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Bauer Xcel boss: We spent too much money on tech but now we’re back to investing in editorial

Bauer Xcel was spending too much money on tech rather than on content, the boss of the magazine company’s digital division has admitted.

Christian Fricke: We haven't hit targets

Christian Fricke: Xcel had the wrong focus

The admission comes as the division “closes the loop” on its To Love network, with the launch of women’s network Now To Love bringing together a number of Bauer’s print mastheads including The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day, NW, OK!, Take 5, TV Week, Yours, Good Health, Mother & Baby and Shop Til You Drop alongside unique digital content.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Bauer Xcel managing director Christian Fricke said the business was too tech focused when he joined the Australian digital arm from leading its German sister in August.

“When I took over we were a bit too tech-focused and as a publisher we should start with content and how we reach our audience with content and how we can use this reach to connect our advertisers with our users, that is our core job,” Fricke said.

“We were too focused on tech so we invested too much money in tech and not enough money in editorial and the content we create and did not put enough emphasis on this and also not on our commercial offerings or processes.

“I really want to build Bauer Xcel to be the go-to destination for digital advertising for female-target groups in Australia and this is a matter of quality of audience we’re reaching, environments we’re building, the level of engagement we’re creating for our advertisers and the quality of campaigns we deliver.

“We had a wrong focus when we started,” he added.

Reflecting on the restructure decision Fricke said: “In most cases the structural problems lead to money problems. Like in any business you have to review where you put your resources, your investments and how you manage your costs and therefore I took this decision at that time.”

He said an example of the company’s “wrong focus” was how the editorial teams, despite being on the digital P&L, were “distributed everywhere”.

He said it has changed since September last year when Fricke slashed three senior roles, admitting at the time the company had not met its business targets.

“Teams are working closer together. It’s one editorial team, then we build up one commercial team with Jane Waterhouse, it’s a team of six now, working very close with our sales team and building the bridge between what we do, what we see, how we can engage our users and bringing this into unique concepts for our advertisers,” he said.

Waterhouse, former CEO of We Magazines, publisher of The Hoopla, was appointed general manager for consumer at Bauer Xcel Media in May, but has since dropped her editorial responsibilities.

Waterhouse

Waterhouse: 30% lift in traffic

She told Mumbrella the structural changes made by Fricke have been the “right decision”.

“My role originally was both commercial and editorial and Christian identified very clearly how the editorial side was suffering because neither was done very well,” she said.

“We’ve had a 30% lift in traffic since we restructured in this way, we’ve got a really healthy pipeline in terms of the commercial side.”

Fricke said the company now has “the right team in place.”

Meeting targets

Fricke said Xcel is currently “looking good so far” to meet its targets.

Year-on-year we’re looking good and pre-bookings for the year and Q1 especially are looking good,” he said.

“We moved very fast at the beginning to put the right structure. Since October we’ve had the structure in place and the strategy of what we want to achieve, of course there are iterations in everything, everyone knows what we want to achieve and what his or her role is and now it’s about delivering it.”

Fricke said that overall Xcel grew its revenues in 2016 “by nearly 50%”.

“We hope to to the same this year. It was a very strong year both in audience development and in revenue.”

In terms of traffic, Food To Love had a monthly average unique audience of 257,000, according to a three month average audience data for the last quarter of 2016, while sessions for the quarter were up 25% year-on-year, according to Nielsen Digital Ratings.

Homes to Love

Homes To Love had a monthly average of 104,000 unique audience across quarter four while sessions for the quarter were up 110% year-on-year according to Google Analytics.

Fricke added: “Launching Now To Love is a big milestone for the entire team.”

Now To Love

The launch of Now To Love follows on from the launch of Homes to Love in September 2015 and Food To Love in August that same year.

now-to-love-1

“We’re now closing the loop with the launch of Now To Love which means another 10 magazines to the table,” said Fricke.

“It’s very similar to Homes to Love which is already a hub for our interior magazines. We’re very happy with the development so far.”

The launch of the Now To Love network spells the end of dedicated sites for Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day, both of which were relaunched in April 2015.

On killing off the individual websites for a number of the mastheads, Fricke said he didn’t think “having a technical URL was necessary to keep the brand equity, brand voice and tonality”.

“This is how Now to Love is structured. We bring the best of two worlds – one is having scale and one is having the specific tonality and specific room for our different market leading mastheads,” he said.

“Every article that comes from Australian Women’s Weekly – either it was an article that was in print or produced by the magazine team or produced by our Xcel team but is 100% on-brand for AWW will be labelled with Australian Women’s Weekly as the originator.”

Fricke said brand pages for the mastheads would still exist allowing users wanting just Australian Women’s Weekly content to be able to visit that particular page.

bauer-xcel-christian-fricke-emily-kerr-jane-waterhouse

Fricke, Kerr and Waterhouse: Fricke says the right team is now in place in Xcel

Waterhouse said the change was about putting the consumer first.

Women aren’t defined by ‘I’m an Australian Women’s Weekly only’, we know they are incredibly diverse,” she said.

“At one part of the day she might be interested in Royals and the other part of the day she might be more interested in politics. We can’t just have them segmented in their own little area.”

On how the Now To Love label has brought together the various mastheads under a unified brand, Emily Kerr, Bauer Xcel content director and the ultimate owner of the Now To Love site, said the team has created a style guide.

emily-kerr

Emily Kerr: Trained print teams

“We’ve tried to find a happy medium for all the brands that would service who we envision being the Now To Love reader, being quite a broad reader,” she explained.

Kerr said the Xcel team has had meetings with all of the print teams and trained them in the content management system.

“We’ve talked them through on the areas Now to Love isn’t going to touch on,” she said.

“There’s some NW celebrity news they would go quite hard on their old site, but we’ve come to a happy medium with all of those different teams on what Now To Love is and what we touch and don’t touch and what our tonality is while still letting them have their flair with their brand presence around it.”

While the print teams will still have control over their own social channels, if they want a story on Now To Love they will need to pitch it to Kerr and her Xcel team.

now-to-love-3

“Tn terms of workflow, we’re going case by case depending on how involved they want to be. We have standups every morning that they’ve all been welcome to,” Kerr said. 

“If there is something big breaking that day they want to put an AWW spin on or an NW spin or an Woman’s Day spin on, then they just pitch it into us, we give them advice on how to ‘digi-fy’ that or if there’s any cross-over with what we were planning to do as Xcel that day, we’ll highlight that.

“They put it into the CMS themselves, we give it a once over and give it any tidying needed, hit publish and it’ll be brought to the user from that brand.”

What’s next after ‘closing the loop’ on To Love Network?

While there is much speculation in market on Bauer Media looking to buy Pacific Magazines, for Fricke acquisitions always need to be “complementary”.

“It doesn’t make sense to acquire something that is just like our home turf, we know how to do digital publishing,” he said.

“For example, we acquired Beauty Heaven one and a half years ago and we are integrating them more into our offerings now, they are very unique in how they sell and build these communications around their community. They are doing a lot with product sampling and product reviews and this something we want to learn and we could leverage it into other verticals.

Kerr added: “It sits so nicely next to a brand like Cosmo.”

Fricke said: “This is really complementary. There might be other publishers on the market that we are less interested.”

The team would not be drawn on the Pacific Magazines rumours or if they were interested in acquiring a stake in Mia Freedman’s Mamamia.

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