TLDR: In just six years, London-based Plant Based News has grown to become one of the most influential media brands in the healthy lifestyle sector. Its success, and challenges, have centered around the power of community and commercial partnerships with like-minded brands.
Founded in 2015, vegan-media platform Plant Based News has become one of the most dynamic media brands in the conscious consumer/healthy lifestyle sector. With 70 million monthly website impressions and 2.4 million social media followers, the brand boasts a sizeable celebrity following as well as notable influence with policymakers. Not bad going for a brand that started life just six years ago in a suburban UK greenhouse.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a strong element of good fortune in the digital publisher’s success – it caught the early swells of an enormous wave of interest into healthy, vegan eating. Talking to WNIP, Klaus Mitchell, Plant Based News founder, admits as much, “I started the Plant Based News as a social media channel in 2015. It was predominantly YouTube and featured videos of me talking about all things plant-based from inside my parents’ greenhouse.
“Then, in 2016, I was lucky enough to be invited to a plant-based health conference in California hosted by Vegsource at which I was able to interview leading plant-based health professionals in the field. I had no idea what it could lead to…”
Good fortune aside, the publisher has had its fair share of struggles. Whilst primarily running a social media channel and community, Mitchell had to make sacrifices many young publishers will be familiar with, “At first I was living with my parents, then I bought a cheap boat on the London canals, which meant I didn’t have to pay rent and could focus on expanding the social media in 2016.
“This is when I met my business partner Robbie Lockie and we received seed funding in 2017 – two years later we started to become financially viable – because it had to.”
Once the publisher received its first seed funding, it pivoted away from being primarily social media-based (YouTube, Instagram and Facebook) to become a multi-platform media brand, Plant Based News Ltd.
Based in London, but with global reach, the brand is now engaged in the next step of its growth and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £500k from its supporters using the SEEDRS platform. This current round of investment is aimed at growing its core team of twenty, as well as helping it develop its infrastructure so it can be better placed to take advantage of the demand for sustainability and plant-based dietary news.
The power of community
A key reason for the publisher’s rise has been the harnessing of its own readership into a strong, bonded community. Mitchell says, “PBN has always been a grassroots movement, which has grown steadily and organically alongside the wider movement. At the end of each year, I directed and produced films charting the rise of the movement. The first was VEGAN 2015, with the title updating each year. I never thought that it would be shown in cinemas around the world in 2019. Nor did I ever think I would interview Joaquin Phoenix, or Robbie never thought he would interview Jessie Jay, or help Billie Eilish’s mother’s charity.”
However, like most communities centered around emotive and deep-seated passions, there are strong opinions that surface when readers disagree with a political or social stance, not to mention the wrong type of programmatic ads that slip through the net, “We only work with vegan advertisers. Sometimes, of course, big companies come to us. For example, Kelloggs’ agency worked with us in 2018. But we only worked with them on the basis that we were promoting their new vegan range.”
Some ads we don’t like slip through. But I would rather take money from the meat industry – it gets channeled into promoting veganism so it is all good!Klaus Mitchell, Founder, Plant Based News
Mitchell also says that the fact the publisher cares deeply about the subject matter is critical for it to maintain reader support, “We don’t preach, instead we look at ourselves as educators. Our audience can tell the people running – and working for our company – really care. We also launch our own campaigns and World Plant Milk Day was an enormous success, reaching 363 million people.”
The importance of commercial partnerships
Another significant factor in the publisher’s rise has been its emphasis on creating long-lasting commercial partnerships with like-minded brands. Mitchell explains, “We have strong relationships with vegan chefs, athletes and social media influencers, and many of our campaigns have already secured backing from major plant-based industry players. We hope that our latest crowd-funding round will allow us to create ‘the ultimate plant-based influencer network’, offering brands a multitude of ways to reach audiences.”
Crowdfunding campaigns are all about giving people an opportunity to get behind projects they care about. Plant Based News has made it its mission to combat climate change, reduce cruelty to animals and support healthier eating by creating awareness of ethical consumerism, sustainability and the plant-based lifestyle.Klaus Mitchell, Founder, Plant Based News
Robbie Lockie, the Plant Based News Co-Founder, agrees, “We’re ready to take things to the next level and become the premier destination for consumers and brands in the conscious consumer space. We hope that by investing in our company, people will recognize that they aren’t just making a financial investment but helping to make the world a more sustainable place too.”
Mitchell stresses Locke’s involvement has been crucial, saying, “Robbie’s business and technical experience, coupled with his passion for the vegan movement, was geared up for a project as ambitious as PBN – he is a world-class digital campaigner. He is also great at interacting with people in a long-form format – such as our podcast – and is extremely patient, something I don’t have.”
Setting up a creative agency
For an ethical publisher, the partnerships it chooses need to be carefully scrutinized for ‘brand fit’, especially when it has its sights set on advertising partnerships with major corporations. This is especially so now that the company has diversified by offering boutique creative services to brands, based on the publisher’s knowledge of both its audience and the subject matter.
In 2020 we established our own in-house design agency that delivers disruptive media, content, and marketing experiences for PBN, as well as for products and brands. Now, we plan to increase our audience beyond vegans and those reducing their animal product intake, to engage with people interested in conscientious purchasing more widely.Robbie Lockie, Co-Founder, Plant Based News
A key hurdle in running a boutique creative agency parallel to the content side of the business has been the demands placed on the business. Mitchell admits as much, saying, “The challenge has been making the news platform work well alongside the creative firepower that underpins it, so that we can make money from doing creative services for brands as well as the news platform. Getting both at the same time – both working financially – has been a challenge. When one is going well, sometimes the other isn’t.”
As for the future, both co-founders feel the publisher is well placed to take advantage of the enormous interest in sustainability and ethical living. The burgeoning alternative protein industry received $3.1 billion in investments last year, while plant-based meat, egg and dairy companies were granted investments of $2.1 billion. The challenge now will be to balance the needs of an ethical community alongside outside commercial interests that can occasionally conflict with the publisher’s own values – passion-based communities tend not to be so forgiving. However, as last year’s growth of 80% bears testament, Plant Based News has so far walked this particular tightrope skillfully.