This week we hear from Director of Cognitive Publishing Roy Rowlands on what it’s like to be in a family publishing business with a trillion-pound audience, going all-digital with their B2B titles, and the benefits of being in Manchester. He also outlines how they’ve adapted in lockdown, including the reasons behind their decision not to go virtual with events.
In the news roundup the team examines why so many journalists are leaving to form their own newsletter-based businesses, ask whether the rumoured changes to British broadcasting’s top brass are good for the country, and discuss the latest developments in the TikTok trade war. Bonus discussion: is Media Voices a tiny enough business to be called ‘cute’?
See the full transcript here, or some highlights below:
Business during lockdown
Challenging, exciting, very, very different. I think the biggest challenge was making the decision that we’ve got to go and work from home, and what’s that going to do for the business? And what do we need to do to facilitate that? Once we all sat down and brainstormed it, that was all really straightforward.
But then the realisation of, well the whole country’s disappeared into lockdown, and everyone’s supposed to be working from home, but actually, you try and get people on the phone and sell them advertising, or worse still, you try and get them on the phone and sell them a ticket to attend an event. They thought it was a crank call, but you adapt.
Shifting to email marketing
We’ve long been a really successful platform for email marketing and lead generation for our clients. So that was the offering that we really started to push more than anything else, because we knew that’s what would deliver results for our clients in a void period if you like.
That got the attention of people, and that got people spending again, because the message there was, ‘Well, we’re struggling to get hold of people just like you are, but this is how we’re innovating around that problem. This is how we’re managing to get traction with our customers. And this is how you can get engagement with your customers.’
Giving up print
So we’d started the journey looking at providers of digital editions, like Issu, like PugPig, Blue Toad, Yudu, and others last year. Because if we take our public sector readers for instance, we were starting to get copies of the magazine returned because it’s in a plastic wrapper, or because it smells as though it’s got a high chemical content in the ink. And almost every week, you’ve got a council declaring a climate emergency.
COVID has stolen my thunder on that front… whilst other publishers have stopped printing magazines as a result, we’d already gone on this journey, and we’d already selected a provider and had an implementation date. But no one’s ever going to believe that.
Now we’ve gone completely digital with the magazine, we’re finding that actually we’re getting a lot more people visit the magazine and enjoy the longer read more than perhaps we were aware of than when we’re printing the magazine because we’ve got the data.
Avoiding virtual events
My worry, and this is playing out now in a lot of the conversations, my worry with virtualizing the event is, how do you charge for it? And if you don’t charge for it, you’ve made it free? So how do you gain the ground from that? And how do you start charging to monetize it in the future? And I didn’t see how that would work for any of the sectors that we’re in.
We don’t rely on the the revenue from events, because we’ve been able to keep our head above water, and do well during the lockdown period, because we’ve got all of these other channels that have been able to generate revenue for us. If we were just an events-only business, we would have been screwed.
The engagement that we’ve had has been really encouraging. We launched them just simply because I started consuming a lot of podcasts, your own being one of them. And I just felt that as a media owner, we need to be doing this, this is the next big thing. That’s played out.
We’ve been able to monetize them quite quickly, because there’s no point, I don’t see as a publisher, as a media owner, not having inventory that doesn’t, number one, engage the audience because that’s our product, that’s what we sell, and then to attract revenue.
Being in Manchester
Most of the big events, the big conversations are in London, because that’s where I think event organisers lazily just decided to set up. They think, ‘Ah, we’ll go to London, to the most amount of people, we’ll sell it out.’ And I think actually, if you really think about the content that you’re trying to deliver and why, you can sell out anywhere.
So we do events in London, our strongest event is in Manchester. And we launched one in the Midlands last year, which was a sell-out in year one. It’s not just about flocking to London and doing what everyone else is doing. And Manchester gives us the ability to have that freedom and flexibility because it’s relatively low overheads in comparison to London, although they’re getting higher all the time as the city is under the spotlight.
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- The Next Media Opportunity: Talent, Reputation and Lessons from Record Labels
- Is Defector the Future of Media?
- How I ran an NPR-style pledge drive to grow my newsletter
- Peter Houston talks: No jobs at the farmers’ market
News in brief:
- Veteran BBC journalist Andrew Neil is leaving to set up GB News – a 24 hour rolling news channel that aims to speak to the people who feel left out by the BBC’s purported hard-left bias
- Boris Johnson has asked Paul Dacre to head up the role of chairman of Ofcom, and Charles Moore is tipped to be the new BBC chairman
- The Public Interest News Foundation has launched in the UK as a charity that will take advantage of tax breaks to funnel donations into public interest journalism. It will try and get money from tech companies, philanthropists and the public before distributing it to support small news outlets.
- Twitter’s feature prompting users to read articles before sharing them is being rolled out to all users. Interestingly… “people open articles 40% more often after seeing the prompt”
- Beijing is not happy with the TikTok deal, and has said it has no reason to approve it, calling it ‘dirty’ and ‘unfair’. An editorial in China Daily argued that TikTok’s success has made Washington ‘feel uneasy’ and prompted the US to use national security as a pretext to ban it
- Dotdash has acquired two new digital publishers, Simply Recipes and Serious Eats. This makes it one of the biggest digital food and beverage publishers, almost at the size of Meredith’s Food Group
- Podcast company Wondery – behind shows like Dirty John – is exploring a sale for up to $400m, which is a huge vote of confidence for the Medium
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