When former Omnicom media boss Colin Gottlieb took on the chief growth officer role at LadBible Group in February, he was literally tasked with ‘putting Lad on the moon’. After a career of arranging vast media audiences for huge brands, now he sits upon one of the world’s largest reserves of young, engaged internet consumers. Gottlieb now has to reverse engineer the products and opportunities he would have loved to have bought.
Colin Gottlieb joined LadBible in the final quarter of 2019, coming on as an advisor at the request of founder Alex Solomou.
“I was never going to do something which is another agency after 22 years at Omnicom," he says. "When I stepped down, Solly came straight in for me. When he wants to get stuff done, [like the Unilad takeover], he will get stuff done.”
The adman anticipated meeting a “swaggering lad” in Solomou. Instead, he was greeted by a “very considered, very quiet, very focused young man who was way more than his 28 years”. Solly, as he is known, is one half of the LadBible founding team, alongside Arian Kalantari.
Decades after a young Gottlieb rebuffed his father’s prompts to pursue a career in media rather than the family business (advertising), now he was about to join LadBible group – already one of the largest media assets on the internet - and be tasked with growing it.
Over the last few months, he's been looking for ways to "attack the opportunity" – even during the lockdown.
With 37 million followers on Facebook – more than the readership of all UK national newspapers combined – 19 million video views a week on new platform TikTok and 67 million uniques on its website, to mention a few stats, there's a lot of scale to play with.
“I wasn’t coming on board for tea and biscuits or to give out a bit of advice," a restless Gottlieb admits. He was invited to invent the role he wanted.
"I went online and Will.I.Am was a strategic board advisor of some internet bank. If it was good enough for him. It was good enough for me."
But he to learn the business from the ground-up. “I had never really gone in-depth on social media so I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in the last six years. Paid social is easy peasy but generating organic reach and engagement... that’s a creative art.”
Gottlieb's looking at the overlap of content and audiences with a focus to find new profitable pursuits. “It’s a huge oil field with only three drills going,” he said. The time is fast approaching to put more drills down.
"I've never had an audience [in agencies]. We always had to buy or create audiences for clients." Now that's not a concern.
The branded content wing is being upgraded into a more cohesive content marketing suite, with creative from its agency Joyride, and the reach all but assured on its huge social channels. On the programmatic side, it's recently secured the IAB Gold Standard and will be leaning on that as a trusted beacon for potential partners.
There's also that huge wellspring of data generated by the business – could it guide brands blindsided by the pandemic and huge global social movements like Black Lives Matter?
Lad in Lockdown
While there have been huge cuts across the media ecosystem, Gottlieb is proud to share there's been no furloughs or redundancies in the group. The same cannot be said for rival BuzzFeed, although it's more determined than ever to innovate in the similar 'Joy and Truth' space.
Months ago there was a new level of responsibility laid upon the platform's shoulders. It was the go-to route to young audiences. it had cut through, where many of the hard news outlets lacked reach. It stepped up its editorial game and responsibly reported on the coronavirus – a quick glance at the straight and informative tone of this coverage may surprise naysayers. It's worth remembering that some tabloids were still chasing clicks with sensational, and not-so-accurate claims.
LadBible has always wrestled with its past as a viral Facebook page. But a serious moment of maturation was when it received a shout-out from the World Health Organisation chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, who praised the social publisher for its role in fighting the spread of Covid-19.
Weeks later, there was "shock" in media circles when Simon Binns, editor of LadBible, popped up during the UK daily coronavirus press conferences to ask a question of the government.
"I WhatsApped the team and asked why BuzzFeed was on it and we weren't. We are the voice of under 30s," Gottlieb says.
The conversation progressed and all of a sudden the news team had to come up with a single question the projects the importance of the brand and addresses the concerns of its young audience.
Binns asked Priti Patel how police were enforcing social distancing and lockdown measures, and revealed that thousands had been fined for breaching the restrictions.
Indicating the importance of this moment, Gottlieb says: "I was standing in my kitchen with the TV on. Almost any pitch I'd given during my Omnicom days was nothing next to this. My heart had almost stopped watching Simon ask his question. But he knocked it out of the park."
LadBible trended on Twitter after the question. Not everyone was welcoming of the new player on the podium.
This comes with the territory, according to Gottlieb. "It showed that a lot of people still don't understand what LadBible is. But hundreds of millions of young people do. Politicians do. And trust me, celebrities do. Very canny people do. But some people in the ad industry still ask 'what's LadBible?'"
LadBible's gearing up a huge push in the affiliate marketing space. It is studying the huge rise of social commerce in the east. It believes that consumers will purchase goods through its channels.
An upcoming affiliate marketing partnership will serve as a "stepping stone" to a greater e-commerce push. For Gottlieb, it's just the next step of the relationship it has with clients. "How do you connect your brand with an audience in more than an ad? How do you create some form of interaction?"
LadBible's been creating these interactions for a decade now. More recently it's been building trust, habits and utility with that cherished young audience. Next is to use these channels to drive huge demand to select products. The likes of BuzzFeed and Jungle Creations have been pulling user data to inform brand partners what will sell in the cooking space. It will be late to the game – but looks to move fast to catch up.
"We're looking at e-commerce. We're looking at the way that Gen Zs will buy a holiday vacation through Instagram. We're looking at Shopify."
The group is also eyeing up pushes into audio, growing the LadBible app, making a noise in music, and Food Bible's just got 841,000 followers, "food, we haven't even touched it yet."
And as for a final hint, the group does big numbers in the US, without much of a presence or focus on the region. That may change.
Gottlieb concludes: "We've got the opportunity to build something insane. It's got an enormous audience and it's hardly been tapped."
Gottlieb spoke with media reporter John McCarthy as part of The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.
Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.