Stephan Phillips is managing director of Archant Norfolk, the division of the Archant group that has recorded the best growth in digital activities since the beginning of the year. Archant defines itself as the U.K.'s largest independently owned regional media business. This summer the group released encouraging financial results for the first six months of the year, with an operating profit up 47.5 percent for its newspaper publishing operations and a 25 percent increase in digital revenues.
WAN-IFRA: Archant recorded a 25 percent growth in its digital revenues for the first half of 2010. That sounds impressive, but in the end what real impact does it have on total revenue and profit margin?
Phillips: Digital represents 5 percent of total Archant revenues. For our division, Archant Norfolk, it's slightly higher, about 6 percent, and it accounts for 22 percent of our total profit. The figures are close to what the rest of the group achieved, but we are particularly high in Norfolk because we have tested some new products here.
WAN-IFRA: What are the most significant measures the group has taken this past year to boost its digital business?
Phillips: The first thing has been to sell display ads to local businesses at a CPM rate of 12 pounds when the U.K. CPM rate is around 40 pence. We achieved that by selling directly to local customers for our local websites, helping them to exploit the digital audience we have.
The other successful thing is our online business directory; we have a dedicated team selling this directory, and they have attracted 2000 advertisers so far this year. Advertisers can promote themselves though enhanced listings, profile listing or as a category sponsor. We are also linking this business directory to some print activities. For example, we have a campaign, with editorial content, persuading people to buy from local retailers - "shop local" - and we have a listing of local shops that are working with the newspapers to persuade people to be environmental friendly by buying locally. So, it is a combination of editorial coverage coupled with directory listings.
The third thing we have done is to build a very strong social network site around family announcements. It's mainly taking the family announcements from print into a web environment where people can post messages, etc., get comfort or just share happy events. This is now a big activity in all the regional areas where the group publishes newspapers. The social network phenomenon is not only Facebook, etc., it's about any product that enables people of a particular interest to talk to each other and regional newspapers are in strong position to develop that.
Our fourth successful digital activity is on mobile. We have a mobile website for football fans sponsored by a local brewery that it is linked to Twitter, and we organise competitions with electronic coupons to win T-shirts or drinks in pubs. We have a one-year sponsorship with that local brand and they are very satisfied with the results. In Norfolk we have 30,000 unique visitors a month on our mobile sites. The sport mobile site alone is 17,000 a month.
WAN-IFRA: Are you considering paid-for online content?
Phillips: We tried to charge for access to content for the business section of our website about 10 years ago, and it was a complete disaster. As long as we have competition from the BBC, with the publicly-funded nature of this service and its known ambitions to expand in local markets, it will be impossible for us to have a viable charged mechanism. For regional newspapers in the U.K., the best way forward is to publish good websites and to cleverly combine all advertising possibilities from display to sponsorship; to social networks engaging with local communities around themes (our football fan social networks has 160,000 unique visitors a month); or electronic coupons; video with ads; and we have also started using QR codes to link our print products to mobile sites. So there is a whole range of things you can do rather than charging people to get content.
Phillips will co-chair the WAN-IFRA Beyond 2010 conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on 27-28 October. The conference will provide a worldwide tour of online business development though a variety of study cases and strategies developed by media companies; with experiments around content monetization; social media; new ad strategies and innovative revenue models such as Schibsted's successful leboncoin.fr or the transaction platform vanilla.ch launched by Ringier.