Mumbrella's lucrative lesson for media

Mumbrella's strategy has been to find new ways to add value to its audience and extend the relationship. It's a lucrative lesson the big players could learn from.

Is covering the media industry right now more lucrative than being in the media industry? It might be if you’re Focal Attractions, the publisher of Mumbrella.

No, the company doesn’t match the media giants when it comes to total revenue, not even close, but it is managing to successfully do what most of those companies wish it could – continue to find new and interesting ways to build its business and extend its relationship with users.

The journey Mumbrella has taken to date is a fascinating one and a warning to any complacent business that an energetic and creative upstart can quickly disrupt what you thought was a relatively comfortable niche.

Back in 2008, coverage of the media and advertising world was one ripe for disruption. The main trade publications were similar in tone, similar in regularity, and similar when it came to the internet. Whilst the advertising and media world is a fast moving one, according to the incumbent titles it was sufficient to publish once a day. Some days nothing would be published.

At that time the need to innovate didn’t seem to be something of concern. The core focus for those covering media and advertising was the print product – a weekly digest full of high yield ads for media companies and suppliers – full of cheap or free op-eds, Q&As, pictures from events and the odd feature. At the same time sites like All Things D, Paid Content, New Media Age, Techcrunch, Valleywag and ReadWriteWeb were pioneering a new sort of ‘always-on’ news and information.

Mumbrella launched at the end of 2008 and quickly gathered an audience through quick reporting (which was not at that time a priority of the incumbents) and an active and entertaining commentator community. It was the first of the media/ad trade publications to not just allow commentary, but also actively encourage it. If there’s one thing the media/ad industry enjoys more than reading about their industry, it’s commenting on it in a public forum.

Over the last four years the Mumbrella brand, and the ambitions of its parent Focal Attractions have grown. Mumbrella is now much more than an industry website – it is the closest thing to an industry hub the advertising and media world has. Mumbrella, unlike many of the companies it covers, has realised that the real value lies within its close relationship with its audience rather than purely its core media product. And its strategy has been to find new ways to add value to these users and extend the relationship, while at the same time finding new revenue streams and products to continue to build the value of the company.

The Mumbrella website is at the heart of it all – each month around 100,000 people visit. Fast reporting and continuous breaking of news keeps them engaged and returning. The website is free and supported by advertising – which always seems to be at a high fill rate.

For many this is the end game but for Mumbrella it is the start. This audience volume has allowed it to launch a plethora of product extensions. The Mumbrella 360 conference debuted in 2011 with 1000 attendees over two days. It backed it up with similar numbers in 2012 and is set to take place again in 2013. In a short time it has become the premiere media and advertising conference in Australia, commanding a high-ticket price and large scale premium sponsors. While the conference space in Australia may not have the volume of markets like the US or UK, it is more accepting of much higher ticket prices. It is testament to the Mumbrella brand that over 1000 people will shell out more than $1000 each for a two-day event, resulting in a sell-out both years.

In 2012 they created the Festival of Branded Content – a smaller event aimed at the emerging area of Branded Content. And in 2013 they will launch Comms Con, which is aimed at public relations professionals. In addition, both the Festival of Branded Content and Comms Con have awards ceremony components. Mumbrella also holds smaller boutique events in Melbourne and Sydney regularly, as well as professional training via its Masterclass series. Professional development and boutique events are not low cost areas – prices can range anywhere from $200 to $900 and above.

Yesterday they launched The Source – an industry insights tool available to agencies, marketers, publishers and business development professionals via subscription. Subscription insights are another area in Australia ripe for disruption.

In addition to the above, the brand is set to expand into the Asian market within the next month, moving Melbourne editor Robin Hicks to Hong Kong to run the new operation. It is entirely likely and sensible that Mumbrella will follow the same product development strategy within Asia of events, training, conferences and insights.

All the above is due to one key thing – knowing your audience. If you really know your audience and what they value, product development and monetisation will follow. If you really know your audience, then advertising is simply one part of the revenue mix, not the sole one.

Mumbrella is doing what a modern media company should be to generate long term sustainable value. Building a close relationship with its audience, generating scale, finding new ways to add value to this audience, and continuously looking at new opportunities and product development that can generate end-user revenue. It is steadily building a business that is quietly showing the big boys how it’s done. Maybe in the future, instead of lining up to be covered in Mumbrella, they will be lining up to buy it.

Ben Shepherd is a media and technology consultant. He blogs at Talking Digital and can be found on Twitter @shepherd and LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/shepherdieu

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