#digital

Joellen Perry, Bluegrass singer, contemporary commentator, journalist, ad-venture capitalist, digital
transformation spokesperson who rather talks about content than platform. Developing new business
models for journalism. Digital Business Director, Living & Food, Gruner + Jahr, Hamburg.

Joellen Perry

I’m Walking on Sunshine’…

Singing is my passion and this song in particular means a lot to me because it's my little girl's favorite song. I truly sing it every day. After training as a classical vocalist I worked as a professional singer for a while... If I didn't have to worry about earning money for a year, I might give singing another go, Joellen Perry confides. Her musical genre is traditional American bluegrass. Although, at the moment I'm mainly singing lullabies, she laughs.

As appealing as the thought of a singing career might be, she couldn’t really turn her back on the world of media, where she has carved out a successful career over many years. I have been on maternal leave and parental part-time for the last five months and yet I’ve been working with media and technology every day. Letting go of that would be very hard for me.

As Digital Business Director at the Bertelsmann subsidiary Gruner + Jahr, Joellen is responsible for the Communities of Interest Living and Food. Digital in and of itself isn’t the sole priority. I think we spend far too much time talking about the platform – print versus digital – and end up losing sight of the content, she says. I look forward to the day when the focus is back on content.

The transformation the media industry is currently undergoing is intense and not exactly an easy one, but Joellen thinks Gruner + Jahr is well-equipped for the future. Over the years, if not decades, we have developed a certain expertise. Now we have to figure out how we can transfer this expertise to other platforms. With the new organization of the Digital Division over the past year, ideal conditions have been created for this. Last year, we focused on the new organization and on transformation. This year, we are focused on results.

The inspiration for excellent products and the energy to spur on her team to get the results she’s talking about, Joellen derives from the view across the Port of Hamburg that her office window affords, but also from a large poster on her wall: This poster of New York is a little bit of home for me, because I lived there for a very long time. It gives me a sense of security and is very important to me. Although my husband would probably say that my smartphone is the most important thing for me, because I always have it with me – and that’s true as well, she laughs.

The United States, where she was born, is Joellen’s muse and she draws inspiration from American culture. But her life is also truly multicultural: My husband is half-Italian, we live in Germany, and we have a little daughter together. I think that’s quite international and it inspires me.

In Germany, however, she sees herself as something of an outsider. I don’t come from Germany and that is a daily challenge for me. Though I have an MBA, I’m also not really a publishing type or a typical businessperson, because I worked as a journalist for eleven years.

I try to turn this outsider status into a strength, both personally and professionally, and to concentrate on the bigger picture.

I don’t get bogged down in the details, because often they are new for me too.Joellen thinks that her outsider status makes it easier for her to put herself in the position of her colleagues. This ability to see things from multiple perspectives can serve as a motivation and a way to get the best out of her team and herself

After her career as a journalist, Joellen got the opportunity to work in publishing with Bertelsmann. Now she no longer just writes about the industry, but instead has become an integral part of it. This is my chance to actually do things myself rather than just writing about them! These new experiences and impressions have helped her to better understand the different viewpoints of journalists and publishers.

In her time as a journalist, Joellen’s primary focus was to use a good story to effect change. While working in publishing, however, she has learned to see stories and products as part of a larger strategic and corporate picture. I used to think, ‘I do good work every day and yet, it doesn’t sell. What’s going wrong?’ At Bertelsmann, on the other hand, I’ve found people who share my concerns about the changes in the media world.

Still, Joellen wouldn’t have wanted to miss her time as a journalist. I was a correspondent and got to travel all over the place. During the second Gulf War, I accompanied the U.S. troops to the front as an embedded reporter, and I was in Afghanistan for three weeks. It was a true eye-opener for her. It was an incredible opportunity to see the world from another perspective and to face the task of having to make sense of it.

It is important to me to understand things, which is also why I ask a lot of questions. That is definitely something I incorporate into my work now.

Joellen also wants to be an inspiration and source of ideas for her team at Gruner + Jahr. Teamwork is very important to me, because without my team, I can't achieve any of my goals. They are the ‘doers’ and my job is to lead them. It really matters to me that my team is successful. And I think that the most important prerequisite for this is trust. As long as I have trust in my team and they have trust in me, and as long as there is a sensible structure in place, so that everyone can do their work, success is a logical consequence.

Joellen tries to avoid getting stressed in her day-to-day work. I’ve worked as a waitress for many years. You don't have time to think there – you just get on with it. If you think too much about everything you have to get done, that’s when things get chaotic. So I try to concentrate on the job in hand and not get too emotionally involved. That's the only way I can work efficiently.

With the birth of her daughter, however, balancing work and personal life has taken on greater importance for Joellen. Gruner + Jahr have been tremendously flexible and supportive, she says. I really cannot praise them enough. They let me spend time with my daughter, which is incredibly important to me. In the U.S., a young mother couldn’t normally expect that much support from her employer.

Yet it also works both ways: When Joellen sings Walking On Sunshine for her daughter, she is recharging her batteries and drawing inspiration for her next day at work. Then, in the morning, she is ready to motivate her team and work on shifting the focus back on content.

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