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SPH Magazines' MD on the company's multiplatform strategy

Joseph Lee ()

Joseph Lee, managing director of new media at SPH Magazines, explains how the business has moved to a multi-platform approach, and its strategy for engaging audiences through digital…

How quick were you to identify the need to exist in new platforms?

To be perfectly honest, SPH Magazines was a little slow in the initial uptake. We have had a strong print legacy for more than 50 years and our magazines are the market leaders in our own country and in the region. As with many publishers with a strong print history, the transition and transformation into the digital arena for us has been challenging, if not outright painful at times. However, once we were able to demonstrate small wins, we were then able to rally the team. And we have not looked back since… well, at least for the most part.

What trends had you identified in the market that led you to change? Were you early adopters?

Taking the North American and European markets as leading indicators, we knew that the structural changes in the way in which media is consumed, and how they change the needs of ours readers and advertisers, will eventually hit us. Taking that as the cue, we then decided to embark on transforming the organisation to future-proof ourselves.

In retrospect, that turned out to be a great move as at that point in time, our print business was still expanding, and our hands were not forced in developing the digital space. We experimented with different digital initiatives, starting small but moving fast, and reinvesting small gains to further innovate in the digital space.

The company also embraced a start-up approach in our digital ventures, opting to run small tack teams, and allowing them to experiment with new products and services. I’m glad to share that over the course of the last four years, the transition and transformation has yielded favourable results, not just from a portfolio perspective, but also tangible financial returns. For our last financial year, which closed on 31 August, digital contributed 17 per cent of the company's overall revenue, with a contribution margin in excess of 30 per cent.

Can you share a sense of your 'single production, multiple deployment’ approach?

In a challenging environment, we are constantly faced with limited time and resource. As such, to be effective, a key consideration is always scalability. The concept of ‘Single production, multiple deployment" was borne out of such a necessity.

An example of the concept in action is how we manage our content. From the painstaking efforts that our editorial team has put in to develop the content for print, we then take that content and make it available on digital, across devices and platforms. We then take that same content and break it down at the article level, so that readers who wish to consume our content by interest area can do so with relative ease. Once the content is curated at article level, we can auto-feed them via RSS onto the respective websites, allowing readers to search through our archives via their browsers.

To further proliferate our content to extend the awareness of our brands, we upload the content on to social platforms such as Google News and Facebook Instant Article. From this example, the initial content that was created for print is reused and redeployed, allowing us to extend the lifespan of the content and broaden the viewership base, and in turn, its monetisation potential.

It is important to note that different devices and platforms serve different purposes and each has its own unique strengths that should be leveraged. By understanding the strengths of each of these devices and platforms, we can in turn create products and services that are most suited for each of these environments.

Traditional publishers are strong in content, but primarily written content. It is thus critical for us to understand how we can enhance the experience of our readers by complementing our written content with rich media as well as transactional content. This allows us to provide the reader with instant gratification and a complete experience, regardless of the means – be it print, digital, web or social media – by which the content is consumed.

How important are data and audience knowledge to creating effective client solutions? How do you do that?

It is a must, moving forward, as only by understanding our audience will we be able to cater more precisely to their needs and wants. It is important that we do not just chase numbers. What is more relevant is the right number – the right audience and at the right time. To that end, we have embarked on big data and implemented numerous initiatives to better engage our readers so that we gain more accurate insights to their needs. Only by doing so will our readers continue to vest confidence and trust with us, and allow us to build a stronger relationship with them. 

Can you share a short example of a success story?

Perhaps I will share how we created an ecosystem with one of the malls here in Singapore. All mall operators have two basic requirements; one, to provide their shoppers with a pleasant shopping experience and two, to help drive foot traffic to their tenants.

We had recently launched a WiFi-based solution that could achieve both of these requirements. We re-configured our digital newsstand app such that when a shopper logs on to the mall’s WiFi, he or she will be able to sample our digital magazines for free. However, this is only possible when the shopper is within the mall’s WiFi zone. Once out of the zone, the app automatically returns to a paying mode.

While taking a break from shopping and enjoying their free magazines over a coffee, shoppers are served promotions that drive them to the outlets. This is an example of an ecosystem that we created that benefitted all parties.

How have you adapted as a business in terms of culture and the talent you have now, to deliver on your new strategy?

Unfortunately, the environment is constantly changing. Readers’ behaviours and needs are evolving; and more advance technologies are always available. The key to being successful is to ensure that your organisation has a nimble mind set, willingness to experiment and explore, and to have team members who are curious and not afraid afraid of failures.

I won’t say we are there yet. But we are beginning to attract individuals that are more open to uncertainties, more receptive to change, and more comfortable with an environment that is always evolving.

Joseph Lee will speak at FIPP Asia-Pacific on 27-28 September in Singapore.

Singapore Press Holdings is a member of FIPP.

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