Bauer Media’s Jane Waterhouse on two years of Story54

It’s been just under two years since Bauer Media launched Story54, a storytelling division which helps advertisers connect the dots between their brands and female audiences. General manager Jane Waterhouse spoke with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about Story54’s growth, her favourite content from the last two years and why Story54 never wanted to be King Content.

*Ed note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and business implications

In February 2018 Bauer Media announced it would be launching its own content marketing arm. Story54, it promised, would allow brands to connect with female audiences, Bauer’s bread and butter, in a new way – led by the journalists who speak to them every day.

Content marketing became a very popular avenue a couple of years ago, but Jane Waterhouse, Story54’s general manager, thinks the success of the business has come from knowing what unique opportunities it presents to the market.

Waterhouse was named Publisher of the Year at the 2019 Mumbrella Publish Awards

“I guess no one wants to be a King Content these days, because they don’t exist anymore, but you know, that was never going to be where we played, that sort of mass production. It’s really about creating content firstly for us and the context is so key because the majority of briefs that come to us are for our brand audience, so whatever we create has to live within up to 17 different brands,” says Waterhouse.

“We’re about creating something that’s going to engage with the audience that’s still contextually relevant within an editorial environment.”

The Story54 niche

Story54 operates in a very unique space, says Waterhouse, because the content can be reported on, changed and optimised throughout the entire campaign due to it living on Bauer Media’s platforms for the majority of its lifespan.

When the agency was announced in 2018 this was the selling point and not much has changed. Premium content from content makers who know their audience inside and out is where Story54 plays, says Waterhouse.

But what has changed has created the natural expansion of the business. SEO-driven content came and went and while it still has a place, it’s left a hole for more complex and engaging content.

“We had to incorporate SEO driven content but also make it what we call thumb-stopping content,” says Waterhouse.

“The majority of the content created for digital channels is amplified through the social channels, which has been a really big push for us and has helped us evolve to how we tell stories today. Because of the concentration span of people, because of the crowded environment, we’re having to tell stories in a different way to get people’s attention. It’s highly competitive.”

The last two years have also seen Story54 coming in earlier on the brief, something Waterhouse says has been very beneficial for both the agency, but also for clients. Because Story54 is so close to consumers, it’s able to provide more research and insight the earlier it’s brought in, allowing a more cohesive process says Waterhouse.

Story 54 worked with Celeste Barber on the Holden Equinox campaign

The agency has also expanded the work it’s done in the premium space and working on more and more content that can be taken off-network and used beyond the walls of Bauer.

“We want more of that, more clients bringing us in early and seeing the benefit of our research. We really want to do more of that. We’ve been doing a lot of creative testing and are starting to see some results of that, we’ve seen a major car brand change their creative purely on the testing we did. A travel brand did the same. That creative is also moving off-network and another client introduced a whole new product based on the creative testing. That research and insight is a real focus for us.”

These developments have led to some of the work Waterhouse is most proud of she says, including some travel work for Wellington, New Zealand, Destination Canada and Queensland, and their partnership with Commonwealth Bank on Financially Fit Females.

“It was a really different campaign for them and a large campaign, a big partnership. It follows our agenda of creating more financially literate women.”

There was a huge output from Financially Fit Females – the platform was expanded across both print and digital, events, podcasts, video and ambassadors. Content with an agenda is a space Story54 is happy to play in and it’s something the agency has had a lot of success with.

Setting the agenda

Bauer Media and Story54 have been active in the fight against elder abuse, partnering with the Australian Banking Association (ABA) in its Stop Elder Financial Abuse campaign. This was an important campaign for two reasons, says Waterhouse. First and foremost, it was an important topic both to Australians but also primarily to Bauer’s readership, but secondly, it was a good chance for the publisher to establish the causes it is passionate about. The campaign was also very successful, resulting in legislative change.

Stopping financial elder abuse last year was a magnificent win on a very complicated topic with a lot of internal and external stakeholders. It wasn’t just, let’s give it a go, it was a program we were very committed to, and to have such a good result was excellent.”

Waterhouse has been with Bauer Media for over four years and in publishing and marketing for over 25. The last few years have been particularly exciting in the space, she says, with big developments in how female audiences are reached. Now has never been a better time to draw a line in the sand and define who you are as a brand for a female audience.

“We had to redefine how we were going to talk to her and it seemed like a perfect point to sort of put a line in the sand and go, okay, who is the Story54 woman and how are we going to talk to her and really champion that and do something about it.

“That’s where the activist agenda came from and for us to assist with the tampon tax, which we were really excited was removed after 18 years following a campaign that was informed by our research and our understanding of women.

“Finding new ways of tackling these topics – no one had approached the ABA in the way we did and finding new ways of partnering with businesses who may never have thought about it, that’s something that we’re really proud of.”

Bauer’s CEO Brendon Hill has also spoken previously about the publisher’s alignment to its #Femalefutures agenda, calling the inequality faced by women around the world ‘burning injustices and concerns’.

Hill says it’s important for Bauer to support its readers and the causes important to them

“Brands, today, also feel they must stand for something. In a fractious and divisive landscape, both at home and overseas, brands are increasingly taking positions on social issues. For some it is driven by a bandwagon mentality, underpinned by self-serving commercial interests. For Bauer, it comes from a deep-rooted and genuine desire to effect change through the influence of our brands, our readers and our advertising partners,” he said.

Looking to the future

Story 54 was launched to streamline Bauer’s market offering, joining up a number of divisions which sharpened the output for the publisher and gave one, solidified, product that could go to market. Going forward, the model is always evolving, says Waterhouse. As more direct clients come to Story 54 and the business works with more and more small agencies from the beginning of a brief, natural developments are occurring and the business is ready to take things to the next level.

“The next step for us is what we do on a daily basis but turning it externally. So we’ll use the same operations we have, the same strategies for content creation, but we’ll be amplifying that as an external offering.”

“The last 18 months have been so fast and furious and we’ve found having a chain of really mature leaders has been what’s allowed us to move as fast as the market needed us to. A lot of the teams have worked in different areas, whether it’s radio or other publishers, so being able to call on that past experience and wisdom has really helped.

“Our conversion rates when we’re working directly with clients and we’ve been brought in early on the brief is really high and the maturity of the team has helped with that.”

But there’s also more pressure than ever in the space, says Waterhouse, and publishers are having to get more and more creative.

“We were on a pitch the other day and there were 17 publishers in the pitch. The advantage of doing great work is we are now getting on the majority of briefs in town, the disadvantage is how competitive it is as we are all competing over the 30% of the ad revenue that is left after Google and Facebook have taken their share.”


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