The multi-channel communicator who saw the future

Exclusive interview with Nicklas Mattsson from the Federation of Swedish Enterprise, representing 60,000 companies

Ten years ago Nicklas Mattsson accepted the uniquely multi-faceted role as publisher, editor-in-chief and webmaster at the Federation of Swedish Enterprise – an organization representing more than 60.000 companies.

That was no coincident.

As a freelance journalist in the early 1990’s he saw the emerging digital revolution, and became editor in chief of the Swedish edition of MacWorld, and later on development manager for the Swedish branch of the IDG publishing group.

Later, when video emerged as the next big thing in a wide range of media, he became Creative Director, later CEO and business developer at Jarowskij Media, a leading Swedish TV production company.

Hi Nicklas. You have repeatedly demonstrated a talent for being able to tell the future. What exciting future did you see for the Federation when you accepted this job, back in 2005?

First of all, it was becoming pretty clear that publicity and other forms of editorial content was becoming more and more important, partly at the expense of advertising. Communication increasingly took place on the target audiences’ terms. And, as an experienced journalist and editor I knew that the editorial approach gives more room for substance, honesty and objectivity. Even when the sender’s own interests are at play. 

If you, for example, attack or criticize someone, a true journalist strives to allow that person space for presenting his or her version of the matter at hand. It’s a matter of fundamental decency, but it also gives the sender increased credibility.

At the same time, communication became increasingly “multi-medial” and limitless. And here, I would be allowed to build an entire battery of analog and digital channels, and various forms of expression. From newsletters and blogs to social media and, later on, our own TV studio in the basement. I would also have 5, later 16 accomplished journalists and other professionals at my disposal under the same roof. It was a unique job then, and to the best of my knowledge it still is.

What’s the difference between working as a journalist and a commercial communicator? You have been on both sides. Is it about being objective, or what?

I could talk about that for hours, but to keep it short and simple: Everybody, including journalists, write to affect people; why else would they do it? In that context, nobody is completely “objective”?

Personally I find the communicator role more demanding than the journalist role. As a journalist you can focus entirely on finding and developing the story. Preferably stories that nobody has heard before and, in some cases, stories that some people would not like to be revealed. As a communicator the task is clearer but also more difficult to carry out.

When the Federation releases a report, it is not always focusing on the storytelling. In a media newsroom everybody recognizes “a good story”, in other companies or organizations it is not necessarily so.

Today, everybody talks about “brand journalism” and “content marketing”…

Yes, that’s a very obvious evolution. Several companies have really taken this development seriously, hiring knowledgeable people and giving them a great deal of editorial freedom. But it also raises the bar, and there are still many companies that never understood the difference. They simply dress up the same old advertising messages in an editorial style.

That’s a pity, because they are not fooling anyone. They don’t achieve what they want, and in the process the senders lose any credibility that they might have had. They should rather have made an effort to understand what their target audience is really interested in, and give them that. Then they could also have conveyed more in-depth information with both high impact and credibility. But, admittedly, this is not so easy.

“In-depth information”, you say? Is there still a market for that?

Absolutely. Maybe not in the broad media channels, but the new media landscape allows us to match the content with precisely the people that are motivated to receive it. And it doesn’t matter if the sender is an organization or company – people are used to that today – as long as the content is relevant and attractive.

For these specific target groups, we can deliver superior content compared to traditional media. They must often lower their ambitions, not to scare away their broader regular target audience.

Today, many people consume the content via mobile phones and tablets. Doesn’t that create problems with more extensive “in-depth” content?

It used to be like that, but both our habits and technology itself have evolved faster than many people may realize. Responsive sites, and bigger, often high-quality screens on mobile devises for example.

Personally, I have no problem whatsoever reading extensive reports or articles on my mobile phone. Others may only browse it there, and save the more focused reading until they reach their bigger home screen.

What do you see as the greatest challenge in this new media landscape?

The landscape is admittedly new, but the challenge remains the same as it has always been: To reach the right person at the right time and to, in one way or another, activate him or her. That goes for journalism as well as PR and advertising. And blogs, Snapchats and Facebook posts too, for that matter.

It is also here you can see clearly if your initial thinking was right. Were you able to affect the right person at the right time, or not? In practice you may only find that out by trial and error – evaluating headlines, images etcetera, and seeing what works.

“At the right time” – what does that mean in your world?

That’s another interesting question. A few years ago, you could effectively steer your information towards specific points in time, now it’s more about managing a continuous flow. We have, for example, not had a single press conference in three or four years. In a social, digitized world every moment is a good moment. Whenever you can create it.

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