Native advertising helped save us, says Sound Alliance publisher

tim dugganSound Alliance owner and content director Tim Duggan has revealed the independent publisher would probably have folded without the growth of native advertising.

He told a conference in Sydney yesterday that content marketing now accounts for 30 per cent of its revenue, up from 20 per cent last year. Two years ago it was zero, Duggan said.

Speaking on a panel of independent online publishers that also included The Hoopla co-founder Wendy Harmer and The Mandarin publisher Tom Burton, he said the rise of mobile presented a major hurdle for the company’s portfolio of music sites which had been designed for desktops.

Until then the company was surviving on display banner advertising.

“Mobile changed everything,” he said. “By 2012 40 per cent of our audience was coming from mobile and for us that was a massive problem because advertising yield on mobile is massively different and only 10 to 20 per cent of what you can make on a desktop. Unless we did something dramatic our business was looking in trouble.”

Off the back of that it launched pop culture website Junkee, with a mobile-first approach, which Duggan described as a “massive shot in the arm”.

“It took us out of our comfort zone,” he said, revealing that native advertising probably saved the company.

“Native advertising didn’t exist two years ago. Last year it was 20 per cent of our revenue and this year writing content for brands will be 30 per cent. If we hadn’t seen that and jumped on it we probably wouldn’t have been here,” he said.

Duggan said Sound Alliance constantly monitors what stories are resonating with readers with its 14 content editors able to tell in “five seconds” what is popular. “We are giving the audience what they want,” he said. “It’s a combination of art and science. The art helps the science and the science helps the art.”

But Wendy Harmer, co-founder of The Hoopla, said such minute-by-minute scrutiny could backfire.

“I don’t really want that kind of feedback,” she said. “When I did radio I never really wanted to know the ratings in detail because it would change what I actually did.

“I like to follow my nose…rather than say everyone loves this so we must do more of it. If you know no-one is reading you don’t do your best work. You need to have faith with what you do and in your writers.”

Burton, publisher of public service oriented website The Mandarin, said for niche publishers it was more about engagement, citing an example of an important story that was “read by five bureaucrats”.

“Engagement is two things. It is who the audience is, in my case five bureaucrats in treasury, and two what did they do. I could tell they picked up the story, passed it on and read the whole thing.”

While publishers get “fixated” on big readership numbers, niche operations target a narrow audience, he said.

Steve Jones


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