Mimi Turner on producing 'relatable' content, the evolution of publishing and what's next for the Lad Bible

Mimi Turner, marketing director of The Lad Bible publisher, 65twenty, tells The Drum what's in store for the group and why she's keeping a close eye on Periscope and Snapchat.

With a move to London in the pipeline and 26 million fans on social, the Lad Bible has taken 2015 in its stride. In January, the online community's owner 65twenty appointed former journalist Mimi Turner as its first marketing director.

The Drum's editor Stephen Lepitak caught up with Turner ahead of their panel during the upcoming PPA event, Magfest to talk Snapchat, audience engagement and the changing role of the publisher.

Stephen Lepitak: You’re still fairly new to the job. What’s changed within the company since you joined?

Mimi Turner: Six or seven months now in a digital business is a really long time and actually I think an enormous amount has changed. I started in January but I’d been working with Solly Solomou [65twenty's chief executive] from about December.

Our ability to do things has has changed, all of the major channels we use, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have gone through two or three evolutions; significant, big changes. Our job is to understand and constantly evolve with those platforms so I would say seven months is a long time.

SL: You've said that you're going to move to London. What’s prompted that?

MT: Well, we have our commercial team down in London and we have the editorial and the rest of the business up in Manchester.

The business was born in Manchester and that’s the heartland but obviously for the commercial team it makes more sense to be down here so we had an office in Charlotte Street which was lovely but we’ve just outgrown it, so we’re moving to near the Truman brewery. We're just getting the décor organised, it's very important to have a great office environment for our guys.

SL: Within the time then that you’ve been at the Lad bible what changes have you seen within the publishing industry? I mean you’ve been a well-known face for a long time but what have you seen happen this year so far?

MT: What has been really interesting for me, as somebody who came from a journalistic background and then a publishing background, that the rate of change is bigger than anything I’ve seen before and just understanding that constantly optimising is the norm.

For example Facebook will do something new; we’ve seen Facebook monetisation video become something that’s ever more apparent, we’ve also seen Twitter changing its algorithm, we’ve seen Instagram really build, we’ve seen Snapchat come, Meerkat, and Periscope, These things didn’t exist, these things have just changed in the last six months so for us it’s constantly understanding where audiences are and what content works for the audience in that space.

SL: You’ve mentioned the developments like Periscope and Meerkat coming along and evolutions within the more established social media businesses but how, and how quickly, do you adapt to those changes?

MT: The first step is always understanding how the audience are kind of responding to that.

The Lad Bible, the Sport Bible, Pretty 52, the Odds Bible – those are our four brands, and probably for the Lad Bible alone we get about 1000 to 1200 content submissions each day. So people are saying, 'we want this', 'this is my video', 'I want to be on the Lad Bible' etc and it’s really interesting for us to constantly monitor where those are coming from.

So if they are coming in via Periscope, Snapchat or Instagram, that tells us from the ground level that things are really changing so we can see platforms coming along and how, the kind of traction that they’re getting as just a measure of the part of our overall base that they have.

SL: And who’s looking for it, I mean how big is your team? That must take forever.

MT: It has been undersourced because actually there’s generally been a couple of guys who are going through all the submissions but we’ve recognised that it’s a really important area for us so we’re putting a lot more resource into that.

Across the Lad Bible we only have about 15 to 20 people, and it's growing but it’s not doubling. We have a small content team but it is responsible for a really large output.

SL: And what are they looking for?

MT: They have the best instinct, I would argue, of anyone in this space about what content audiences want.

Our audience is 74 per cent 18 to 34 year-old males mostly in the UK but not exclusively.

When I first came to the business about 20 per cent of the audience was female and now it’s 27 per cent so we’ve kind of gone through a psychological threshold, but the audience is now looking for a mix of things.

It's incredible when people send in something that’s new, funny and clever and it’s not necessarily funny and clever just because some guy in Hollywood has made it. There's just an amazing amount of surprise and you can kind of keep on evolving that.

About a third of the content is very relatable. It's successful because the audience drives our news agenda; so if a guy raises £150 to take his Nan on a weekend for her 90th birthday and takes her to a fancy restaurant, then that would be a great story for us. That story is not going to be a BBC story, it’s not going to be a Metro story, but it’s a Lad Bible story because we are a community.

So there’s a difference in our mix completely.

SL: What do you think the success of the Lad Bible says for society?

MT: We have about 26 million followers on social across our group, so across the group we probably get about 33 million monthly unique views, but in terms of social following it’s about 26 million, and when we checked recently we found that almost half the UK 18-34 male population follow the Lad Bible.

What that tells us is what a community the site is. People want reasons to laugh, people want reasons to share content, they want things to show their friends that are funny, they want to show people stuff that’s cool and they want news about their lives – not a perception of what their lives actually are, but they want news about their world.

SL: One of the things that we always see, certainly with Buzzfeed, is that the mainstream media only tries to emulate the success stories of other publishers. Has the group experienced this from other media companies?

MT: I'm sure thereis always going to be an idea of emulating success and I’m sure that every other publishing business ever has looked at other people and thought 'would that work for us?'. There’s nothing wrong with that and it's actually a good idea because that's how we all get better.

We've picked on some very universal themes and we’ve probably executed it better. I think it's in the execution and you need to have genuine insight into audiences.

How you manifest it also matters and one of the things that’s really important to us is the UX and the UI. We’re really careful not to mess up our user interface and experience with ancillary things that don’t work for our audience; so we won't serve massive ads to you if you’re on a 3G network.

SL: Social media platforms are so important to you as a publisher but we’re seeing organic reach diminish as a result of, well, walls being erected and the social media giants looking for money in order for publishers to get the content in front of their large audience. Has that impacted you at all? Have you got the remedy? Have you solved this problem? What have you seen happen?

MT: I don’t really see that as a problem in the history of distribution, distribution has never been free. When I worked in the newspaper industry you had to buy the paper by the tonne, you bought the ink by the barrel, you had to get your copy of the Daily Express or the Sunday Express to 62,000 retailers up and down the country without fail by 6 o’clock in the morning. That’s a very complex distribution model.

I actually think that social media offers you a great opportunity for reaching the audience and all the things that we’re seeing from Facebook, from Twitter, from Instagram are about optimising that experience for their users so it’s our job as content creators and publishers to create the best content for our audience.

SL: So from the other end then, would you say that the problem that other publishers are facing is they’re serving content that just people don’t want to see, they have to pay for that?

MT: I have no ability to judge other, well I would never say anything, as a reporter I’m really passionate about content, I hate that though, I can’t believe I just said that I’m passionate about content.

The world has changed and the way that people discover content has changed.

SL: And last question then, what can we expect to see in the coming months then, you’re moving office but what else have you got planned that you can tell us about?

MT: Our job will always be to find the best funny, relatable, news-driven content which we can produce, and to curate it and understand it.

Hopefully you’ll see us on our journey of understanding Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and other different platforms to keep our audiences happy and to keep on measuring that level of engagement.

We've been working with Chris Preddie who is the youngest guy to have been awarded an OBE. He campaigned against gang culture so we've made a video with him which I think about half a million views already. We want to do more projects around this, our young male audience has a great desire to be understood and to be accepted and there are themes, politically, socially, that really drive them that I don’t think anybody else is able to really understand in the way that we are.

You can listen to the full interview below.

Mimi Turner will be speaking at this year's MagFest, the International Magazine Festival and Conference, taking place in Edinburgh on Friday 18 September. Find out more and book tickets here.

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