At the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year if there were a prize for the brand that made the most noise it would almost certainly have to go to the Daily Mail Online. B&T finds out why.
Aboard a luxury yacht in a never-ending strip of luxury yatchs predominantly rented by internet startups, a fellow internet business, but one with roots in paper and ink was wowing the crowds as it reeled off one announcement after another.
Martin Clarke, the pugnacious publisher of the global business, announced a joint-venture with the world’s biggest communications company WPP and Internet challenger platform SnapChat to launch a new content marketing agency Truffle Pig.
In the same week on the same yacht, Clarke announced another JV, this time with US television juggernaut Dr Phil McGraw to launch Daily Mail TV.
Throughout the week, media buyers, journalists and investors were wheeled off and on the boat and treated to intimate performances and meetings with everyone from Sting to Kim Kardashian.
Aboard this very same ship, Clarke told B&T that the Australian operation of Daily Mail Online “was the least of his worries”.
When this proposition was put to Australian MD Peter Holder he was quick to defer credit to his editor Luke McIlveen.
“Luke McIlveen is an extraordinarily gifted and highly competent editor. He runs a really tight editorial ship. He works well with Martin [Clark],” said Holder.
Holder says he doesn’t have a great say in editorial, but by virtue of his having a background as a journalist, he’s able to work well with McIlveen.
“I don’t stick my oar in what he does, but we do bounce off each other . . . I might have an idea for a commercial feature and he’ll say you can’t do that, but how about this?
“That’s all anyone, be they a publisher or a managing director of a media business, can expect from an editor. The content does come first and in this day and age that really excites me.”
In a lot of his previous jobs, Holder says that “content became a back seat player and that’s why a lot of media players got themselves into strife because they’re protecting an ad share or they don’t want to offend then they lose their audience and as a result of losing their audience, they lose their market share anyway”.
Back to Clarke’s bouquet and Holder resists getting too carried away with the business under his stewardship’s success.
“In the infancy of Daily Mail Australia, everything is going in the right direction and it’s a great compliment from Martin, but I would also say that he’s fairly driven and expects everybody else to be as driven as he is. You don’t rest on laurels in this business. You take a rap when you get it, but you can also take an uppercut if you stumble.
“You’re not in any doubt. That’s what I like about working with Martin. If he likes something he’ll tell you and if he doesn’t he’s pretty crystal clear on that as well.”
Holder makes no apology for his ambitions of following the Daily Mail’s overseas success and taking the property to number one in
news website rankings. However his role is to also grow the website’s advertising share. Again he throws to Clarke’s efforts and talents as to where he thinks the business can go in Australia.
“Martin Clark started it from a classic, humble, largely unattended newspaper website when all newspapers were having to have a website. Not a great deal of focus on it, then he takes over and eight years later it’s a beast of a thing. Doing deals with SnapChat and Dr Phil.”
Yet Holder maintains that he doesn’t know if anyone fully realises how big the title’s potential in Australia is. “We’re number four in website rankings but I still think there’s a lot of people who don’t know who the hell we are. And yet you cannot say that about the three that occupy the spots above us. The ABC has a one hundred year legacy, same with SMH, then of course there’s News.”
Holder concedes there’s no denying that the three news brands ahead of him have an ascendency in terms of awareness, “but for us to be snapping at their heels in what has been a relatively short period of time is an extraordinary result, yet none of us are really satisfied as to where we are sitting at the moment, we want to be higher”.
The Daily Mail has a reputation for being all about the Kardashians, but its news channel is often the driving force for its traffic too. If the site is to make it to number one, it’s going to be on the back of its ability to deliver the news.
“I still think we’ve got a long way to go before we’re in everyone’s mindset for big news stories. There’s a big misconception about The Daily Mail out there that we’re connected to a London red top tabloid. A lot of people think we’re sleazier than we actually are. We’ll show shots of celebrities in bikinis, but people expect us to have a ‘page 3 bird’, and I think that’s where people are getting their recall out of whack.”
In its short history, the Daily Mail has managed to climb from thirteen to four and it’s still going north. Holder says it’s much to do with the paper’s attention to old-fashioned newspaper discovery.
“You might go there for the latest story about the Royal Commission into Trade Unions, but then you’ve just spotted another story that might be Karl Stefanovic has just eaten five chillies live on air. Oh there’s another story about Kim Kardashian and there’s another one about some ancient artefacts being found in Egypt . . . and once their brains are working like that, we’ve got them.”
And it’s a recipe that appears to be working commercially for the Daily Mail Australia as well. Holder said he spends much of this time worrying where he’s going to put all the people he’s hiring. A stark contrast to his time at Bauer, were he said he made something like 40 people redundant.
“There’s opportunity in all of the media . . . you’ve just got to think differently. It’s modern and dynamic, yet in some of its approaches it’s quite old school. I’m looking out over a classic newsroom. Luke and his team have editorial conference every morning, it’s not people hooking in over Skype, it’s a bunch of people with a list of stories and they sit there and they discuss it.
“Old-school newspaper techniques, like good headlines, good picture editing, great captions, snappy writing. All the things that make newspapers great is what’s made Daily Mail great.”
And to finish off, Holder can’t help but turn the spotlight one last time back onto his boss Clarke. “He’s one of the world’s busiest people in media, but he still has this innate ability to kick a headline and say it would have been better this way . . . I’m very lucky to be in this business, because it celebrates the thing I’ve always held true, which is good story telling. If it’s not a good story, it ain’t going to be read.”