The Guardian’s sharp-suited deputy chief executive has been promoted three times in the past three years and, following this week’s financial results, is more bullish than ever.
The former adman has spent much of his tenure espousing a mission to get The Guardian’s commercial mojo back; and now, following a 7 per cent rise in group revenues to £210 million and a 27 per cent drop in losses, he feels the numbers back up his conviction.
"My job is to own the money," he says. "And to be able to deliver these numbers consistently, quarter on quarter; to get the print-to-digital blend right, as well as proving that the US and Australia markets are big opportunities. If I had written all that down 12 months ago, I would have been quite a brave man; but we’ve done it – we’ve delivered on every metric."
As I said, he’s positively full of it. But there’s no denying The Guardian’s evolution from a business desperately in need of some future-proofing to one with a global, "audiences, not platforms" strategy, blazing a trail for how media companies might look in the future.
'There is a new energy permeating The Guardian's commercial operations. Agencies talk of open collaboration'
Of course, returns "exceeding £1.4 billion" from the sale of Trader Media Group might have had something to do with rising group confidence; I certainly can’t remember a time when The Guardian’s parent, Guardian Media Group, was so financially secure.
But there does seem to be a new energy permeating its commercial operations as well. Agencies talk of open collaboration and, when MediaCom’s Claudine Collins forgoes the chance to meet Kim Kardashian and the Daily Mail in favour of dinner with Alan Rusbridger, it’s clear the commercial charm offensive is working.
Before we get too carried away, Guardian News & Media still posted underlying operating losses of £19.4 million for the year. And three years into the transformation programme by GMG’s chief executive, Andrew Miller, his tone remains cautious – with the focus on "relentlessly" reducing losses further and ongoing warnings of "volatile trading conditions" and "structural changes" within the business.
Miller’s years of being a chief finance officer have clearly taught him to err on the side of caution. Pemsel is not shackled by the same affliction. For him, a 24 per cent rise in digital revenues (to £69.5m) and stable print revenues (£141m) are among the "significant proof points" of a strategy now beginning to take hold.
He's convinced the Guardian’s strategy and multimedia narrative is paying dividends, while branded content arm GuardianLabs is said to be creating "far more strategic conversations" at the top table with clients than ever before.
Going forward, expect more investment in the US and a possible launch in India, if only to sate Pemsel’s visceral ambition.