A look inside Trinity Mirror’s digital fightback

A look inside Trinity Mirror’s digital fightback.

Trinity Mirror (like most ‘legacy publishers’) is a company under pressure as its traditional business model (i.e. generating profits from cover sales and print ads) continues to decline in the face of dwindling circulation, plus the ensuing decline in print ad revenues.

The group reported a like for like revenue fall of 7.8 per cent coming in at £347.7m for the first half of 2016 (albeit with an adjusted operating profit of 44.3 per cent), a period that also saw the rise and fall of The New Day, its latest stab at a national daily print title.

Trinity Mirror’s latest statement was quick to highlight its continued growth in digital audience with average monthly page views up 19 per cent on a like for like basis, hitting the 770 million mark during the period.

The publisher (now with a ‘challenger mind set’) is arming up as part of its fightback against the industry’s large digital media owners such as Facebook and Google when it comes to getting its own fair share of advertisers’ budgets.

Included in this strategy is a hope to challenge some popular perceptions, of both its advertisers, as well as perceptions of itself. In the wake of its ill-fated print venture earlier this year in the guise of The New Day, content and data are key to this strategy.

Included in this fightback is a unique audience that is much detached from the metropolitan media planning elites, plus journalists that have an intimate relationship with some of the world’s top sporting brands.

Modal Britain

The publisher is now in the midst of an ‘agency roadshow’, with an update to its ‘Modal Britain’ study (which debuted last year) where it typically profiles its audience. This is a “much welcomed insight,” according to James Wildman, Trinity Mirror, chief revenue officer, who additionally says it is using these insights to challenge the “herd mentality”.

“We see ourselves as something of a challenger,” explains Wildman, speaking with The Drum ahead of its financial statement yesterday (1 August). He goes on to say that the insights unearthed in Trinity Mirror’s studies are likely to run contra to many of the instincts of Charlotte Street’s [i.e. the UK’s media planning epicentre] London-centric media planners.

‘Print-ism’

Wildman, who has previously held roles at digital industry stalwarts such as Google and Yahoo, went on to say to The Drum: “The pendulum has swung too far … we call it print-sim.”

In particular, the latest iteration of the study will aim to flesh-out this thesis, with Wildman explaining his view that this ‘print-ism’ is propagated by the dual phenomena, listed below:

  • Subjectivity – Charlotte Street media planners are typically in their early-to-mid 20’s, with many assuming their own media consumption patterns are near-universal
  • Clients – Media agency staff are often under pressure from clients to deliver ‘media firsts’, and this often results in them trialling digital media activity, before a mass audience is there

Regional loyalty

However, those brands eager to engage with Trinity’s audience, which has a well-developed presence in the UK regions such as the north-west of England would do well to challenge their current modus operandi.

Citing comScore numbers, Wildman is going to market claiming that Trinity Mirror has the largest online news audience of all the commercial UK publishers, with over 41 million readers each month (across desktop and mobile), that are also generating 39.2.m video views in July alone.

He also states his belief that it’s the regional loyalty – the voting patterns of the most recent UK referendum reflect the disparity of attitudes across the UK - that is reflected by its diverse stable of titles, where its USP lies.

Local knowledge with a global appeal

In particular, he points to the publisher’s dominant titles in the north-west of England (i.e. The Liverpool Echo, and Manchester Evening News), as massive traffic, and engagement generators given the global popularity of the two cities’ three major soccer teams: Liverpool; Manchester City, and Manchester United.

According to Wildman, the unique access both titles have to their respective nearby football clubs helps generate a lifelong loyalty to those readers who are originally from the region (including those that have moved away), as well as fans of these clubs from around the world.

“The Liverpool Echo is the iconic example of local titles,” he says. “Those people come to our site [from all around the world] as there’s literally nowhere else for them to go.”

This intimate knowledge of both the three huge soccer clubs, as well as the local communities that surround them (as well as the other UK regions) “differentiates us positively”, according to Wildman. “We’ve got an advantage over every national news brand,” he adds.

Collaborative efforts

With such an emphasis on the unique nature of its audience, Trinity Mirror has also begun partnering with third party tech vendors in order to better profile, ergo monetise, its audience.

Again, this is something that represents a shift from the days of print, as the publishing group’s drop in cover sales has to be offset by improved margins on its media sales business, something it will find impossible without actually knowing its audience, plus their habits across screens.

To do so, the publisher is working with martech outfit Lotame for the provision of its data management platform (DMP), among a host of others including AppNexus and The Trade Desk.

“The thing that’s different now is that during the print days, we didn’t know a lot about our audiences, the newsagents did. Now we know a lot more, and the conversations we’re having [with advertisers] are around content and data,” explains Wildman.

Data harvesting

The publisher has also put into place its audience monetisation strategy, with the assembling of a ‘programmatic team’, presently headed up by Amir Malik (himself with pedigree in the digital space having served at Google, and other publishers such as MailOnline and DMG) having been appointed as its programmatic director in October last year

This progressive business unit is going up against the likes of Facebook and Google (both of which have massive scale) with this daunting task forcing the publisher to think outside of the box. For instance, it is now starting to mine its data better, as well as using gamification techniques to build the deterministic data pool.

An example of which includes better scrubbing its deterministic data (i.e. logged-in user data), as well as survey data, whereby the publisher puts a series of questions to a user, and then it is able to attribute certain characteristics, etc. to a user, a process referred to internally as ‘data harvesting’.

Proprietary audiences

Most employees at publishers will readily attest to the fact that ‘the conversation is less about inventory, and more about audience plus data’, and Trinity Mirror is no different, with Wildman explaining how it has developed some proprietary audience segments.

These include ‘model mums’, ‘sports fans’, and ‘savvy shoppers’, which can then be traded with media agencies to help improve their media buying, even if it is on a third-party’s website, a process popularly known as audience extension.

“We’re driving collaboration across the board, both internally, and also with our partners, both in editorial, and commercial,” says Wildman.

However, at present, this collaborative attitude towards its strategy is limited when it comes to joining one of the UK’s publisher alliances, such as the entity formerly known as Symmachia, for Wildman the proposition is an interesting one, but it will hope to benefit from a second-mover advantage in this regard.

Going by the publisher’s latest results, this strategy appears to be paying dividends, with like for like publishing digital revenue up by 14.4 per cent during the first six months of the year to £39.7m as digital display and transactional revenue rose 27.8 per cent.

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