I have the pleasure of knowing Ili and he is a good guy. This is a great piece on the man!
Posted By ] Ronan Shields, 23 September 2010
Global head of mobile, Reuters Media
1990-93: BEng, Civil Engineering, University of Manchester
1993-96: Manager, design studio, Reuters
1996-98 Corporate brand manager, Reuters
1998-2002: Head of online customer experience, Reuters
2002-05: Next-generation products design manager, Reuters
2005-10: Mobile and emerging media manager, Thomson Reuters
Having worked for Reuters since 1993, global head of mobile Ilicco Elia is a true advocate of the channel and is well placed to ensure mobile is at the forefront of company-wide activity.
After almost two decades at Reuters, five years spent specifically on mobile, Ilicco Elia is a bona fide veteran of the industry. “At Reuters we’ve been going mobile for a number of years,” he says. “When I started, I was part of the emerging media team and I stayed there until one of the bosses decided we had emerged.”
This year, Elia was one of only a handful of mobile specialists in MediaGuardian’s 100 most powerful people in media, ranking alongside luminaries such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. However, this is an accolade he’s modest about. “I don’t think of myself as having a profile,” he says, “but maybe that’s not for me to decide.”
Elia’s day-to-day job is leading his development team, but it’s his willingness to integrate with the rest of the Reuters organisation – departments such as editorial and sales – that has cemented his influential reputation.
Given the comparatively early dawn of mobile within Reuters – starting by loading content from a desktop computer onto a PDA – much of Elia’s time is now spent convincing the wider industry to adopt the medium. “As an industry we need to spread the word of mobile outside the usual audience that you see gathering at mobile conferences,” he says. “Mobile needs to be incorporated into wider media plans because it’s very difficult to make it work for advertisers on its own. We need to speak to TV media planners and show them how mobile can fit into their strategies and make ad campaigns more effective.”
These new ad opportunities on mobile are generated by the growing consumer demand for mobile news services, Elia says. Total traffic to Reuter’s mobile sites is 10% of that to its online sites. He cites the halo effect of Apple’s entry into the mobile market as fanning this demand, which has shaped the nature of his job ever since.
However, while the launch of mobile apps on hero devices such as the iPad or the latest Android phone generates the majority of headlines, Elia’s international remit also includes services such as SMS alerts, which he deems equally important. “These types of service are still popular in European markets such as Spain and Italy, or even further afield in places like India, but in the UK they’re not what you’d call thriving,” he says.
With the mobile industry still growing, a potential schism could emerge, forcing people to choose between advocating mobile apps or the less siloed mobile internet, but Elia is committed to neither on an exclusive basis. He views such debates as premature and thinks, if they do anything, it’s only to hamstring the mobile advertising market at a time when it can ill afford to be so.
“Neither apps nor browsers will win out,” he says. “As an industry, we need both as they each serve a different purpose and audience. When the app stores start to stock millions of apps, then brands will have to deal with discoverability issues in just the same way they have to on the web. Neither is perfect.”
The philosophy within Reuters is to be as accessible as possible on all platforms. Although Apple’s range of mobile devices generates a lot of buzz, Elia is acutely aware that media owners need to think way beyond this single platform. “If you’re going to do anything on mobile you have to be in it for the long haul, it’s not just about what’s fashionable now,” he says. “We made a conscious decision not to be seen favouring one platform over another so we work with all the handset manufacturers to make our content widely available.”
One partner that has proven important is BlackBerry manufacturer RIM, which has direct links to Thomson Reuters sites embedded in some of its devices. Elia has struck similar deals with Nokia and other manufacturers. “We also work with mobile operators to link to our site from their portals. Each partner brings something different. We try to work out what’s the best fit for their audience and ours with each partnership.”
One industry trend that excites Elia is the “mobile first” mantra coined by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
People are starting to look for information on their mobile first. Those who use the mobile internet see a massive benefit and we’re tasked with giving these people what they want,” Elia says.
He expresses similar approval for Apple’s recent social networking service Ping, which was simultaneously launched on mobile and online. “I like the fact you’re seeing the big names taking mobile into consideration in the first iteration of their products,” he says.
“If someone keeps track of their stock portfolio online then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it on their mobile,” he adds, speaking about his own company. Reuters is currently tailoring its mobile products to its readers’ personal preferences and further integrating mobile into the core of its products. “Part of my job is to show editorial departments how they can use mobile in their day-to-day jobs. We’ve participated with Nokia as part of a ’mobile journalism’ tie-up which involved giving phones to our journalists, which they can use to better report on stories. That has now been integrated into our normal practice,” he says.
As for new mobile products, Elia believes the emerging tablet market has great potential and will occupy a lot of his time in the near future. “We’ve already launched some apps for the iPad [such as the Reuters Galleries],” he says, “and it’ll be interesting to see how the market takes off when Android tablets appear.”