This week we hear from Charlotte Cijffers, Digital Director at Rolling Stone UK & Attitude Magazine for Stream Publishing. We spoke about launching the iconic Rolling Stone title in the UK, her work on Attitude’s digital transformation, and the benefits of developing more localised content for magazines. She also gives advice on what publishers should focus on when looking to grow their own audiences online.

In the news roundup we discuss the various reactions to TalkTV’s tumbling ratings, and ask whether the British public is rejecting hyper-partisan news in general… or just finding it elsewhere. In the news in brief we discuss whether newspapers are normalising climate change, highlight The Economist’s exceptional success with its podcasts, and hear some heartening news that diversity and representation are no longer just buzzwords in publishing.

The full transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

Why Rolling Stone launched a dedicated UK site

Rolling Stone US definitely saw a hunger from UK audiences specifically for UK-based content. And I think they quite rightly thought that that would be best fostered by UK-based journalists and creators who were on the ground. That’s how the partnership with the existing UK publisher Stream Publishing came into play.

On a strategy level, it’s really important for Rolling Stone UK that we really continue to uphold the tenants of the flagship brand that have enabled it to remain an authority on all things music, film, TV, and politics and culture more widely. But we really want this UK offering to feel different to our US counterparts. Editorially, we want to be featuring new and fresh talent. We want to move away from that iconic coverage of those legacy acts that Rolling Stone is probably best known for.

I think, for this UK operation as well, it’s a really exciting time for us to be able to have the potential to kind of uplift some very UK specific music genres as well. So whereas our sister brand in the US might cover country music or Latinx music, in the UK, we can look at electronic music, we can look at UK rap and grime, we can look at drill, UK garage.

That diversification is not just relevant to music, but also very much to our politics and social issues section as well, which Rolling Stone US is obviously so famous for covering. And actually it’s been really interesting in terms of content strategy, that some of our best performing articles on the site so far have actually been politics-led.

Digitally transforming Attitude magazine

Attitude were actually already doing a really amazing job when it came to optics and from a branding perspective. So a lot of this work has actually been largely focused on internal processes, as much as external strategies. And of course, the golden things like audience growth and how that ties directly to revenue.

The term digital transformation can sometimes be misleading as well, because I think a digital transformation is probably never finished. So even though I would say that we’re over the hump, and we’ve done stage one of this work. I would say that there’s also a wider piece around, how do we keep growing and evolving? And also, how can we get the right people within the business? How can we get those key hires installed in the business who are nimble enough to adapt and grow that strategy in the day to day rather than just having me coming in and doing audits and, and making demands from the top down.

It’s probably not necessary for everyone to jump on every trend or product or new platform, particularly if it doesn’t make sense for your audience or your budget or your infrastructure. So we’re very much looking at how we can be ambitious and digital first with Attitude, and how we can find new audiences on new platforms and develop new modes of acquisition for Attitude that can deliver super engaged, really sticky users that are going to stay in a long term relationship with the brand. But how we can also do that in a way that feels sympathetic to the resource and the revenue of a small to medium publisher.

Which strategies work for audience growth

For culture publishers, leveraging your archive correctly and effectively is definitely the key in terms of creating that steady and long term groundswell of traffic to your sites, and to increase engagement with your audience and the ability to acquire new users when they visit your site for the first time.

So many publishers that I’ve worked in the past have had such amazing, super rich archives of evergreen content. And again, this kind of content is also having a renaissance, or is even more potent now, because young people are so highly referential and they’re so obsessed with the 90s and the noughties. So, thinking about working with fashion publications, like Dazed are another, for example, who just hold these incredible archives of owned photography of the world’s most amazing models and celebrities, or beautifully written cover stories, and insightful pieces of journalism around celebrities that are still potent.

Today, there’s a huge opportunity for those publishers to continue to optimise and re-optimise that content, to keep bringing in that that groundswell of traffic. Keep asking the question, what do people in your audience care about? How can we create these rabbit holes of content that people can get lost down?

Main story:

Talk TV’s troubles: Piers Morgan has gone from ‘uncensored’ to ‘unwatched’

  • Talk TV has been on air for four weeks and after a strong start it looks like the channel is struggling. Charlotte Henry writes that launch night was a ‘slick-looking success’ with Piers Morgan’s centrepiece show picking up decent numbers: 317,000 viewers, beating competition from rival news channels.
  • That first night was the high point – Tom Newton Dunn’s ‘The News Hour’ has recorded zero viewers at points. They’ve said it’s all about the nonlinear views, but Morgan’s YouTube channel has less than 45,000 subscribers.
  • So why is it struggling? It’s got News UK backing, and Piers Morgan, who is very well known (former ITV Good Morning Britain presenter who walked off in a huff after a row over believing Meghan Markle). Good guests, high production values…
  • It’s in competition with GB News which launched last summer and seems to have found an audience, although not without their own controversies. Could it be that a divisive figure isn’t enough to hang a show off in the UK? GB News has a wider ideology and isn’t totally reliant on just one key name.
  • Charlotte reckons that the media culture in the UK is different to US – we’re not quite as tribal about TV channels. “UK regulation means that the hyper-partisan style of broadcasting you see stateside is not really a thing. It also appears that GB News has captured the small segment of viewers that want it to be.”

News in brief:

  • The PPA festival was last week and I heard it described as the best yet by Andy Cowles who I met at UAL the day after- shout out to the MA publishing students at UAL who ‘promised’ they would listen to the podcast if I gave them this shout out. Andy said that one of the things that really struck him was the focus on D&I with actual real live HR people on the stage. FIPP’s top takeaways from the PPA festival mentions the D&I content at the festival as one of the highlights. The FIPP write up from Jamie Gavin says Diversity, Equality, & Inclusion are no longer buzzwords. In among all the other pressures publishers are facing it’s so great to see gender and race being highlighted in this way and I have hopes that the class issue will also be addressed as we all move forward together.
  • The Economist’s podcasts have fetched over a billion downloads since launching in 2016, with their daily news show The Intelligence getting almost 4 million downloads a week.Overall advertising revenue for their podcasts grew 30% year-on-year too. Interestingly its advertising strategy went the opposite way from most podcasters – it began with offering its inventory to audio vendors for dynamically inserted ads, then switched in 2019 to its ad sales team selling the podcasts directly to clients. Podcasts now account for 11% of the group’s overall advertising revenue.
  • There’s a really good op-ed in The Guardian this week from Saffron O’Neill, a geography professor, who argues that ‘Fun in the sun’ photos are a dangerous distraction from the reality of climate breakdown. It’s most interesting in light of the fact that audiences are genuinely very interested in climate change reporting, and especially since we just spoke about a report into which papers are doing their utmost to delay any action on climate change.

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