Channel NewsAsia jumps into the lifestyle news arena with CNA Lifestyle

The Lifestyle team is led by supervising editor Phin Wong, who will oversee a team of editors and journalists.

Channel NewsAsia, the 19-year-old television news channel owned by Singapore’s largest media organization Mediacorp, wants its audience to not only come to its platforms for current affairs but for lifestyle news as well.

The news channel, which targets professionals, managers, executives and businessmen (PMEBs), launched CNA Lifestyle in September, a move which mirrors rival Singapore Press Holdings, which signed a licensing deal with Business Insider in July to operate the BI’s Singapore and Malaysia editions and complement its news with a ‘millennial-focused product for young working professionals’.

CNA Lifestyle has been added to channelnewsasia.com, CNA’s digital news platform and sits alongside its CNA Insider offering, which produces stories on people and offers a deeper look at Singapore and Asian issues through investigative journalism.

The CNA Lifestyle team is led by supervising editor Phin Wong, who has spent more than a decade working at Mediacorp and will oversee a team of editors and journalists who previously covered lifestyle news for Mediacorp like Genevieve Loh, Mayo Martin, and May Seah.

Explaining how CNA Lifestyle will be different from CNA’s other products, Wong tells The Drum that while they are related, just like any family, there have distinct personalities even though there is a certain family resemblance.

He also describes CNA Lifestyle as ‘the sibling that’s a little more fun at a dinner party, enjoys having a giggle as much as a serious conversation, and likes its shoes and champagne a little too much (not necessarily in that order)’ because everybody has a lifestyle and Lifestyle’s job is to help them live it better.

“I think personality is incredibly important when it comes to lifestyle content. We must look at it honestly: We are not the only ones talking to PMEBs about dining, travel, style, wellness, and entertainment. So, what do we do to stand out a little? We have to put a little of who we are in it,” Wong explains.

“Singaporeans love burgers, as you can tell from all the new burger joints popping up around town. But anyone can send out a listicle of these new restaurants. Our story was a fun piece about a girl on a relentless quest to find ‘The One’; true love in the perfect burger at these new hotspots. Burger Tinder, if you will. Dating is a good metaphor for what we do. If everyone asking you out kind of says the same thing, you remember the guy with the amusingly inappropriate knock-knock joke.”

While CNA Lifestyle is keen to tap into its parent’s television and radio offerings to amplify its content, it wants to avoid merely slapping digital content on mass media platforms. In addition, it also wants to avoid relying on the reach of Mediacorp’s mass media platforms as traffic drivers to its content.

Doing this would be a massive waste of an opportunity to reach out to its PMEB audience wherever they are, says Wong. “We have to make sure CNA Lifestyle works for the audience on each particular platform. What is our content on TV and radio, and how does it all relate to our digital and social content? Does it make sense on its own and as an entire content ecosystem? What we are developing has not really been done before in Singapore on this scale, so we are very excited.”

Wong, who was the executive creative director at Mediacorp’s content marketing arm Brand Studio when it won ‘Best Integrated Cross-Channel Cross Media’ for a campaign at The Drum’s 2017 Content Awards, has dreams to make CNA Lifestyle a highly sought-after destination for advertisers looking to target consumers.

To achieve that, Wong will draw on the lessons he picked up from producing campaigns for over three years at Brand Studio, including the “Be Ready For Life” campaign for Manulife which picked up the gong at the Content Awards.

One key lesson, he says, is listening to the audience, which does not necessarily mean giving them exactly what they already want right now, but understanding what they like, how they feel, what they react to, what they want out of life, what infuriates them and what makes them laugh.

“Pay attention to them. That needs to be part of our research, whether it’s paid or editorial content because that’s going to be the reason the audience opts in,” Wong explains. “The Manulife campaign was essentially content on personal finance and planning for the future, and unfortunately you are not going to have much luck making people sit down and listen as you spout sound financial advice against their will. The audience is not necessarily looking for that information because they might not know they even need it.”

"What we did at Brand Studio was to focus on what the audience knew they wanted. It might be to travel more, or start a family, or even switch careers. They know what they want – so we created the opportunity to help them understand the financial questions they needed to ask in order to make it happen and then provided the answers. You cannot give people answers to questions they don’t currently have. I take a similar approach with CNA Lifestyle.”

This approach will future-proof CNA Lifestyle’s content strategy as it seeks to move on from simply delivering to a waiting audience, to allowing its audience to seek out content and having its pick of where to get it from, according to Wong.

He explains this means making content relatable to CNA Lifestyle audience and at the same time, keeping the content fresh by staying true to its voice, be it part of a community, social discourse, a movement, a complaint, a queue for some new bubble tea, or just being in on a joke.

“It was easy to just say, “Well, hello there. These are the things we think you should know. See ya tomorrow.” We can’t think like that anymore,” says Wong. “We should certainly keep our editorial hats on and we most definitely need to keep our sensibilities about what stories are worth telling – but we need to make it relatable. Otherwise, we would be the guy in the park talking to pigeons.”

As publishers continue to find ways to pivot to cope with the walled gardens by exploring mergers and ceasing the print editions of some publications, we will see more new initiatives like CNA Lifestyle. The jury is now out on whether and how advertisers and consumers will respond to this new direction.

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