Why I’m stepping down as Mumbrella editor to help grow our business

Tim Burrowes headshot

Mumbrella’s founding editor Tim Burrowes is stepping away from running the newsdesk. He explains why.

After nearly five years, today is my last day in the editor’s seat at Mumbrella.

I’m staying with the company, and I’ll still be writing for Mumbrella almost every day, but my role is changing quite a lot.

For the first time in something like 17 years, my job title will not include the word “editor” in the title. Which will take some getting used to.

So please forgive a somewhat indulgent (and long) post as I share what seems to have become an annual update on Mumbrella’s journey. You can find last year’s update here.

Our actual five-year anniversary is on December 9. But I intend to be on holiday by then.

Fair to say that we’re still making progress. Google Analytics tells me we’ve now had 18m visits and are closing in on 35m page views. Which is far more than we would have dreamed of when we started.

Source: Google analytics. The site is audited too, but not since the beginning

Source: Google analytics. The site is audited too, but not since the beginning

Not much has turned out as I expected. But in a good way.

Take the technology.

Five years ago, I was refusing to get an iPhone 3G, convinced that I would never be able to give up my BlackBerry’s keyboard.

At the time I was plotting the launch of a weekly PDF for media agencies, based on the evidence that advertisers at my previous employer didn’t seem willing to buy buttons and banners. (In my defence, iPads were nearly two years away, the Apple Newsstand three.)

The idea of running the office through shared documents and powering the office email by Google was a tad far-fetched.

And the idea that we’d be casually running an Asian operation with constant Google video Hangouts linking up the Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong team would have been somewhat grandiose.

Equally preposterous was the concept of being able to live stream video to the site at the drop of a hat.

Back then, one year old Twitter looked like a bit of a fad, albeit one I thought I’d play with.

And the media and marketing landscape we’d be writing about looked more different than you may remember too.

Among the free-to-air channels, there were just the five of them. Nine was the one that seemed to be in trouble.

Australian newspapers were crowing that they had avoided the circulation falls besetting their overseas peers.

Almost nobody was using phrases like “branded entertainment” or “content marketing” or “earned media”.

And flash mobs hadn’t become a marketing thing.

So we launched Mumbrella. Based on the free WordPress platform, the idea at the time was that it would be a quick and dirty blog where we would chuck content from our dreadful PDF idea.

The name Mumbrella was cooked up in the Beresford pub on October 15.

tim diary 2008Looking in my diary (I still had a physical one then), I was fortunate in my choice of drinking buddies that night.

It was Mark Holden, now worldwide strategy and planning director at PHD, and Andy McKeon, now global customer marketing lead at Facebook.

At some point in the conversation “media and marketing umbrella”, as the description of what we’d write about, was shortened. It was a strong name, declared Holden, because “Mum” was a warm word semantically.

So, with a vague business idea of PDFs, and somehow selling ads on to them, I left my seemingly secure and certainly enjoyable job on B&T.

Luckily the blog bit took off immediately, and it began to occur to us that the production effort of putting together a PDF was going to be a lot of work, so we dropped it before it began.

I won’t bore you too much with how the business has grown. But we’re now more than the simple blog. There are nearly 20 of us on the Focal Attractions team.

As well as the Mumbrella website, there’s the daily email which now has more than 35,000 subscribers. And alongside that the annual Mumbrella360 conference which turns over more than 1100 visits.

You’ll also be aware that we launched Mumbrella Asia some months back.

We’ve also tried to superserve different parts of the industry, with the likes of our branded content and entertainment event and awards beFEST, and our PR and social media offering CommsCon (I know the name is terrible. I promise to do something about it.)

We’ve also now launched our subscription offering The Source, which offers hard-to-gather data on which brands work with which agencies. And next week comes SAGE – the Secrets of Agency Excellence conference organised under The Source’s banner.

And of course this year has seen our grand weekly tablet experiment with Encore (more learnings to be shared on that soon).

We’re also growing what we offer in training, with the likes of Mumbrella Digital School, Mumbrella Social Media Academy, this week’s launch of Mumbrella Content Marketing Academy and occasional one off masterclasses.

Throughout this growth, I’ve been able to indulge myself with what has been without doubt the most intense, stressful, addictive experience of my professional life – editing Mumbrella every day. Writing a fair bit of the content and editing all that is produced by our growing team of journos.

It’s been absolutely my life – particularly in the early days when I was the only writer. Getting up before dark and going home after dark, at least six days a week. I loved it though.

Initially I camped out in the office of TNT magazine, where I spent what was usually 12+ hours a day sharing a room with possibly the loudest server in the world. It’s probably been three years since I was in that room, but I still hear that server. I remember working in that room during the height of the Australian summer (it may even have been New Year’s Day) and feeling like I was the only person in the country at my desk. But more importantly, I knew that our rivals wouldn’t be.

But for any journo, it would have been utterly addictive. Writing about a fascinating industry at a time of unbelievable change, telling it as you see it with no boss to order you otherwise.

The telling it like you see it bit is also the most stressful of course. The most important thing for a journo to do is to remember that they’re not writing for their peers, they’re not writing for their advertisers and they’re not writing for their contacts – they’re writing for their readers.

Which means that sometimes, when you tell it like you see it, you royally piss off those advertisers, peers or contacts.

Which is where that stress comes in. That moment when you’ve got a great piece – you’re sure it’s stood up, you know the readers will enjoy it, and you know it’s going to ignite a shitstorm. There’s often been a feeling of 95 per cent glee and five per cent sickness, wondering why the hell you put yourself through it.

Being editor of any site like Mumbrella though encourages a very specific, and self-indulgent form of working.

You get to dip into the fast-flowing stream and pull out a juicy morsel as it goes past. But you don’t have to (and can’t) deal with the entire stream.

inboxI began to realise that the only way of staying sane about my inbox (at the time of writing 56,511 unread emails) was to form the view that I (and more recently we) can’t cover everything.

Instead the job became that of delivering enough interesting and relevant material to hopefully get people to come back on another day.

But you become an internal bottleneck. It requires having very patient and supportive colleagues carrying the hidden non-editorial load, and dealing with a constant nagging sense of guilt that you’re holding things up that need your involvement.

Coincidentally, I was in the audience for yesterday’s Sydney presentation from Four Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss. I expected to be cynical, but too much of what he said about the challenges for busy people of finding ways of not being a bottleneck rang true.

This became increasingly true as we began to build Mumbrella360 and I attempted to put together the content off the side of my desk.

Not least, as it began to dawn on me, that just like most media owners, the journalism we do is effectively content marketing. More and more of our business comes not from the ads, but in using the relationship we’ve built up with our readers to work out where we might be able to profitably – and usefully – fill a gap through events or training or other services. In truth, that’s all content marketing. And if I want to help grow the business I have to become a better content marketer.

Which brings me to my new role.

I’ll be content director.

AlexAlex Hayes, Mumbrella’s new editor (he joined us from B&T a few weeks back), will report in to me. But those moments of 95 per cent glee and five per cent cold fear will now belong to him.

(To be pedantic, because of next week’s SAGE conference, our deputy editor Nic Christensen will run the desk for the next week, and Alex will take the role from the November 25. From December 1, I’ll be on holiday.)

Next year, I’ll be taking more responsibility for the content of our events, and for developing any future editorial offerings. To be frank, I’ve had to choose a more grown up and slightly less self-indulgent course. Because that’s how we will continue to grow. I’m going to have to try to kick the addictive allure of breaking news.

I can’t let go entirely though. Most days will still begin with a piece of writing for Mumbrella. But I will no longer be editing anyone else’s copy.

It’s exciting, because I think we’ve got a lot of growth (geographically in Asia and elsewhere; and in other sectors locally) to come. Also, I may finally get out for lunch once in a while.

And it’s daunting too, not least because I’m going to have to start answering my emails.

That will all have to wait for next year though. As of December 1, I’m taking a six-week holiday – my first of that length in nearly 25 years as a journo.

So thank you for reading. It’s been a once-in-a-career ride. It’s not over, but the first part is.

Over to you, Alex.

Tim Burrowes


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