Haymarket Media’s auto sector has been digitally comfortable, and profitable for a long time now. So you would be forgiven if you wondered why the media group is spending £50 million - “the single largest organic investment in the company’s history” - to ‘fix’ a part of the business that’s not even remotely broken.
“It’s all about expansion and tapping into potential,” explains Rachael Prasher, new managing director of Haymarket Automotive. “The main drive here is to grow our audience and increase our revenue.”
Digital products within Haymarket’s auto sector have been generating good revenue, “especially in the automotive business”, says Prasher. They are enjoying this on top of a steady rise in web traffic to their What Car?, PistonHeads and Autocar platforms. Despite these sites attracting 5.2 million unique users per month and monetising well, Haymarket believes these titles can perform even better if consolidated on one platform.
“At the moment all three our brands are located on three different platforms, which creates difficulties. If we create something innovative for one of them, we cannot roll it out to the rest, which is inefficient and as a consequence the product journey is not good enough.”
For this reason the content management backend of the three brands will be rolled into one. To those who fear that their well-loved brands will suffer in any way, Prasher offers reassurance. “On the front end nothing will change. The brands will remain separate as far as editorial content is concerned. Our (auto) brands are distinctly different from each other… and we will remain true to what is appropriate to the relevant audiences. Editorial teams will continue to work separately. That’s really important. An Autocar road test is quite different from a What Car? road test, which is more practical.
“This is all about product development to be able to focus on aggressive marketing to a car buying audience. It’s something we have - historically - not been doing,” explains Prasher. And with the wealth of brand awareness they already enjoy, they now have an opportunity “to turn on the marketing taps”, she says.
Looking at revenue streams, Prasher emphasises that the bulk of income continues to come from display advertising, mainly supported by manufacturers. For now this will remain unchanged. But on a site like PistonHeads where they have not yet fully explored the revenue potential from dealers, the potential remains huge. “When you consider there are around 20 major manufacturers but 10,000 plus dealers, you can see the opportunity that exists.”
She references a relatively new functionality on What Car? for dealers which, for a modest monthly fee, links potential car buyers searching for vehicles to dealers. “Over time, as the leads increase, so does the fee.”
There are also growing opportunities to generate revenue from ecommerce. By working with insurance and finance partners more online product options are being developed. These products have the ability to complement the existing websites. “If someone is looking to buy a new car, it’s good to be able to see the insurance options on that vehicle - it’s useful”. Similarly content marketing, and/or native advertising are also being exploited through an internal division within Haymarket called Creative Solutions.
As monetisation options shift with regards to new(-er) technologies, so does Haymarket Automotive’s investment in it. “Doing video better than we do now would be a good start. Opportunities (to monetise) on YouTube is making video more appealing again,” she says. But keeping an eye on developments with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is also important. “We are forever hovering around the idea of what VR will bring and what content we need to develop. It’s important for the automotive industry to be ready to do things differently.”
That said, display remains the lion’s share of income and it might be some time before it is only “part of the income, and (over time) probably not the predominant revenue stream”.
Social media will be very much part of the new marketing drive. “Part of the head count recruitment is to bring social editors into the editorial teams. At the moment the push around social has largely been existing writers who need to remember to push content to social but we need to be much more strategic. We are therefore bringing that resource into our editorial teams and also into our marketing teams. Social marketing will be a big part of our marketing mix.”
Despite all of the various developments, “our core business is still ultimately to connect car buyers with the cars they want to buy. We have been doing this for more than 40 years and now we are extending that ability”.
With the £50 million investment comes further team expansion, which will most probably be larger than initially announced. “We said by about 100 people in the next 12 to 18 months. But we have actually written a five-year plan and over the course of that we expect to see that increasing even further. We are about 140 people at the moment and we will see that topping 300 over the next three years. It’s a significant people resource investment. Initially the bulk of this will be in our technology teams growing from around 20 to 80 people se we can build our platforms and integrate them quickly. The remaining head count increase will be split across the sales teams, editorial teams and audience marketing teams.”
More about Rachael Prasher:
Rachael Prasher read politics at Swansea University before joining Haymarket as brand director. She became publisher and sales director in 2002 working with brands such as Stuff and What HiFi! in 2013 before being promoted to Brand Director Automotive in 2015. She is now Managing Director of the newly formed Haymarket Automotive division, which is part of Haymarket Media Group. Haymarket Automotive includes What Car?, PistonHeads and Autocar and creates content for car buyers and enthusiasts across print, digital, video and social as well as running many events and awards programmes. Rachael is also the chairperson of Great British Women in the Car Industry.
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