Located in the heart of London’s ad-land, The Charlotte Street Hotel is an appropriate setting to meet two young publishing entrepreneurs.
Liam Harrington is the Co-Founder of UNILAD, a UK millennial-focused publisher site whilst Alex Attinger is the Managing Director of ContentClick, an ad platform and content ad network.
UNILAD attracts 23m unique monthly website visitors and has 80,000 YouTube subscribers as well as over 5.2m Facebook followers.
ContentClick’s content ad network boasts over 1,500 publishers ranging from Bauer Media, ITV and The LAD Bible to numerous independent publishers as well as an advertiser roster of 450 brands.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with them and discussing the following…
Q: You’ve both been described as ‘next generation’ publishers. What does that mean?
Liam: I read somewhere that the successful business of the future won’t so much be a case of the big fish eating the little fish but more a case of the faster fish eating the slower fish. That’s 100% true. We live and breathe the internet and we know instinctively what type of content should go up and when. There is a science to it, a formula, and you have to stay in very close touch with the movements of the internet to succeed. If you’re not consistent in this business you’ll lose an audience quickly and our postings are very tightly scheduled, at least every hour of the day.
Alex: Agreed, speed is vital. ContentClick is a lean company and we can move very fast in terms of development, spotting trends and responding to them, as well as constantly innovating. That’s critical for the market we’re in. It also helps that we work with more nimble publishers who, like us, want to innovate and move faster.
Q: Liam, how do you structure your publishing business?
Liam: We have a saying “Manchester for funny, London for money”. Our Manchester office is purely creative and we don’t want to see any business done there. We have a team whose job it is to create the best content they can possibly create. We’re a round-the-clock publisher and for our writers it’s a passion, not a job. We don’t like to look at it in terms of ‘shifts’.
Q: How does that affect your content and publishing model?
Liam: We like to think we are in control of our audience. Let me explain: in excess of 70% of our audience comes from mobile but if we’re putting up a 10 minute video we know our audience will wait till they’re home to watch it with their laptop in the evening. It’s completely different to how our audience might consume a six second Vine video. It’s about being smart with your content, understanding your audience and structuring accordingly. If you imagine the Internet to be like television, we’ll wait until evening to put up our premium content.
Alex: We operate similarly, especially in terms of timing and targeting. We can select by city, interest and so on, which allows our content ad campaigns to be very accurately targeted. For brands this raises the CTRs and for publishers it lifts us into the top tier in terms of CPMs for their inventory.
Q: The timing and scheduling of your content appears crucial?
Liam: Yes. We look at our competitors and see when they post. We get that out of the way because as far as Facebook’s algorithm is concerned, it heats up so we make sure we’re the last publisher to post but also the best in terms of quality. Doing that properly means we’ll sit at the top of the feed for the next hour.
Alex: Liam makes a great point because it’s not just about timing and scheduling it’s also about quality. Everything stems from that and that’s why the synergy between us and UNILAD is so strong. We ‘get’ each other’s brand values and both place great emphasis on content quality.
Liam: You’re part of our site really. You wouldn’t tell the difference in terms of content.
Q: Social media sounds vital to your business model
Liam: Of course. Let me give you an example. A few nights ago there was a video released by the New York Times of a man being shot by a police officer. We spotted this by chance at 1am and by 1.45am we’d shipped the story to Manchester, written it up and posted it. The internet lit up and we woke the next day to find our post was second only to the NYT worldwide in terms of social media for that story. When you consider that we’re up against some very serious competition in the form of BBC, Mail Online and Vice News etc that’s going some.
Alex: That example highlights why there is only so much ‘machine learning’ you can do in publishing. Personal involvement is vital which is why we place great emphasis on building relationships with our publishers. With the industry moving this fast, you have to. We’ll see what’s happening on Liam’s website and work with him closely day-to-day and likewise they have access to our analytics dashboard. It’s a collaboration and we both give feedback to each other constantly.
Q: How are you monetising all this traffic?
Liam: We use ContentClick for content recommendation as well as Yavli which is cool because it circumnavigates ad blockers. We also use an agency, Blinkx Media, to sell our premium inventory. For a publisher like us, however, looking only at money is wrong. It’s always been content first and ensuring that our Gen Y audience is happy. You’ve got to be able to stop the money coming in from any direction if your audience is getting pissed off. We keep a very close eye on that.
Q: What does the future hold?
Liam: To date, our publisher journey has been dynamic. We used to be considered as just a University ‘funny site’ but that perception has changed and we’re now considered to be a far more editorial-focused, professional media outlet. Overall feedback has been very, very positive. The next six months for us are going to be insane. We’re hiring a sales team as well as making a whole raft of other changes.
I’m still a big fan of written editorial which might be surprising coming from a 23 year-old millennial. Yet while it’s a solid medium, video is the way forward and where things are happening. Video will be a bigger part of what we’re doing, no question. Currently, I see our only competition as Vice News because they’ve set the bar so high.
Alex: Things are moving so fast our development programme is just 12 weeks long. Sure, we have a long term roadmap but the key is to adapt to new trends smartly, innovatively and quickly. With video we’d planning to place recommended content within video in a slick, native manner. You can’t do that with YouTube so we’re looking at other options e.g. building our own player with monetisation embedded.
Liam: That’s interesting.I have doubts about YouTube as a platform and I’ve read several articles that suggest it’s just not competing with things like Facebook videos. To put it into perspective, since Sept 2014 Facebook video has generated over 2.7bn views for us. A Facebook video we put up four days ago has generated 52m views alone.
Ulitimately, it’s not just about monetisation or views for them. It’s about creating world class content that really engages. They believe that far too many publishers make the mistake of just chasing the money. So instead they focus on getting the synergy just right between the two in order to reach their goals, and influence their millennial generation of viewers.