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The Independent eyes 'diversified' content and inventory strategy in digital-only world

With its digital-first strategy fully underway, The Independent is considering everything from audience extension to new teams charged with helping it avoid the pitfalls that have left rivals scrambling to close the gap between traffic and revenue.

The publisher is at a pivot point in its evolution, having just moved from being a predominately print business to one firmly entrenched in the digital sphere; diversification is now key. So much so in fact that it’s already assessing what new departments it will need to future-proof itself for a wave of distributed content. Granted, the likes of Facebook and Google provide opportunities and challenges but when you’re a publisher that’s having to make such a massive adjustment quickly it’s all too easy to confuse those benefits and risks.

Consequently, the media owner’s recently hired social content editor is working on both social content creation as well as social content management. There’s also a recruitment drive for content creators, individuals who are adept at both producing both editorial and commercial content. These will build on a digital team that has already doubled in size since ESI Media axed the newspaper, with more than 40 journalists joining from within the Independent Print Ltd business. This takes the total editorial team to over 90, with additional hires throughout the year.

“Diversification is going to be key to this business, which is why we’re already building up the data side of the business so that its more integrated into our commercial offering,” said Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director at ESI Media.

On the need to publish directly to platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News, both of which The Independent already does, he said it was a “viable business model” for now but had reservations over the long-term benefits.

That need for greater reach is also pushing The Independent towards using its own first party data to monetise its audiences beyond its owned platforms. Known as audience extension, the business sees it as a key way to turn programmatic into a more premium service, though it’s still a few months away from having an actual strategy for ensuring brand safe placements is in place.

It's arguable that amid the rise of programmatic trading, premium inventory has become a scarce commodity for many advertisers, which is why The Independent wants to unearth more placements without having to create additional advertising space on its own properties.

“The biggest challenge for us is just making sure we can effectively combine all these things we’re doing together,” O’Donnell. “There almost two sides to the business; there’s a fast and templated way to reach audiences that involves create, data, content and our assets then there’s another more bespoke version that’s creating bespoke data segments or bespoke partnerships for our content solutions."

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