentless focus on the customer. No amount of slick advertising or PR can manufacture that – it has to come from within – the very core of the business.

When I became Chief Executive of Sky UK and Ireland in 2016, I set about refocussing our attention on making sure we are constantly giving customers more choice; connecting them to more of the things they love.

Today I want to share with you four lessons about building a truly customer centric business. I call them the 4 P’s, but not the 4 P’s that you all, as marketers, are familiar with. We focus on a slightly different four: Purpose, Product, Partnership and People.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I know that the businesses that learn these lessons quicker than the competition, will have a much greater chance of winning.


The first observation might seem quite simple: You are not customer centric if you don’t place the customer at the heart of your purpose.

Seems obvious right? But ask yourself, what is your company’s purpose?

It’s something much more than just generating profit or having the biggest market share or the coolest brand. It’s about understanding what you bring to your customers’ lives that no-one else can.

We all know Sky’s mantra, ‘Believe in Better’. And we do. It’s hard to describe until you work in the business, but there is a relentless, focus on improvement. It isn’t just about being better than our competitors, it is about constantly bettering ourselves - but that alone isn’t our purpose.

About 18 months ago, we undertook a piece of work across our seven territories to understand what it was that binds us together as an organisation. We spoke to our people, our partners, our customers and arrived at this:

“To bring better content and innovation to all of our customers;

better connecting them to more of what they love.”

In a sentence, that’s what we do. And you’ll see that the customer is right at the heart of that purpose. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still believe in better; we do. But by having a unifying, written purpose; everyone in the business knows what we are aiming for. But it shouldn’t be restrictive. Our purpose is a compass, not a map.

So I ask you all; what is the purpose of your company? Can you clearly articulate it?... Can your people? If you don’t have one, then how do you expect customers to know what you stand for? And if you do – does it truly put the customer first?


The second lesson I know to be true is this: You are not customer centric if you don’t put the customer at the centre of all your products and decisions.

Hands up if you have Sky Q? Hands up if you were recommended it by a London cabbie?

For those of you that don’t know – one of the reported reasons that Comcast are so interested in Sky is because when Brian Roberts, the Comcast CEO, was in the back of a London taxi the cab driver wouldn’t stop waxing lyrical about Sky Q.

To be honest, when I read that story in the papers – I wasn’t surprised. Customers love our products because when we build them, we start by thinking – what would improve the experience for our customers? What do they want? What do they not yet know they want?

All of our products start with these questions. Then we build the product around the customer.

One of the reasons why Sky Mobile has been such a success is because we took a completely radical approach. We placed the transparency of pricing at the heart of the proposition – making it clear how much the handset cost and how much the data and calls cost.

This attitude of putting our customers at the heart of our products is one that we apply to everything we do – even the tough decisions that might make CFOs gulp hard. Our NOW Broadband gives customers the flexibility to cancel with a rolling monthly contract – no strings attached. And last year we simplified the proposition and pricing of our Sky Sports channels, so that now, if you’re a golf fan, you don’t also have to pay for the football and Formula 1, just so you can watch Rory McIlroy.

It’s your job - the job of the CMOs and marketers - to be looking out for the customer across the business.


At Sky, we don’t just sell physical products, we connect people with their favourite films, sports team and TV shows.

When we commission content we have to make sure we are commissioning the shows that our customers want to watch, because there is a lot of competition out there.

Customers choose Sky because we have the biggest and the best content available. We spend £7bn a year on content, and as part of that we also commission local, original content with global appeal. Distinctly British Sky original programmes like Save Me, Britannia and Patrick Melrose have all captured the imagination of British viewers, while also being enjoyed by audiences internationally. Sky is an integral part, a significant investor and an avid champion of our local creative industries and long will that continue.

Whether it’s a hit TV show or a market-disrupting product – everything we create starts with the customer.

So does your business really have customers at the heart of every product you build? Do you have to buy several products, just to get the thing you want? Is pricing clear and transparent? If your answer is no to any of those questions – maybe it is time to think again about calling yourself a consumer business.


The next lesson is around partners; businesses with shared values that work together, can thrive together.

Partnership is one of those words that gets bandied around far too often and which is at risk of losing its meaning. But we all need partners to help us achieve the best outcome for our customers.

There is a lot of noise made about global SVOD players like Amazon and Netflix, coming to eat British broadcasters’ lunch, but for me, that isn’t true – the total pie is just getting bigger. That’s not how we see it at Sky. We simply see more partners. More great content for our customers. We co-produced Britannia with Amazon and struck a world-first deal with Netflix to allow Sky Q customers to seamlessly access Netflix content on their Sky Q box. We did this because we knew that’s what customers wanted and if you think back to our purpose:

“To bring better content and innovation to all of our customers;

better connecting them to more of what they love.”

Our Netflix deal makes complete sense, doesn’t it? Make every business decision with your purpose in mind. That’s the value of having a purpose, and that’s the value of putting customers at the heart of what you do.

There are lots of other parts of our business where we rely on partnership, particularly in the world of media and advertising.

I’d like to pay tribute to the important role that Phil Smith and the team ISBA play in being the voice of British advertisers, bringing together the industry at important events like this and leading the charge on the issues that matter the most to our sector.

So on behalf of everyone here may I say thank you and keep up the good work.

We are fortunate that many people want to work with Sky. We enjoy long and rewarding relationships with our agencies, but that doesn’t mean they get it easy – just ask them.

You probably saw that earlier this year we reviewed our media planning and buying across the Group.

After an extremely competitive process we chose to re-appoint MediaCom and build on our long term partnership - setting industry-leading standards for transparency and accountability across the media supply chain.

We were able to do this because MediaCom share our ambition to continually improve the way we use media to connect and interact with our customers.

There are many benefits of long-held partnerships; understanding each other’s business, jointly sharing and taking risks, corporate memory and the freedom to experiment and pivot – but above all, it’s understanding and delivering against a set of shared values.

As a media owner, these shared values are more important than ever.

Thanks to GDPR and the recent coverage around a number of high-profile data scandals, consumers are now more aware of their personal data, who they give it to, and what they get in return. We think this is a good thing and is why we work to ensure that we only ever use data in ways that are consistent with our customer’s wishes. This is all part of building customer trust in our business.

But as we all know, data can be a good thing. It can help improve the customer experience.

Take AdSmart for example. When viewers are served ads relevant to them through our addressable platform, channel switching during targeted ad breaks reduces by a third – giving viewers a more engaging viewing experience.

The same is true for Sky Q, our next generation TV service. We are able to use data to give viewers a better, more personalised viewing experience that, in turn, delivers significant business benefits. Sky Q customers watch more on-demand television and transact more with Sky Store.

It isn’t about promoting one broadcaster over another, or giving our own content more prominence over that of others – it’s simply about using data in a transparent and effective way to improve the customer experience.

To further protect our customers, we have strong policies in place around the anonymity of data, ensuring that an advertiser can’t target a population or data set of less than 5,000 homes.

That’s a marked difference to some platforms that claim to have customers at the heart of what they do.

As advertisers, we all know the issues with online platforms around measurement, viewability, ad fraud and brand-safety. If we, as brands spending millions of pounds on advertising, can’t guarantee a certain standard of transparency, how can the individual feel protected in the digital Wild West?

As I said at the start, consumer trust can be easily eroded by a lapse of capability or character. The brands that will win in the future are the ones that prioritise the customers’ need at every level of the business.


And the last thought I want to leave with you – the fourth P - is: You are not customer centric if you don’t have a diverse team.

Simply put: If you don’t have a diverse team, how can you possibly have diverse ideas?

At Sky we are relentless in our ambition to have the best talent on our side, and in making sure that our workforce and programming reflects our customer base.

We launched our Women in Leadership programme in 2015 and within two years our female representation at senior leadership had reached 39% - that’s almost four in ten of our top 400 leaders.

We have an ambition to get that number up to 50%, and have detailed plans in place to get there, but it’s a good start and we are making progress.

To create diversity in our technology roles, we’ve created Women in Tech scholarships and offer free coding classes across the UK with our Get in to Tech scheme.

This year Sky will be present at 10 Pride events across the UK, including this Saturday’s parade in London, celebrating the important work of our LGBT+@Sky Network. We also hold a year round programme of events, talks and programmes organised by our Multiculture@Sky, Parents@Sky and Women@Sky Networks.

On screen diversity matters too. We are proud to be a founding member of Project Diamond and the Creative Diversity Network.

It’s partly informed by growing up in apartheid South Africa, but also because it’s simply the right thing to do in 2018 Britain. I am fully committed to building a broadcaster that reflects our customers and the country we live in.

To reach our customers, we have to know our customers. Sometimes within marketing circles, we can become too London-centric, thinking that the rest of the country thinks and acts the way Londoners do.

At Sky, all of our senior leadership regularly go out and visit one of our contact centres to listen in on customer calls, work on one of our retail stands or head out with our engineers to visit customer’s homes during installations or repairs. We call this getting closer to the customer. They get to hear first-hand feedback on our programmes, products and service. You need to do the same thing to be truly customer centric.


So, why does all this matter? It matters because your job as marketers is to be the voice of the customer inside your business. You need to view every decision, campaign or product through the customer’s eyes, but to do that, you must be close to your customer.

It’s quite a privileged position to work in marketing or advertising, because you do have the best seat in the house when it comes to understanding you customer.

We all remember those products or campaigns that we worked on that truly connected with the customer. That’s what I think we should all be striving for every day.

So I urge you all to go back to your businesses tomorrow and look again and re-evaluate your decision making around your purpose, your products, your partnerships and your people – and if they are not serving the customer, you need to think again.

Thanks for listening.

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