News UK’s commercial arm The Bridge brings in experts to lead off-platform strategy

Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director of News UK’s commercial arm The Bridge

The Bridge, the commercial arm of News UK, has appointed its first mobile, video and branded content leads in a move that will steer its shift to “lead” distribution off-platform.

Milton Elias, previously head of mobile and tech futures at OMD, has been appointed as its first head of mobile & video whilst Joanna Carrigan, previously commercial editor at the Huffington Post, will become its first head of branded content.

The roles form part of The Bridge’s new digital strategic sales and partnerships department led by Oliver Lewis, which was created to build relationships with key agencies and clients as well as deliver advertising product strategy.

The two roles, following the recent appointment of Ian Hocking as head of programmatic, complete The Bridge’s four pillar digital strategy around mobile, video, branded content and programmatic.

“Mobile, video, branded content and programmatic, all powered by the wealth of data our audiences provide us with, are the key areas of focus for digital advertisers in 2017 and sit at the heart of our strategy in this area,” said Dominic Carter, chief commercial officer at News UK.

But Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director of The Bridge, explained how the creation of the roles is “far from siloeing”. Instead, he sees the need to have category experts in each of those areas as both to instill those capabilities across the sales team and make it easier to build relationships with clients.

Part of this change will see the commercial arm shift its attention to off-platform distribution, where Walmsley sees a “big opportunity for us to lead in that space”.

This will include developing creative, videos and branded content to sit on The Times and The Sun’s channels on third party platforms including Snapchat Discover, Apple News, Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles, as well as its video advertising platform Unruly.

This new focus will centre around mobile-first video formats. Walmsley believes advertisers have been slow to pick up vertical formats, something its 10-strong in-house Snapchat team can help quicken. Until now, its in-house production team has been geared towards creating video, pre-roll, vertical video, in-feed and branded video to sit on its own properties - The Sun and The Times.

“But we plan to change that,” Walmsley said. “We will grow those other channels, diversify our distribution across as many channels as possible. We are always looking closely at new partnership and distribution opportunities.”

The Bridge will apply the same strategy to its branded content, by creating different edits to “get the most out of each channel”, Walmsley added, adjusting video length, orientation, sound and subtitling according to how users engage with the various channels.

To that end, Carrigan will lead a new, centralised proposition that brings all of News UK’s assets - including Storyful, Unruly and its social reach - together to broaden the scale of distribution.

In her new role, she will also create new audience packages for advertising partners. The biggest of these will be around the publisher’s huge sport audience, that includes The Sun’s print and digital assets, Sun Goals, its betting and gaming division, and Wireless’ radio station TalkSport.

Walmsley said Wireless’ stable of sports-focused radio stations have a large social audience that The Bridge can use to distribute all the content it creates for brands.

Other packages will focus on lifestyle, entertainment for The Sun, luxury, automotive, finance and business, the latter two of which will target The Times’ premium audience.

Bringing this together is programmatic, which Walmsley sees as imperative to The Bridge’s offering.

“Programmatic is something we see as the way digital media will be traded in the future. Any of our inventory which is possible to buy programmatically we want to enable that, rather than thinking about programmatic as a siloed area, we want to have more strategic conversation with clients.”

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