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Joe Media poaches raft of competitors’ senior staff - and Times' Tony Barrett - to hail new era of media 'for men, not lads'

Joe Media

Joe Media now has four ex-BuzzFeeders in its senior team, and has poached the commercial director from prime competitor the Lad Bible.

Today (3 August) saw the male-focused title announce a second round of new hires, which include the arrival of Tony Barrett as its first chief football correspondent. The ex-Times Merseyside football correspondent recently made news for slating News UK’s coverage of the Hillsborough attacks.

Louise Emmerson, formerly brand partnerships director at BuzzFeed, will take up the role as VP of brand partnerships, while the Lad Bible’s commercial director James Wigley will lead the commercial strategy as director at the digital publisher.

On the editorial side, Joe Media has hired the Mirror’s former digital sports editor Rob Burnett as sports editor, and BuzzFeed’s senior staff writer Alex Finnis as deputy editor.

It brings Joe’s ex-BuzzFeed count up to four, including chief executive Will Hayward, formerly Dazed’s chief commercial officer and vice president of Europe at BuzzFeed, and editor Richard Beech, formerly sports editor at BuzzFeed.

“For a lot of people Buzzfeed is not just a website where they get news, it is a lifestyle brand and that is what we are trying to replicate at Joe," Beech said.

“There are lots of websites and brands out there that we would love to take elements from. I think the exciting thing about what we are doing is there isn’t a blueprint for it.”

The hires come at a time of huge growth for the brand after launching in the UK last summer, with its web traffic up 20 per cent month-on-month. According to editor Beech, that quota has “surged” since the title scaled back on its sports content and started to do more around politics and issues around mental health and body image earlier this year.

The sell in the UK for Joe when it first launched was ‘Men deserve better’. It is attempting to fill a gap between aspirational legacy publishers like GQ, Esquire and lad mags the Lad Bible and Unilad. It is positioning itself as brand that will “tackle a few difficult questions” while also educating and entertaining men.

Beech thinks the brand can "broadly be a force for good": giving men "a helping hand" but also giving them a hard time "when they need to be given a hard time" on issues such as domestic violence.

“Hopefully by giving men something better, we get better men and that would be good for everyone,” he said, “That is what we are aiming for.”

Hayward added: “We are making huge investments in journalism and content creators because we think there is a manifest difference between award winning content and wedding video fails. We think the UK male audience is crying out for a high quality digital publisher and we’re working hard to create the best sports, lifestyle, fitness and news content in our category.”

It’s clear from the onset Joe does not want to fall into the same 'lad' category of some of its competitors. It’s tagline is even “For men, not lads”.

These brands reach huge numbers of audiences, on Facebook predominantly, by “syndicating viral videos from video agencies”, Beech said. While the Lad Bible and Unilad have been making efforts this year to tackle hard-hitting content, it is difficult for such brands to change their identity, after already establishing such a notorious reputation.

“If you look at their audience I would hazard a guess that it is almost 50 per cent male to female so they are not necessarily male focused,” Beech said, “I also think some of those websites have difficulty creating a brand that readers are happy to admit that they interact with and therefore it is difficult for brands to be associated with your website.”

“It’s okay to say you are going to do hard-hitting stuff but you have to toe the line,” he added.

This is the advantage Joe has over such brands, still at an early stage of growth, with scope to change its steer. It can also hire people for specific roles rather than upskilling internally, which it claims its competitors must do.

The next area of expansion for Joe is in video, where the brand sees huge potential, especially in Facebook Live. The publisher is currently in talks with YouTubers, particularly those who are adept at gaming, as the brand moves further to break out from sport.

The idea is to hire video presenters who are skilled in every element of video, from conception to presentation to production, and turn that into Facebook Live content or shortform Instagram posts.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

All by Jessica