By Maisie McCabe, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 24 September 2010 12:00AM
The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Nancy Cruickshank at Telegraph Media Group HQ is the enthusiasm she has for her work space. The digital futures division, of which she is executive director, sits next to the office of the chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, on a mezzanine floor. Looking down on TMG's wheel-shaped "hub and spoke" newsroom, Cruickshank says this demonstrates how "digital is at the heart" of the company.
Cruickshank is speaking to Campaign two weeks after the relaunch of Fashion.Telegraph.co.uk. It is the first big project to emerge from Cruickshank's division and builds on her 17 years of experience in fashion media and the reputation of TMG's fashion department. The website launched on 6 September and she says it represents not only a complete overhaul of the Telegraph's fashion coverage online but also the high quality that newspaper groups can deliver online.
Cruickshank, who enthuses about fashion, clothes and beauty, arrived at TMG in March following senior roles at Hearst Digital and VideoJug and five years as the managing director of Handbag.com, the fashion site in which the Telegraph owners, the Barclay brothers, were investors.
She describes her TMG role as an opportunity to be entrepreneurial within the security of a big business. "When I arrived at the Telegraph, I noticed that the old fashion channel had a vibrant audience, and it was one of the most in demand from advertisers. So, especially given my background, I thought we should do something with that," Cruickshank says.
Fashion.Telegraph.co.uk, which is designed to provide a premium setting for ads, is currently running activity from Clinique, John Lewis and Dior. In addition to traditional online ad formats, there is the ability for consumers to "like" items, in the same way they might do on a social network, as well as buy almost everything they see.
The site already has fans at media agencies. "It looks fantastic," Gaby Marciano, the associate director at Starcom MediaVest Group, says. "It's a big departure from what other sites offer. Some of the things that the Telegraph talked to us about, such as buying mentions on Twitter, could put its editorial integrity in question, but it's great for advertisers."
However, Cruickshank is clear on one thing: brands cannot pay to be recommended by the site. "We have an engaged audience in fashion," Cruickshank explains. "They trust us, love our taste. If we can make money from commission, then great, but we don't want to limit what they're talking about."
She adds: "It's a blend of strategy. Advertising is still fundamentally important, but revenue share from our 250-plus retail partners will be increasingly important. We're trying to take you straight through to buy products if you're interested."
Cruickshank says that TMG is considering all the options when it comes to generating income from digital media, and this week it launched a free iPad app offering content from its newspapers. "We are looking at pay-walls as much as anyone else. We are a commercially focused operation and we would like digital to represent a greater proportion of our profits," she says.
As has been well documented, the Telegraph's digital unit moved to Euston in January before returning to its offices in Victoria, with the media group jettisoning the former editor Will Lewis in the process. Cruickshank is uncharacteristically hesitant when questioned about the departure of Lewis and the boomerang excursion to Euston, saying it is "past history".
Cruickshank argues, though, that the idea of the Euston move was to give people time to think outside of the daily focus of the TMG newsroom and work on longer-term projects. "The location wasn't so great," she says. "The fashion team and I were back and forth the whole time and it was 20 minutes each way, which, quite frankly, we could do without. But we continue with projects in exactly the same way as was developed at Euston."
Cruickshank says she envisages the fashion site as the first in a portfolio offering readers the chance to click through and buy into the Telegraph lifestyle. She cites gardening, travel and personal finance as areas that could work, though she will not say which one will be next to offer a site.
"If you look at all the different supplements in The Daily Telegraph on a Saturday, what we are is a life guide. We are helping our readers make key life decisions - whether it's fashion or food," Cruickshank says. "Online, you want those things to go a step further. In the travel section, the paper will surprise me with the most visually stunning image of a place I've never thought of going to before. But when I'm online looking at a holiday in New York, I need help getting there and booking hotels and restaurants."
Cruickshank argues that the time is right for the fashion launch, citing figures that suggest the e-tailing model will become more profitable as consumers will eventually spend one in every four pounds online. And she says that the return of the digital futures division to Victoria demonstrates the importance TMG attaches to digital.
While other newspaper groups battle with the issue of pay-walls, Cruickshank is driving a strategy that goes beyond this debate. TMG's blend of e-commerce and online advertising revenue provides an interesting alternative, and in Cruickshank it has a passionate digital advocate.
Family: Married with two adorable daughters
Most treasured possession: A signed photo of Bjorn Borg
Brand most worn: My Chloe handbag collection
Car: BMW 3 series
Best website: Spotify
Favourite media: Telegraph, Twitter, The X Factor
Interests outside work: All things Devon ... the beach, walking, time with my girls
Couldn't live without: My iPhone
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk