Rhona Murphy is CEO of The Daily Beast, one of the most influential and fastest growing sites on the web. Prior to this role, Murphy was the Publisher and Managing Director of Newsweek International, based in New York, whom she joined in 2002. She oversaw all aspects of Newsweek's business in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. She successfully managed teams and operations in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Geneva, Paris, Frankfurt and New York and strategic partnerships globally. During her tenure Newsweek published three separate editions in print in Asia, Europe and Latin America and launched numerous licensed editions around the world in eight languages.
She previously served as the Managing Director for North American sales for Dow Jones International in New York and before that was their head of sales and marketing for all of Southeast Asia and Oceania, while based in Singapore for three years. She started her media career at The Times in London, where she lived and worked for five years.
A native of Ireland, Murphy holds a BA and MA in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.
How did you get into the media industry?
I grew up in Ireland and went to Trinity College Dublin to do a degree in English literature. I thought I wanted to be a journalist and after graduating, I moved to London and focused on getting a job – any job – with a media company. News International (part of News Corporation then) had a graduate recruitment scheme to fill the ranks of its' large advertising sales departments as newspapers were booming. My first job, which I landed within a week of arriving in London, was as a sales person for The Times and Sunday Times. The company owned five big newspapers at the time and the business side all sat together on one giant trading floor. There were many recent graduates on the staff so it was an ideal first job; we all socialized together at lunchtime and after work with our clients. It was also very fast moving and competitive which suited me and successful sales people were well rewarded. I had thought this would be a stepping stone to journalism but we had very little to do with the content side and I realized I really enjoyed the business world and was good at it. I was promoted into management early and was thriving, but after five years I decided I was working too hard for a 20–something and had built up some savings – so I took a year off to travel in South America and Africa. While on the road, I won a green card in the US lottery – something I had applied for several times as I thought it would be fun to live in New York for a while. I never expected to fall in love with the city and make it my home for almost 20 years.
What inspired the concept for The Daily Beast?
The name of The Daily Beast came from a fictional newspaper in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. It launched in 2008 and the concept was based on 'all you need to know' delivered accurately, with punch and a non partisan view; essential world news, opinion and commentary with a healthy dose of Hollywood/pop culture mixed in. The tagline "Read This, Skip That" encapsulates the core idea, which is key to how we approach all content today.
What partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have helped TDB reach over 17 million users?
In the past year our traffic has grown from an average of 13.9 million to an average of 16.9 million (+23%). This is as a result of relevant, cutting edge journalism coupled with a new site design which makes reading it a lot more interactive and user friendly. And with an increased focus on the importance of individual referrals and social media. We have a number of media partnerships which we add to regularly but no one partner accounts for any notable traffic number which is important to us; those deals come and go and organic growth is the most reliable way to ensure long term success.
What are your biggest successes and failures and how have you learned from them?
In any career, there are both successes and failures and you learn different things from each of them which propel you forward. One big lesson for me was the realization that the boss is the boss – you may not always like whom you report to and many people may share your opinion, but they will always have the upper hand. In the past, quite a long time ago now, rather than asking for help, I tried to handle a boss who I thought was bullying my staff by myself. That backfired, and that person made sure they undermined me to the point where they were able to convince their boss that I should no longer have a job. It didn't work out for them ultimately, and I moved on to new and greener pastures but it was a lesson that seniority almost always counts. And optics are optics – one should never assume people who are removed from the day to day know what is really going on, especially in larger companies. That seems so obvious to me now, but when one is less experienced one can be rather idealistic about the corporate world and assume it is always fair. So as a boss, I never take anything at face value and try to do my own homework. In terms of success, it is never about one person. Ever. It is literally impossible to be successful without the right team. As a famous British theatre director once said "it's all in the casting." And I have learnt that success as a team feels so much more rewarding than any individual success in the working world.
What advice would you give to an aspiring media entrepreneur?
Be clear, have conviction - and keep showing up.
Who is your role model, business and personal?
My role models are my grandmothers. They were both widowed relatively young and both ran their families respective grocery business' well into their 70s, working full-time. When I was a child, we would visit them regularly at work and they always had time for their grandkids and although busy, seemed relaxed and in control. And they never complained despite all the day to day challenges they must have had. I saw them often and grew up thinking it was normal for women to be calling the shots. It literally never occurred to me that a woman should or could not run the show.
Seize the day.
Favorite travel destination?
This is a tie between Shelter Island in New York and Co. Clare in the west of Ireland.
If there were one food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Avocados, olives and Champagne.
What websites are most visited on your browser?
The Daily Beast, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Times, The New Yorker, Google, Yahoo…and many others.
What's next for TDB and Rhona Murphy?
The Daily Beast is poised for continued aggressive growth. All the ingredients are there. Later this month, we will launch our new cutting edge app – a response to the fact that half of our audience comes from mobile now. The days of desktop traffic being the area publishers focus on is over. Smartphones have seen to that.
As for me, later this summer and for family reasons, I will be moving back to Ireland (after a 26 year hiatus!) and will live in Dublin with my new husband and our 4 year old daughter. Dublin is bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and energetic start-ups and I plan to act as a consultant in the news and media space. However, my guess is I will eventually miss 'office life' and want to return to it.