Features

Why BuzzFeed Australia isn’t screwed

BuzzFeed has been making global headlines for major job cuts in its US and UK offices. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios sat down with BuzzFeed Australia's general manager and editor in chief, Simon Crerar and David Nemes, vice president of brand strategy to discuss how the Aus office is bucking the trend.

In the last few months, more than 40 staff in BuzzFeed’s UK offices and 100 in the US have lost their jobs.

The cuts were part of an attempt by the publisher to change its business model and boost revenue, after The Wall Street Journal reported it would fall short of its revenue projection — of around $350 million — by about 15% to 20%.

By all accounts, the publisher’s global situation doesn’t look great.

BuzzFeed Australia’s Nemes (left) and Crerar (right) have strong hopes for the future of the local arm

But not all markets have been impacted by the cost cutting exercise, and for BuzzFeed Australia, which now has more than 40 employees, the story is quite different.

The local arm, which general manager and editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed Australia Simon Crerar describes as “full service”, is showing strong signs of growth.

“Across all our numbers, in terms of our page views, our video views, our shares, our watch times, we are seeing a very good arc forwards and we are very excited about that,” Crerar explains.

“We saw the session times go up 37% last year, on our owned and operated properties in Australia, which was really amazing.”

David Nemes, vice president of brand strategy at BuzzFeed, also confirmed with Mumbrella the company had seen “double digit growth in revenue” locally, although would not disclose the full amount.

But the global company, which entered the market four years ago, used a different growth strategy to other competitors – such as Daily Mail and Guardian Australia – which launched in the market around the same time.

For many global publishers, Australia is ripe with opportunity, but coming in with a sizeable amount of staff and bold growth prospects doesn’t necessarily work.

For Crerar, starting small in the Australian market was crucial to growth.

“We came into this market pretty light and we didn’t have a lot of people in the beginning,” he tells Mumbrella.

“There were three people in the beginning and we were selling ads and working with partners, but it was sold from New York and the creative was down from LA.

“We went in slow and built an audience up, whereas some of our competitors came in pretty big. The Mail and the Guardian have made a huge impact in this market as well, but we are feeling overall that our trajectory is really good.”

Building a local business wasn’t about having a big staff and a full offering in the initial stages. Rather, it was about understanding what content the Australian market likes to share, and finding a way to resonate with the Australian youth.

Crerar says it has been about combining the best of BuzzFeed’s global assets and big reach to assist growth.

“We have news and Buzz, we have social and video. We have the ability to do everything in house. We are making Tasty videos, we are doing all our creative here, we can work in an effective way,” he says.

“There’s a whole range of things – we do stuff with Snap, we do stuff with Instagram so there’s a big play on the way across lots of different areas which is really exciting. We love Facebook and we spend a lot of time there, but we aren’t by any means just a Facebook company and we’ve added some advertising to [BuzzFeed.com and apps] and we have a huge audience there that we previously weren’t monetising.

For Nemes – who leads the brand strategy team – the local audience has been crucial to the publisher’s success with brands.

The local office and local brand has been hugely vital for us… A lot of the time these people are reading what Lane Sainty, Gina Rushton and Paul Farrell are writing about so that’s really helped. People are really surprised about our local reach.

“We’ve managed to work with some amazing brands. The Tourism Australia campaign was a great campaign for us. It allowed us to unlock the real value of BuzzFeed.

“You need that Aussie flavour and that’s why we’ve gone – we ended 2016 with eight or nine of us, and now we are 20 just in the commercial team.”

A Tourism Australia and BuzzFeed initiative began in August last year, commencing with an opportunity for eight young travellers to go on a three month road trip and report on Australia’s culture, festivals, events, food and wine, known as the BuzzFeed Mateship program.

Later, BuzzFeed and Tourism Australia announced the creation of news channel Aussie News Today.

Crerar believes the offering BuzzFeed can provide, namely the ability to translate content, led to Tourism Australia’s decision to partner with the publisher.

“Tourism Australia has one of the largest numbers of Facebook fans for a country in the world, and the most Instagram fans. And yet they came to BuzzFeed to try and help them reach youth. That’s a great validation for us,” he says.

“They are trying to get young people in the UK, Italy, France and Germany to come to Australia, and it’s been great to see that content. We have this ability to translate that content. We have an adaptation team which is translating these posts and sharing them in those countries.

“Our competitors in market can’t offer brands anything like that.”

But creating local content and starting small isn’t the only way BuzzFeed Australia has built its brand. Like its global counterparts, the business has also been looking to diversify its revenue.

In November last year, BuzzFeed Australia appointed creative Simon Veksner as its first senior creative lead.

With the localisation of video production, Buzzfeed Australia will be able to locally execute and deliver video and bring some of global franchises – like Tasty and Nifty – to Australia.

“We have been very focused as a business over the last few years, on diversifying our revenue. We have BuzzFeed which is the core DNA of our entertainment content, we have BuzzFeed News and we have BuzzFeed Studio,” he says.

Crerar also hinted at more plans, but would not tell Mumbrella what exactly they entailed.

Yesterday, BuzzFeed announced a global partnership with NBC Universal for a new parenting platform, Playfull.

What will become of BuzzFeed Oz and Facebook?

As of February 7, The BuzzFeed Oz Facebook page has 2.5m likes and 2.4m follows. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed Oz News has 61,246 likes and 62,249 follows. BuzzFeed Oz Politics has 85,984 likes and 86,768 follows.

“We have a very solid, deeply engaged audience on Facebook around Oz News and Oz Politics.

“Beyond those pages we have global pages [Tasty and Nifty] which we create content for here in Australia as well and we work with brands for.”

“Cumulatively across all those Facebook properties, that gives us 11m unique monthly active users. That’s 78% of Facebook users in Australia engaging with one of our properties each month.”

But he says locally, the Australian team is doing a lot more on Facebook, with the Buzz team – those creating quizzes and shareable content – amping up their video production skills.

Nemes says engagement with the different content is a real indicator of the publisher’s local success.

At the end of the day, it’s very easy to create content these days. A lot of people are creating good content but it’s really hard to get that engagement. You can buy a view, you can’t buy someone sharing it, or a comment,” he says.

However inevitably, Facebook founder Mark Zuckberg’s announcement several weeks ago that the tech giant would de-prioritise publishers, will have an impact on BuzzFeed. But Crerar remains confident – not “bullish” – the BuzzFeed will continue to succeed in the environment.

“The changes Facebook are making are about meaningful social engagement, and that is literally what we do. We create content people love to share, that is deep and meaningful to them, their friends and family,” he argues.

“That big change they’ve announced, it will have an impact, but we feel confident we create content for that environment and they are running their ‘trust in media brands’, apparently that’s just in the US, but it will be great to see how that pans out.

“The latest announcement this week about local, we have posts about far North Queensland to posts about Geelong to Wollongong to posts about amazing places people need to visit in Adelaide or an amazing experience in a local place.”

Nemes says human connection and creating content that people can share will be crucial going forward.

“This is obviously a huge change, but if we keep sticking to what we’ve done, which is that focus on human connection and helping brands get that human connection, we will be fine,” he says.

But if there’s one thing Crerar sees as key to BuzzFeed Australia’s success, it’s a distinct voice, something that some publishers have failed to achieve. He says the voice BuzzFeed established in market came through “test and learn”. That approach is something BuzzFeed Australia continues to take forward.

“Our first year we were really trying to understand what are the nuances. What I was tasked with was ‘Imagine BuzzFeed isn’t anywhere else and you had to figure out how people share in Australia.’ That first year was experimentation on that and it’s ongoing. We continue to do that,” he says.

Despite global changes, Crerar isn’t concerned about BuzzFeed Australia’s future.

“We had some changes that needed to be made to certain parts of our [global] business and those were tough management decisions,” he admits.

“Certainly here in Australia, we are well set and we are feeling very confident about our business.”

And with double digital revenue growth in 2017, new events and plans to diversify revenue through BuzzFeed’s various offerings, it looks like BuzzFeed Australia is here to stay for good.

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