Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
9 mins read

How do publishers maintain their brand value in a world of distributed content?

The Media Voices Podcast 100th episode special was recorded live in front of an audience in London on May 2nd. We were joined by four fantastic guests – EMPIRE’s Editor in Chief Terri White, The Week’s Chief Executive Kerin O’Connor, PinkNews’ Head of Platforms Ellen Stewart, and Bibblio’s founder Mads Holmen – to discuss whether publishers can maintain brand identity in a world of distributed content.

Distributed content is a double-edged sword for publishers. On one hand, social reach promises audiences at a scale never before imagined. On the other, control of content and revenue can get lost in the social swirl. Is it possible to maintain brand values and still benefit from the scale delivered by distributed content models?

We were joined by four fantastic guests – EMPIRE’s Editor in Chief Terri White, The Week’s Chief Executive Kerin O’Connor, PinkNews’ Head of Platforms Ellen Stewart, and Bibblio’s founder Mads Holmen – to discuss whether publishers can maintain brand identity in a world of distributed content.

Check out the transcript here

Highlights from our 100th episode

So the Media Voices Podcast made it to 100 episodes. More than that, we managed to record our centenary show live in London with four fantastic guests and a real live audience!

Some shows would take this opportunity to pat themselves firmly on the back. They would tell you how much work it was to clock up 100 weekly shows. They would thank their amazing listeners for showing up and sharing. They would look forward to all the exciting things they hope to achieve in the future.

But we’re not like some shows… we made it to 100 episodes. We know you’re here for the media industry news and views, so we’ll get straight to the good stuff and share the highlights of what was said during our 100th episode.

The focus for our birthday bash was ‘How do publishers maintain their brand value in a world of distributed content?’ and to discuss this burning issue we assembled an amazing expert panel.

  • Ellen Stewart, Head of Platforms, PinkNews
  • Mads Holmen, Founder, Bibblio
  • Kerin O’Connor, Chief Executive, The Week
  • Terri White, Editor in Chief, EMPIRE

Peter Houston has picked out some of their highlights, or you can view the full transcript here.


Ellen Stewart, Head of Platforms, PinkNews

On the shift from Facebook:

We were a huge Facebook publisher… doing about 10 million uniques a month, which is pretty big for a niche publication. The algorithm changed and that changed everything essentially.

We were given the opportunity to become the first LGBT+ publisher on Snapchat. Since then, we have now seen our audience grow to 30 million uniques plus a month, which is crazy considering what we were doing this time last year. It’s definitely a success that other people can replicate.

On working across platforms:

The best thing about being on a platform like Snapchat is that the audience data is really instant. Knowing a little bit more about the people we’re targeting has meant that we can be smarter elsewhere.

On working with Snapchat:

Snapchat have an editorial team that monitor what goes out on the platform, but it’s all post-publishing, so you have a trusted relationship with them. But there’s a big gateway to getting on the platform in the first place. We’ve been in breach a few times, because we’ve been a little bit risqué…

On having a niche:

Technically we don’t have any competition on Snapchat… we’re the sole LGBT publisher on there. Other people cover LGBTQ issues, but we are the people who are the face of it.

It’s really interesting to see how many people take a secondary interaction. We’ve found people coming from Snapchat to our Twitter, to our Instagram, to my inbox, to tell us what their experience has been of our content. But we do definitely have a niche, and that has been a bit of a win for us.

On Snapchat success:

Our biggest win has been that we didn’t just jump in straight away, we were like, ‘Dunno if this is going to work’. When we first launched on the platform, it was literally me, a freelance designer, and a notepad being like, ‘How do you do a snapchat?’ Because I’m actually pretty old for Snapchat!

On revenue:

We would never charge for our content because we want it to be accessible to people who might need it. We’re very much a resource as well as a news source, but we do have alternative ‘real world analogue’ interactions that make money. We have a whole events side of our business, which includes the PinkNews Awards, we do a careers summit, and we’ve been testing the water with some reader events recently, which are paid for things as well.


Mads Holmen, Founder, Bibblio

On platforms and quality control:

One of the fundamental challenges with a platform is you don’t know who you’re going to be sitting next to and associated with. I think even if you have the editorial control, you don’t know what’s before and after and around it and what conversation is going to start.

On platforms as marketing tools:

I would love if publishers more and more thought of these platforms as marketing tools, rather than necessarily the future of their business. I think there is an opportunity for publishers to sort of ‘take advantage of the platforms’.

On chasing reach:

I’m a big believer in this idea of attention economy and that we’re getting to peak attention. We simply don’t have more available time that isn’t occupied by a screen of some kind. I think the danger as a publisher is, the more you go down that route, the more you actually have to compete with the people who are better at the attention game than you are because they already have 2 billion.

On platform strategy:

The areas of publishing now that are most successful are the areas where people have found an audience, be that cross-fit or lawyers, or any kind of area where you can actually have something that is unique compared to the big platforms. ‘We reach a billion people a month’, I mean those days are gone. Try to go in and pitch a business idea like that today and you’ll get nowhere.

On recommendation engines:

If you instead just interpret them as an ad network, they’re definitely not the worst ad network. Right? So maybe it’s just that the labelling that’s wrong, it’s really an ad network that brings revenue, and not at all the worst ad network right now.

On platforms vs aggregators:

Microsoft actually came up with this originally, the idea of platform theory. And in their world you only get to call yourself a platform if you deliver more economic value to the people who are participating on the platform than you take away yourself. And by that standard, none of these aggregators are platforms. I think there is actually an opportunity for someone to come in and build a social media content kind of platform that actually is a platform, because then I think content creators could flock to that.


Kerin O’Connor, Chief Executive, The Week

On using content for conversion:

I’m not fully convinced that content makes that much of a difference to sampling once someone’s made that intent to buy. We do use some content. We use bits and pieces…but almost certainly we find these weird things [work] for things like reactivations, we send people loads of serious [stories], and what they really want is funny stuff.

On reach:

Reach is like a drug. People talk about reach and they say, I’ve got 2 million, 5 million people, and it’s never enough because there’s never a magic moment. There was a newspaper that I heard about, and they had 100 million uniques, and it had taken them 10 years to get there, and they said, ‘Right, we’ve just realised it needs to be a billion’.

On print:

I think people like Terri and I are serious about print because that’s how you make money. It costs £150 a year to subscribe to The Week. That means someone’s actually got to send us that cheque. The average length of tenure is about six years… there are people who’ve been reading it for 23 years. I mean that’s real money.

On the benefits of GDPR:

One of the things that’s got quite interesting about GDPR is, I think, it really transforms the relationships that publishers have to have with their audiences, because we have to find out who these people are, and they have to give us permission to communicate with them. So the regulation is actually making us behave in a better way as publishers, because our products have to become better to get people to give us some information.

On the lack of launches:

I think one of the problems we’ve got in the publishing industry at the moment is, people have lost the ability to launch. People just don’t launch anything. I feel that’s where the industry probably needs to get back to, probably less worrying about ‘How could we live on other people’s platforms,’ and more ‘How can we begin to grow some of our own products that might survive on their own rights and generate some cash?’

On the future of platform publishing:

I think what will happen is we’ll have to have a patchwork quilt of distributed platform approaches. And as the platforms change, we’ll change to where they wish to be. But we will always put our focus into first party data, first party engagement, first party ownership, because that’s how I sleep at night, knowing that I know who my customers are.


Terri White, Editor-in-Chief, EMPIRE

On platform partnerships:

We were doing a massive thing on Ready Player One… the biggest, most exciting, most fucking remarkable piece of content, magazine craft, I’ve ever worked on in my career. We go in to meet this platform, they go ‘This is really great. We think you should give us like, loads of content’.

I was like, ‘Right. So you know, what do we get in return?’ And they went, ‘You get marketing and brand fame.’

We’ve been going for 29 years, our brand is robust, our brand is famous. We got Steven Spielberg and we got Martin Scorsese and we got Christopher Nolan because we are Empire. That’s not meaningful to me. Not meaningful in any way.

On the value of content:

World exclusive content that nobody else could get or did get in the world, that is the gold at the heart of our brands. If I’m going to give that to a platform, then there better be something in it for me.

On chasing scale:

I edited Time Out New York, and I took the website from 2.5 million uniques to 9 million uniques within 18 months because that was the target given to me by the CEO. And that was the magic number at which we were going to unlock all this monetisation. And it was going to be amazing. We hit that number, and nothing happened.

On EMPIRE’s Deadpool promo video:

Stuff like that, which is completely unique, reminds people…  you have a certain amount of power, a certain amount of influence. I’m not for hiding your light under a bushel. I think you leverage the fuck out of that, and you remind people who you are and what you can do. And that’s kind of our equivalent of getting our willy out on the table a little bit.

On what sells more copies:

Great cover of the mag every day of the week. Anybody who says otherwise is lying. Fundamentally you have to make that your shop window, when somebody is walking past in Morrisons or wherever, that image, and the ability to stop them within five seconds and convince them that they should part with their hard earned cash, nothing will ever replicate the importance of that cover, ever.

On the future of platform publishing:

We would never rush into anything because we are about the long-term gains of the brand. Empire will still exist in 30 years. I might not be there, but it will still exist and there will be another me. And so the business does the right thing, which is to take the long term view. Any changes, any kind of engagement, any difference in how we present the content and where we present the content is done in a really even-handed way.

With thanks to our event partner Bibblio, and our media partner What’s New in Publishing

Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world


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