Interviewing the Interviewers: Stephen Lepitak, The Drum

One of the privileges and joys of journalism is meeting and interviewing truly inspirational people.  The new digital age has meant this privilege has now opened up beyond professional journalists, with some of the most thought-provoking interviews now conducted by numerous industry thought leaders in addition to our most respected journalists.

In NDA’s Interviewing the Interviewers series, we caught up with some of the best interviewers in our industry, from journalists to independent content creators, turning the tables to find out what makes them tick.

Stephen Lepitak, Editor at The Drum and one of the hardest-working journalists in the industry, in a typically thoughtful and considered interview discusses the powerful impact of his encounter with Rose McGowan and his favourite SXSW experience.

What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear for the digital industry in 2019?

Those two things are definitely related. I got into this industry and this profession because I love media and the growth of digital media has been so exciting over the last decade. However, the source of revenue has begun to dry up. Digital dollars are going to Google, Facebook and Amazon in the main; and we’re now seeing pure-play digital media shuttering and many journos – and other members of staff – lose their jobs in their hundreds/thousands such is the scale of the cuts at the likes of Buzzfeed, Vice, UniLad, Mashable et al.

They have been based on VC funding with the expectation that advertising would make the cash to appease investors and that’s clearly not been the case recently. Publishers are having to expand their portfolios and are now growing to be.e something a bit different. Those that don’t change and grow their revenue streams are in trouble. So, it’ll be fascinating to see all the ways that happens and how advertisers benefit from it too.

Although it would appear the big brands are not moving away from the big tech platforms just yet given Facebook’s latest numbers.

What was your biggest personal industry highlight of 2018?

I was pleased to see Mark Read take the chief executive role at WPP after a protracted period, although I can’t say the way his predecessor was exited/departed was well handled. But in the end, I think, the right person got the job and it was a long time coming. History will prove me right or wrong.

Who was the most inspirational person you interviewed in 2018 and why?

I nearly said Nicky Mendonca over at Accenture Interactive as she is so sharp and full of energy. But I interviewed Rose McGowan about how she used social media to create a community and effectively drive her message against Weinstein and those who shielded him in Hollywood.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from her as she has been attacked and presented in various ways, positively and negatively. However, I found her to be delightful – thoughtful, brutally honest, pained and yet driven to use that pain to make the world right in some respect. Some elements of the conversation I never used in my piece as she shared some thoughts off the record that gave me a good insight into who she is – and while she is fierce, she is also very sweet as well.

I admired her for being able to be both in the span of one sentence. I’ll probably always keep the full transcript and recording as it was such a memorable conversation. Good luck to her. She’s a warrior.

What one technology are you most excited about this year and why?

Easy, the growth of addressable TV. The tech is already here, but the evolution of TV is going to continue to be amazing.

What was your favourite ad or digital experience of 2018?

At SXSW (sorry everyone) I was lucky enough to be invited to the first night of the WestWorld season two activation and it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. It was created in a few months by Giant Spoon who set up a meeting point in the centre of Austin with buses taking each guest, in world, to a recreation of the town in Westworld.

It was filled with little hints on the second series and had a cast of many actors populating the town and following a script to interact with everyone there. There was a bar, gun fights, a jail break and so much more. What a great way to promote a TV programme. I’ll bore people about it forever – and they gave everyone real Stetsons too – I got a black one.

What is the buzzword or phrase you’d like to ban forever?

Things being described as ‘Innovative’ – I’d love to know who decides what is and what isn’t ‘innovative’ but it’s used more often than it should be.

Who’s the one industry figure you’d most like to interview you yet haven’t?

 I’m working on Bill Gates. I’m hopeful too.

How  could someone persuade you to interview them and what would put you off completely?

Be Bill Gates and being Gary Vee (done that.)