Why The Evening Standard is betting on luxury lifestyle to crack America
The Evening Standard has made its first steps into the US with the opening of a New York office. The founding team’s remit is to develop Insider, a new luxury lifestyle platform the publisher believes will entice American audiences and advertisers.
The Evening Standard, the 191-year-old tabloid known to most as London's daily evening freesheet, has been inching towards international expansion for a while. It dropped the biggest hint that plans were afoot when its editor announced he would be eradicating ‘London’ from the paper’s masthead as part of his plans to "turn up the volume” of the title.
“We are going to the name that the readers understand, and I think it also speaks for the ambition of the paper, which is to not just look into London but also to look out to the nation,” said George Osborne at the time. As the UK’s former chancellor of the exchequer, he was an unusual candidate for parent company ESI Media to select as the editor.
“Now we have a big online presence… many of our online readers are not in London.”
In fact, many of its online readers weren't even in the UK. The digital team watched as organic traffic from North America continued to grow, attracted predominantly to its trend-driven lifestyle section and news of British high society – an area Osborne earmarked to enhance when he first took on the top job in May 2017.
“It's worth saying that over the last 18 months we've been trying to change the tone to some extent of what we do to make it more appealing to audiences outside of London,” says David Tomchak, The Standard’s digital editor-in-chief. “What we've been looking at is taking the cosmopolitan stories of the city – the liberal, open-minded, pro-arts and pro-business vibes that are in London – and trying to package them up in a way that's appealing to audiences outside of London.”
Now, after less than a year of planning, the digital team has set up shop in New York in order to publish original US content for its burgeoning international audience. The team has devised an entirely new platform – Insider – to house content from its Manhattan-based journalists and content creators, who will work directly with a sister team on the other side of the Atlantic.
Lucy Pavia, a former editor at Marie Claire, has been brought on board to head up the section from The Standard’s headquarters in Kensington, London.
Capitalizing on organic audience trends, Insider will focus on high society, luxury and lifestyle. Its website runs from The Standard’s URL, yet its look is more reminiscent of Net-A-Porter than a British tabloid; the design is minimalist and clean, and the hi-res images that punctuate the pages are adorned with bespoke colour blocks.
“I don't think we could say this is our first luxury platform digitally without it embodying that spirit,” says Amira Hasish, executive editor at The Standard. “It made sense for us to spend time on the design.”
Content is filed into five sections: A List, Royals & Society, Living, Style and ES Magazine – the online portal for the paper’s weekly lifestyle mag. Its stories will be “positive and aspirational” and the copy will be written for the “millennial lux” crowd: “people who are really informed and educated with high disposable income,” Hashish explains.
But that’s not to say that stories filed from Insider must stay there. Tomchak envisions a transatlantic newsroom where relevant lifestyle content from New York can be repurposed for the next day’s paper, and the time difference means photos taken at parties winding down in Manhattan and LA can land on the London picture editor’s desk just in time for press. A budget has been set aside specifically for stills and video.
For Hashish and Tomchak, the calibre of Insider’s advertiser base will say as much about the new brand as its journalism and design.
“The brands you work with send really strong signals,” explains Tomchak. “The audience understands who you are not just because of the content but because of the type of sponsors that are associated with it.”
Which is why Harrods, Insider’s launch partner and first sponsor, could not have been a better fit. A West-End neighbour of The Standard, the department store is also in the process of infiltrating the US market, so has invested in a full takeover of the site until Christmas. It even sent one of its iconic ‘green men’ to Insider’s Williamsburg launch party, which was held at the venue of another ex-pat London brand – The Hoxton.
Aside from luxury British brands looking to make inroads in the US, The Standard’s partnership team has been approaching pan-American and international clients too. Tomchak admits brand recognition outside of the UK and the jet set is still low, but still: “It's interesting how much interest has been inbound, as opposed to us going out and trying to drum up interest.”
The biggest pitch to advertisers will be “commercially valuable audience” Insider hopes to attract, says Tomchak. Five strands of sponsorship are on the table: luxury programmatic, sponsorship, advertorial, events and native video. The digital editor, a BBC alumnus, views the latter as somewhat of a trump card, due to the strength of in-house content creators available to brands.
“We already work closely with lots of brands to bring to life their campaigns using our team, to some extent acting as a creative agency,” he says. “That's worked really well because ... the editorial team knows what works best for the site. If a brand wants to come and work particularly in the native space with us, we can make sure that – without blurring the lines of what's editorially appropriate or not – the talent that comes in to create the content knows what works best for the rest of the audience.”
What will US success look like to The Standard? For Tomchak it’s winning awards and making money. The latter is particularly salient given the company’s recent financials, which were £10m in the red as of June (ESI Media said the brand was going through an “investment phase”).
“The US understanding the quality of what we do would be something we would expect in six months’ time – that doesn't mean it's a huge audience, but an audience that recognises and are positive about the brand,” says Tomchak.
“But if I'm not making money, I'm not going to be employing any journalists.”