<i>Distinctive Group CEO on tech innovation and building the best team.<i>
Over the past five years however, Distinctive founder and CEO John Graham has been developing artificial intelligence to positively impact the media and marketing industries. Working with Project Manager Kerry Veitch, the pair founded Reveela.com, a revolutionary publishing and marketing platform. Developed alongside the Institute of Advanced Research in Computing at Durham University and supported by Innovate UK, Reveela aims to re-invigorate the media industry by making content collaboration opportunities common place for marketers and publishers alike.
Five years in the making, Reveela.com’s unique selling point is its ability to truly understand language and meaning within documents, while evaluating the global media landscape as it happens; and actually understand the information running through its veins. The more users interact with it, the more it learns, understands and guides the user."
“Reveela’s AI brain can process huge volumes of data in less than 2 seconds to generate insights that aren’t humanly possible in such time frames.”
“The ability to distinguish who is talking about what and where, globally, perfects the art of targeting the right journalist, publication and/or social influencer with the right material, and increasing marketing exposure or reader engagement. It can distinguish topics and mode of thought quite easily and at massive speed and scale, ultimately making connections based only on topic relevancy or area of expertise."
Having been in the media game for several decades, it is no surprise that John’s original passion is for writing. Recalling the beginning of his career he said: “I’ve early experiences working with giants such as Newsquest and Sage, then later running call centres with Intel and Cisco through Convergys (a global leader in outsourcing). The experiences of the subcultural office politics involved in Multinationals as a young aspiring executive were to be instrumental in developing Distinctive."
“Our first publication was a leadership publication assisting middle managers with understanding their business environment and encouraging personal growth."
“Once established, a second publication based on broadening participation in education grew, resulting in multiple titles being produced on behalf of industry bodies and Chambers of Commerce. Further explorations into government funded training allowed the company to grow dramatically thereon in”.
Back then, John operated in a largely physical publishing landscape. As technological advances were made across other sectors and the world became increasingly digital, John saw the opportunity to instigate change and take the tech reins in the historically traditional industry of publishing. He explained:
“Increases in print and distribution costs were not good ingredients for scalability, a problem faced by all publishers across the globe. The rate of technological change matched with ever changing consumer habits created tumultuous problems for marketers, publishers and journalists alike. Additionally, the vast amounts of data available through social media was becoming confusing, while the immediate desire for content creation for digital clicks was having a negative impact on journalism, creating a bottleneck in productivity caused in part by the lack of participation through its selective communities."
“Conversely, SMEs face significant challenges in accessing new customers and expanding into new domestic and international markets, often faced with a difficult trade-off between short term calls on cash, and the long term benefits of marketing and advertising, but more so due to the difficulty in harnessing the power of advertising, public relations, social media and digital marketing due to lack of knowledge and understanding of how to embrace above and below the line marketing initiatives. This disparity was resulting in inconsistent isolated advertising campaigns and low return on investment, often fuelling a lack of belief in the need to market the organisation."
“From our perspective, we wanted to add significant impact to the industry. We felt as though the best way to do that was to create opportunities to collaborate on content in a timely fashion, adding value to new readers in a timely, proficient and cost effective manner."
And so, Reveela was born. The intelligent publishing platform that uses AI to actually think like a human by understanding the meaning behind content, providing content matching, digital publishing and analytics services to content teams.
John explained: “We were looking at how we could take a piece of content, understand the piece of content immediately, and match that piece of content with the most relevant industry publications globally; as well as the most influential journalists and social media users to want to share that content, and therefore generate further digital audiences. This was a major problem as content, and meaning, is ever changing. The term “covid” for instance was not common place 5 years ago, but now ingrained in the vocabulary of every human being. Creating a platform that learns for itself, understanding industry trends, terms and idioms has been incredibly challenging."
The lynchpin of the platform, according to John, is his partnership with Kerry. John said: “I've known Kerry for 30 years, meeting as 16 year olds at a local newspaper."
Even at the beginning of their careers, John could see what an asset Kerry would be.
“I knew that she had the analytical and people skills to be able to deal with highly intelligent people, and realistically I knew that we would get to certain points where ego’s would take over. She dispelled all of those egos and allowed us to operate functionally as a team and just keep our eye on the goal. She had a saying, “if it makes the car go faster, we'll do it, if it doesn't. Why bother."
Being a small fish in a big pond hasn’t dissuaded John from diving into innovation – in fact it has only encouraged him. He explained: “I've seen some of the worlds biggest international media outlets struggle in terms of incorporating new technology for the added benefit of revenue generation."
“If you've got a ship the size of a Titanic, you can't keep constantly turning on a sixpence to incorporate new technologies. I knew that we were small enough to be able to get involved in something that was new, edgy, and disruptive. It was a risk, but SME’s are agile enough to explore new approaches to traditional practices. It’s all about having the belief that you can see the world differently and make a difference, while having the courage to hire people who have alternative opinions on long established viewpoints. There’s a chance the impact may be negligible, or even fail; but if the new intervention proves successful, the impact can be global and game changing. That's exactly where we see it going – the impact will be global.”
John also attributes the success of his new technology to his relationship with Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Research in Computing and the guidance provided by Haines Watts.
“I've known Brad Thomas long before Haines Watts purchased RHK. He took the time to understand our business and what we were wanting to explore. He is currently guiding us on EIS investment but was instrumental in us claiming R&D tax credits; and I have to say, that was arguably the be all and end all of us being able to explore these exploratory technological avenues that we have done over the past four or five years.”
“As someone who has worked in print and publishing industry for a number of years, I am used to being in a male-dominated industry so have not found it overly concerning. I can understand how some may find that daunting, but I’ve always found that regardless of sex, I know I can work with anyone as long as everyone understands each others role and is on the same page. There’s no room for egos in this team”.
“I have experience in operations management going back to my time at university and running print operations through universities, which has set me in good stead for my role at Reveela. I also spent time as a mortgage underwriter in earlier years, which taught me a lot about the importance of processes and scheduling. Truthfully, my role is the same no matter what industry I am in. It’s about understanding the goal of the project, creating achievable and meaningful milestones, and managing workload. All the while remaining inquisitive and creating an environment that is safe for team members to question the status quo. Once you get to that stage, it can be clear that steps can be taken to become more efficient in the approach. Software development is cyclical, and often new approaches become the norm depending on which decade you’re in. Agile is big in the industry right now, but that doesn’t always work well when you are still partly in R and D
mode. Project management needs flexibility and understanding both technically, and personally. “My tech background wasn’t extensive by any means, I completed some online courses in programming to get to grips with terminology, after that my priority was building the best team and supporting them to manage their workload across complex projects. In R and D things often don’t work. That impacts morale so people management is key. Our interviewing process was extremely difficult. Some of our software engineers needed to work towards solutions in 3 hours that would often be 13 weeks projects for a standard graduate. All of which written in pseudo code on windows being assessed all the way through. It also wasn’t uncommon for us to hold these assessments late in the evening while they were tired and likely to make mistakes. It was challenging to find PhD level engineers with the capability to work on such difficult tasks that had no clear solution. “The approach was highly unconventional, but showed all involved that conventional thinking creates conventional outcomes. Changing an industry as old as the
media industry was never going to take a conventional approach. Our engineers are unconventional, and so is our management philosophy.”
“I would say that it is important to look at individual tasks, that’s where you can see what can be cut down. It’s about going right down to the bones, even on a large project, then you can add detail while keeping the project on track.”
“I would like to see the technology used in a wider capacity and continue to be developed. It’s an intelligent platform, so the more you feed it, the more it learns and becomes more accurate and useful. It will be amazing to see the impact it has on the way people work across
so many industries and the potential for the existing tech is phenomenal. Reveela can comprehend the meaning behind millions of conversations and industry publications in seconds. Such a powerful tool will undoubtedly change the way people work for the better.”
“My biggest takeaway from this project is that things don’t always go according to plan. Tech is ever evolving, so when you create project milestones you have to be adaptable to change. You have to be prepared to reschedule and cut parts to reach deadlines and goals. Technology can move incredibly fast, by the time things are developed there is a possibility that it can out of date, so nothing is truly ever finished. It’s an iterative process of continuous improvement.”