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“Empower readers to become ambassadors for their city”: SoGlos’ model to rescue local media

Fifteen years old this year, SoGlos – covering Gloucestershire – claims to be the county’s leading regional media brand. Such has been its success, with 2020/21 being a record year, the publisher has now set its sights firmly on expanding into other local news markets throughout England, starting with Bristol.

Launched from a garage in 2007 by Co-Founders Michelle Fyrne and James Fyrne whose prior backgrounds involved sojourns at Time Out Dubai and UAE’s What’s On magazine, SoGlos has built a team of 15 staff, comprising six journalists, four business development managers, a designer, videographer and office manager.

For a successful local media brand to be entirely funded by advertising revenue (display advertising, content marketing and event sponsorship) is an oddity itself, but for it to look to expand amidst a calamitous worldwide backdrop for regional media suggests that it has hit upon an intriguing formula.

Membership model proves key

According to SoGlos co-founder, James Fyrne, a key part of the publisher’s success has been to double down on membership, “We have a free membership feature that allows members to create lists of their interests and save favourite stories. Members can create a profile and sign in to MySoGlos to co-create their own lists, such as ‘new restaurants to try’, ‘things to do with the kids this summer’ for example – in addition to favouriting and saving news, events or hot lists. They can also make their profile and lists public, and share them.”

Our new ‘create lists of content’ functionality can be found to an extent on the FT, for example, but what we have planned is about harnessing the power of gamification to allow readers to become ambassadors for their county/city.

James Fyrne, Co-Founder, SoGlos

Whether SoGlos could charge for membership is debateable, with Fyrne telling WNIP, “We do wonder if our audience – and UK regional audiences generally – would be willing to pay for membership for our type of content, even though it’s all written by our in-house journalists.”

Fyrne adds, however, “We are thinking about a membership wall a little further down the line (kicking in after so many articles have been read, although still free of charge to sign up) to really drive our first party data.”

Numerous additional membership benefits and functions also mean that SoGlos’s first-party-data pool will allow for “personalised content and tailored delivery, improving the user experience, as well as offering advertisers’ targeted audience profiles”.

The aim is to attract 50,000 members by the end of 2022 and 100,000 by December 2023.

Pivot to business news, not just lifestyle coverage

Another key facet of SoGlos’ success has been the title’s pivot to include coverage of local business. Fyrne readily admits that the pivot happened by necessity during the pandemic but the change coincided with a record year for the title, “It seems particularly unusual we had our biggest growth in turnover/profit over the financial year 2021-22. I feel this was in part to our pivoting our model to cover ‘Business’ as well as ‘Lifestyle’, which has proven particularly popular with readers.”

As part of SoGlos’ business outreach, the publisher also launched the Gloucestershire Business Awards, voted for by a panel of judges, which according to Fyrne, “Yield sponsorship revenue accounting for around 20 per cent of annual turnover and both forming a core part of the model’s current and future success.” [The publisher also hosts the Gloucestershire Lifestyle Awards, voted for by members.]

SoGlos SGGLA Awards night held at Deya Brewery, Cheltenham

Bespoke CMS offers reach and scaleabilty

The final piece in the jigsaw has seen SoGlos develop its own back-end CMS which Fyrne claims, in an interview with Press Gazette, is “the most modern, intuitive and efficient… of its kind” and will “save individual journalists a whole day each per week”.

Built from scratch using the latest .NET 6 technology, the CMS draws upon more than 20 years of in-depth regional media experience from the Co-Founders, as well as input from cross-functional teams. Crucially, Fyrne says that the CMS has been built with scalability in mind to create “a blueprint model” which can pave the way for the publisher’s expansion across the UK.

The technology means new So brands can be spawned in less than two hours and are fully customisable by teams in a specific area – without the need to invest in further web development.

James Fyrne, Co-Founder, SoGlos

Positivity succeeds

SoGlos admin content manager

But perhaps SoGlos’ greatest weapon is the media brand’s relentless positivity. At a time of huge uncertainty and a relentless cycle of bad news, the publisher is underpinned by “a firm focus on a positive, celebratory editorial tone” which, not least, has helped the publisher acquire 85k social media followers and build 34k email newsletter subs.

Whether the publisher can now replicate the formula with similar success into other UK cities and regions is a moot point. As the Expanding News Deserts Report from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media points out, “There are no easy fixes (to the loss of local news).”

However, the same report adds, “Digital news organizations are beginning to develop viable economic and journalistic models. The opportunity – and the challenge – is finding a way to scale these efforts so the thousands of communities that have lost a newspaper have a viable alternative.”

SoGlos might just have found one answer.