Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Tom Barbour, Group Digital Director at GumGum

Tom Barbour is Group Digital Director at GumGum. We asked him who his digital hero is.

Who is your digital hero?

Rather than picking one person, I have gone with the not so obvious choice of The Big Issue as my digital hero.

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

Founded in 1991, The Big Issue has traditionally operated offline, however in recent years have embraced digital in several interesting and innovative ways, to protect against changing attention habits, to grow revenue and to further support their community of vendors.

Firstly, during Covid, The Big Issue adopted a digital subscription model, which poured much needed revenue back into the company when people weren’t on the streets buying physical copies. As a social enterprise, they invested all subscription revenue back into the organisation, which was used to help further support people in poverty get back on their feet.

On top of this, The Big Issue has embraced digital advertising on, again this revenue being put back into the organisation. They have a hand-selected approach to advertising on their platform and only work with brands that align with their ethos. 

Finally, and most interesting to me as a consumer of The Big Issue, is that they have had a huge push towards embracing & enabling mobile payments for their vendors. Back in 2019, they launched a partnership with PayPal/Zettle which allowed vendors to take digital payments for the first time. This initiative has ensured growth in sales in the current cashless society.

By 2022 43% of vendors offered cashless payments, with most reporting over half of their revenue being driven here. Not stopping there, after noting that some vendors couldn’t access cashless payment systems due to not owning a mobile device, last year in a partnership with giffgaff, refurbished phones were distributed by the organisation’s frontline teams to new vendors, further increasing the opportunity that digital payment offered.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

Of course, it’s evident that their digital embrace has helped provide increased revenue for their vendors and provided stability to the organisation, which will go on to help even more people in the future. However, it should also be noted that the embrace of a digital subscription model and online advertising is innovative in the charitable sector which has been emulated elsewhere.

What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

Misinformation. Whilst consumers are more cognizant of it happening, research in the area has developed and new AI technologies exist to help combat it, we still see huge, polarised divides in society, which is being fed largely by digital platforms allowing the spread of misinformation. 

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

I joined GumGum in 2019 as an individual contributor as part of a small team. During my tenure, our once small UK team has grown close to 70 people and has shown revenue growth of 10x. Personally, I’ve grown from an induvial contributor, to managing a team of 5 successful sellers, whilst learning a whole lot about privacy first, attention driven and creative digital advertising along the way.

I can’t take credit for all GumGum’s successes, I work with some incredible people, and we’ve continued to offer our media partners powerful and relevant digital advertising products through innovation, investment and acquisition. However, driving this huge growth, through Covid and recessionary pressure, whilst maybe not quite heroic, does make me incredibly proud.