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How WePresent evolved from a curated wallpaper into a digital arts title

A still from Riz Ahmed's film The Long Goodbye, made in partnership with WePresent. / Vicky Grout

Cloud service WeTransfer's usage has spiked 15% to 70 million active users over recent weeks. With around 75% of its users working creatives, many of these new users are also engaging with its content marketing platform, WePresent.

In just two years, WePresent's quietly built a considerable audience with a bolder editorial voice than usually found in the brand-run media space. With humble beginnings in WeTransfer’s ‘wallpaper’ ad space, the title is helping to cement WeTransfer’s status as a friend to, and active participant in, the creative community.

And since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, WePresent has seen a rush of new readers drawn to its authoritative and distinctive take on art and culture. A million more readers engaged with its content in March, bringing its monthly readership to 4 million worldwide.

“We’re happy that people seem to come to our site to find inspiration and a creative escape in these difficult times,” says editor-in-chief (EIC) Holly Fraser.

‘Calling it content would be rude’

For years, the company has donated 30% of its digital inventory to spotlight the work of interesting artists and creatives, sometimes overwhelming the sites of creatives with a high-traffic wave. Eventually, Fraser explains, “we thought it made sense that there was a place that highlighted the work and allow people to find inspiration through what their contemporaries and their peers are doing.”

Fraser, EIC since 2019, spent her first year building on the work of predecessor Rob Alderson, establishing the platform’s voice and presence. Based between London and WeTransfer’s Amsterdam headquarters, she runs a team of seven – the smallest department in the firm. No longer just piggybacking on WeTransfer’s ad inventory, most of its readers visit through an attractive homepage. The gender split of its visitors is almost even (45% male, 55% female), aged between 25-39 and distributed across the globe due to its parent service’s universal distribution.

Now, WePresent is ready to “amplify” its work, unveiling a more expansive editorial strategy that includes an events series, with the aim of building “a voice in digital publishing”. An updated mobile offering is in the works, too.

WePresent is content marketing “at its core,” says Fraser, but not as we know it. The content is primarily made up of artist profiles, but it also regularly commissions artists to produce original work for its site and social feeds. In its two years, it’s worked with artists from over 75 countries; recent and ongoing collaborators include musicians Grimes (below) and FKA Twigs.

This curatorial approach might be unusual among brand-owned media, but it was “a natural progression” for Fraser, who spent seven years at Hunger, the indie fashion magazine published by Rankin, commissioning original shoots and features.

More recently, WePresent partnered with actor and rapper Riz Ahmed for a harrowing short film titled The Long Goodbye, directed by Aneil Karia. Ahmed says the film, and the new album it ties in with, is about “going through a break-up with your country”.

It interrogates issues of racism in Britain, depicting a violent raid on his family home by masked gunmen wearing St George emblems while white neighbours look on indifferently. Fraser acknowledges its gravity, saying that “calling it content would be rude.”

‘We’re not afraid to get stuck in’

The subject matter of The Long Goodbye – and the six-month partnership that produced it – demonstrates the freedom Fraser has to guide WePresent’s editorial direction. It’s necessary to pursue its editorial mission, which Fraser says is higher-minded than many of WeTransfer’s users might expect.

“A lot of people now think of it just as a file-sharing company. But it started with two designers who were just looking for a way of sending their creative work to each other.” Now, she says, “We want to be the most representative creative site on the internet.”

“We don’t necessarily report on [culture] but we do have an actual hand in creating it. It makes us a little bit different in the brand space –we're not afraid to get our feet and hands stuck in,” says Fraser. “A lot of brands would stand back from getting as involved as we do, but these days, brands are trying to be more like humans and humans try to be more like brands. We want to give a voice to creativity, no matter where that's coming from.”

Prior to the lockdown, WePresent hosted its first live event, an exhibition of photographer Renell Medrano’s work. “It was the first time when artists, creatives and our readers could get together and discuss ideas,” says Fraser, who notes that the success of the exhibition is fuelling ideas for creative conferences and further exhibitions.fi

‘We’re doing what we can to help the community’

Despite coronavirus postponing its live events ambitions, WePresent is doubling down on its content strategy. Fraser says the platform has to “justify daily” its place at WeTransfer, but that the focus is on quality, not page views. “If the stories weren't interesting, we wouldn't be able to stay afloat. That is the core of what we do: making sure these are things that you actually want to read.”

This week alone, the platform launched a new writing vertical called Literally, featuring contemporary writers such as Bernadine Evaristo. More surprisingly, Fraser says it has no plans to pull back on freelance commissions.

“We're not going to be cutting our freelance budgets. On a monthly basis, we work with about 20-25 freelancers across writing and illustration. We're actually moving to commission more at the moment. Some of that stuff won’t be published until September but it's at least allowing people to be doing a job now that they will get paid for.”

Additionally, WeTransfer is giving away 500 million ad impressions to creatives and causes affected by the coronavirus. Fraser says the initiative, and its continued commitment to working with freelancers is part of WePresent’s efforts to be a good digital citizen. “We’re not [as big as] Facebook, but we're doing what we can to help out the community. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be a platform,” she adds.

When the lockdowns lift and the dust settles it’s likely that tools like WeTransfer will have become essential for their homebound users. It's also likely that much of its base of freelance or furloughed creatives will be converted to regular readers.

Fraser concludes: “It’s a difficult time, but there’s a slight silver lining for us at least.”

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