Stacy-Marie Ishmael is vice president of communities at the Financial Times, based in New York.
She will be speaking at the Product Management Festival on the topic of “That which we call product management / by any other name, even more difficult”.
First of all, let us congratulate you for this great position at Financial Times. Can you explain our readers shortly what you do in detail?
The position of VP of Communities is analogous to a product manager for audience engagement. My role involves understanding what encourages people to engage and interact with the FT – and I might be talking about commenting on a story or attending one of our conferences or choosing to share a subscription offer with a friend. My team, Team Communities, conducts experiments – online and offline – designed to test hunches about reader engagement. We take the insights from these experiments and feed them back across the organization to teams in editorial, product, marketing, advertising – really the whole company – to ensure we’re removing any points of friction in the FT user journey and creating delightful experiences for our global audiences.
Which journey did you lead you to Financial Times?
I’ve written about this a little bit – http://blog.percolate.com/2012/05/from-journalists-to-developers-my-path-to-percolate/. I’ve had an unconventional career, although I suspect in five years my journey will become more and more mainstream. Really, it’s a combination of a very inquisitive nature, my ability to embrace operating outside of my comfort zone, and the desire to constantly be challenged, always learning.
What skills does a successful product manager need to have?
Empathy above all – for your audience/users/customers/clients, for your team, for your stakeholders. If you’re not able to step out of yourself and really ask and understand, “how would my CEO react to this? How would our power users feel? How do our first-time users feel?” you’re not going to be effective, however good your technical/design/project skills.
What is the most undervalued part of a product manager’s job?
The requirement to be able to shift between extreme multitasking and unadulterated focus – sometimes in the space of five minutes.
You will deliver a keyote at the Product Management Festival. What can our readers expect?
I would like them to leave the keynote feeling like they’ve learnt something unexpected, something useful, something fun. I hope to be able to combine the different roles I’ve had, and the experience of different industries, into a compelling story.
How do you see the future of product management?
As product development becomes ever more sophisticated, PMs are going to have to keep adding to their skillsets – for a while being technical was the holy grail. I expect you’re going to see more PMs who come from the world of design and information architecture; others who bring a deep understanding of data and analytics; still others who really fundamentally understand habits and behavioural economics, for instance.
Stacy-Marie Ishmael is vice president of communities at the Financial Times, based in New York. She is responsible for growing reader engagement and deepening the relationship with its audience across an increasing number of channels.
Prior to this role, Ishmael was the product manager at Percolate Industries Inc, a technology startup. She lectures on topics ranging from Wall Street to business models at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and its affiliate, the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.
She also has a long history with the FT, first joining in 2006 as a graduate trainee from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2008, she moved from the FT’s London office to establish the New York bureau of FT Alphaville, the award-winning financial blog, and later co-founded and served as the editor of FT Tilt.
In 2013, she was named in Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech.
Find her on Twitter at @s_m_i.