Mumbrella is six – Now we’ve got a history

Tim BurrowesToday marks Mumbrella’s sixth birthday. Tim Burrowes has a progress update.

A couple of months back, I realised the way I look at my time with Mumbrella is changing.

Until recently, Mumbrella existed for me in only one tense – something I do. Nowadays, it’s also something I did.

At six years, we’ve now been doing Mumbrella for long enough that we’ve got a history. And part of that is that once a year, I offer you, our reader,  some kind of a birthday update.

And this year has been one of the toughest  we’ve had yet. We’ve faced a couple of big tests, and have grown up a little as a business. More on the tough calls in a moment.

First let’s get the numbers out of the way. Google Analytics tells me we’re closing in on 50m page views. I reckon we’ll hit that milestone early in the new year.

google analytics mumbrella 2008 2014

Source: Google Analytics

Throw in the 1.2m page views that Mumbrella Asia has delivered since we launched that last year, and we’re tantalisingly close to that 50m.

And while we’re doing numbers, I see from the URL that this post will be our 266,772nd

In terms of subscribers to our free daily email, we’re up to 42,890.

On social media, we’re on just over 73,000 followers of our main Twitter account. And at the time of writing, we’re tantalisingly close to getting our 30,000th like on our Facebook page – we might even get there today.

It’s also traditional for me to share some detail on our finances, which up to now have seen us grow in turnover each year, but roughly break even because of reinvesting in the business. That’s no different in the last financial year. Well over half of our income is through events now.

Our Australian revenues amounted to just over $3m, with a profit of $47,000. But we managed to turn that into a loss by spending just over $200,000 on our startup in Asia which is now just over a year old.

At the half way point for this financial year, we’re on budget for growth in revenue and even, shockingly, to turn a small profit. I’m delighted to say that display advertising has seen something of an unexpected surge in recent months.

But, it’s not been an easy year.

It’s 12 months since I stepped away from the newsdesk to focus on working on the content of our various conferences.

At the time I made some bold claims about still writing for Mumbrella every single day. That bit didn’t happen, and jeez I missed it.

Internally we also talked about Mumbrella’s changing responsibilities now we had become the biggest marketing title rather than the challenger brand. We decided we wouldn’t automatically run towards every fight.

But I did get three weeks back on the newsdesk in June, which brings me to the first of our big, stressful tests, and a fight we ended up running toward anyway.

dogposter2-468x669I was covering the desk while our editor Alex Hayes was over in Cannes covering the Lions Festival. He became suspicious of some of the shortlisted Australian entries and as we began to investigate, it became a campaign – and one of the most polarising things we’ve done to date.

We found ourselves calling out agencies and marketers who we respected and liked. It quickly became apparent that some of these questionable entries had come from agencies we were friendly with. But we couldn’t pull any punches.

It was the biggest test we’ve had of whether we could stick with the principles of writing for the readers and not our mates – even if it meant upsetting people we liked.

And we lost friends over it. In truth, it was probably the most stressful time I’ve had since starting Mumbrella. I was given the movie-style warning that we had angered powerful people. And some of our rivals attempted to turn it to their advantage, including a faltering attempt by the owner of Campaign Brief (who had previously been encouraging us from the sidelines) to persuade agencies to boycott us in favour of his own outlet.

It felt like an important issue, and the right one for us. But it was no fun to do.

We faced another big test on the Friday night before last when our deputy editor Nic Christensen stood up an important story regarding media agency Mediacom’s misreporting of TV numbers to a small number of key clients.

It was another tough test because Mediacom’s parent company Group M has always been extremely good to us.

Nic, Alex and I cancelled our plans for our various Friday nights, as Nic worked the phones with multiple sources while we prepared to send out a rare breaking news email once we were 100% certain of what we had.

The story was an important one in the industry’s interest, but again I had that sinking feeling of causing trouble for a friend. It was also one that was going to have major reverberations for the entire media agency ecosystem given that it would raise questions across the whole industry.

mediacom breakign newsAs we prepared to send the email and Nic said “I feel sick”, he wasn’t the only one.

But as we watched the emails being opened – and forwarded around the world – on our Campaign Monitor dashboard, it felt like we’d again done the right thing by our readers.

To be honest though, making journalistic calls is still the bit I find easiest.

This year the hardest thing has actually been facing up to the fact that we’re now running a business with a staff of nearly 20.

For me, it’s gradually dawned that I’ve got an awful lot to learn as a manager. After years where the most important thing is a deadline a few minutes away, projects have always been run off the side of a desk. Structured, long-term planning and project management have been a boring luxury.

Yet dull as it may sound, the biggest challenge we currently face is recognising that we’re not a startup any more.  Our next phase of growth is going to be about building a grown-up management structure so that the company can grow. In recent months, half a dozen of us have been spending our Thursday afternoons in management training.

We’ve actually set down on paper what we view as the purpose of the company. It sounds a little obvious, but it’s this: “To help our audience in their working lives and careers”. It’s important though because it will remind everyone in the company that our job is to serve our readers first, and is what our team will be judged by. We hope that by serving this audience well, the commercial opportunities will follow, but telling it as we see it to our audience is what underpins everything else.

We’ve also started to think about whether our board needs to include grown-up, outside voices.

And my role will change some more. Having done a full year hands-on with almost every one of of our events, I’ll start to hand over a few of them. Alex is curating Mumbrella Perth, which runs for the first time on February 25. Nic has been curating the call for entries and early content for our PR and communications conference CommsCon which returns in March. And our chief reporter Steve Jones has been putting together the content for another event which we haven’t announced yet. Journos tend to know the topics and what readers want better than anyone else.

Meanwhile, there’s another gap in our capabilities. Because of our big reach, we’ve never needed to be terribly good at marketing.

But the danger is that as we continue to grow, our readers get sick and tired of us bonking them over the head with every event we do. These days there are a lot of them.

So we need to get a bit more sophisticated with our digital marketing, and for the coming months that’s going to take up a big chunk of my time.

We switched over our email service to Campaign Monitor a few weeks back. It’s fucking awesome. And I’m only just beginning to get my head around the intricacies of segmented marketing. (You may or may not have noticed that if you click on the bottom of your emails from us you can update what you receive from us in all sorts of ways.)

Similarly, we have some marketing opportunities if we get our retargeting house in order.

In short, part of my time next year will be as a digital marketer.

All of which makes for one of my less exciting annual updates.

I guess we’re growing up.

Tim Burrowes is content director of Focal Attractions 


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