By Sally Rawsthorne
Sitting in Daily Mail Australia’s offices high above the Sydney CBD, the conversation naturally turns to the June Nielsen news rankings released this week. Both Daily Mail Australia’s editor Luke McIlveen and managing director Peter Holder are pleased with the site’s performance, which remained the fourth most-read news site in Australia with a unique audience of 2,710,000. Both of the media veterans noted that aside from the impressive ranking, they were pleased with the year-on-year comparisons. “The really pleasing part is the diminishing gap between us and the top three. We’re 22,000 unique audience behind the ABC News websites – that’s one or two good stories. Last month it was [a gap of] about 170,000 so that really proves we’re getting some great traction in the Australian market,” said McIlveen.
“That was something that we saw in May too. If you look at everything, like dwell time and the percentage growth, it’s significantly up across every aspect of the business – which is great when you’re a startup. I’ve only been here since February, so it comes down to the team that’s been here since inception, but that growth is very heartwarming and encouraging. The potential remains enormous,” enthused Holder.
It’s pretty clear that Holder and McIlveen want to get the site to number one, but neither would volunteer a firm timeline when we asked. “There’s no time limit, there’s no date. I’ve been in this position before, and rather than focus on being on top you really have to work out what it is you need to get there, and set up the teams and the infrastructure,” McIlveen wryly noted.
“After just over a year, we’re just coming into our own in terms of working out what our audience wants to read, what tone they want the content, what form, where they want to read it. It’s all coming together as a great big digital engine, and we’re starting to see some of those gains now. If you look at the top three, news.com.au has been around for 16 years, The Sydney Morning Herald is one of the most well-known brands in the country across print and digital and the ABC is the 100-year-old national broadcaster. The best way to look at it is that we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but we have a helluva lot of work to do up against some really big brands. Our focus is on making Daily Mail Australia the first stop for Aussie news readers.”
“Every time the reader visits it needs to be refreshed.”
Longevity is also important, added Holder. “If you get to #1, you want to stay there, and there’s a big expectation on us to get there.”
A combination of syndicated content from the UK’s Mail Online and USA’s DailyMail.com and original news and showbiz content has been key to the site’s success so far, they agreed. The sheer volume of content pushed out by Daily Mail Australia also contributes to the site’s popularity, said McIlveen. “The great leveller with digital is that you often have some idea about what’s going to work, but not a day goes by where a piece of content does well that surprises me. Something you may not anticipate sort of flies out of the woodwork. In order to have that surprise, you need to have that volume. But it also comes back to simple, non-digital stuff – the best pitches, the best words, great headlines and good copy. We can do a story that everyone else does, but gets more traffic because of the headline or sell or pictures. That’s when the Mail flavour really comes into its own,” explained McIlveen.
More original Daily Mail Australia content to contribute to that mass of content is on his agenda, McIlveen added. “It’s certainly a focus. But you have to really target it. Unlike newspapers, there’s no self-congratulations for breaking a story that nobody reads – just because you stick a big red exclusive tag on it doesn’t mean it’s actually good. I wouldn’t want to get carried away with claiming exclusives for the sake of it. Readers don’t care. We’re not writing for journalism, we’re writing for our readers. When the stories are important we’re out there breaking them, but it’s led by our analytics and our readers. If there’s more interest in running a story that everyone has but in a different way, I’d rather devote resources to that.”
McIlveen’s impressive Australia Square newsroom is home to a large number of journalists who work in shifts to cater to primetime for readers, including before and after traditional working hours. As well as marquee reporters Candace Sutton (formerly at News and Fairfax) and Frank Coletta (previously at Channel Ten), the website relies of a number of young journalists. After laughing his way through an anecdote about working at News Corp when the Thredbo disaster news broke midway through the night and one of the other journos was busy playing a guitar, McIlveen said: “We work around the clock, and our coverage at night aims to be as strong as it is during the day – that certainly is not something that you see in other digital news rooms. The downside of that is that it’s extremely hard work for our staff. Our reporters work early mornings, late nights and weekends.”
“Big stories happen any time,” continued Holder. “You always have to be producing content. The demand for news is so great, we’re seeing more and more readership take place in that 8-11pm period when people are going to bed and flicking on the device to see that day’s news. Every time the reader visits it needs to be refreshed,” he said.
As to the future, both Daily Mail bosses were confident. “It’s big and bright. We’re under no illusion – what we’ve set out to do is a massive task, and we’re only a little way along. We’re just over a year in existence. We’ve got great journos with a great understanding of digital, and we can combine those great digital skills with some of the more old-school skills that Pete and I have. When everything works together, we’ve got a great opportunity to develop Australia’s first and best proper newsroom which isn’t weighed down by the legacy of print. We don’t have someone wandering over from the paper saying, ‘No, you can’t run that because we need it for page 7 tomorrow,’” said McIlveen.
Holder cited the site’s agreement with Channel Nine as a powerful force in its future. “With our friends who are working over at Willoughby, we’ve put a studio in our office to help build awareness – we have agreements with Mornings, Nine News and A Current Affair. They turn to us when they need a talking head, and when Luke and his team continue to break stories we can enhance that offer by sharing that news with Nine. I’m in a job where I can see a lot of potential, not decline. It’s the first time ever I’ve been in a job and not heard the word redundancy mentioned. The best is way ahead of us.”
“Awareness is translating into ad dollars”
Despite what he deemed an initial “awareness issue”, Holder said that advertising was looking good for the Daily Mail Australia. When he started at the beginning of 2015, the website had a team of three in commercial – by the end of October it will number 11 people. “The thing I’m learning about a purely digital space is that none of it’s easy! We had some issues early on, but the great thing now is that we’re on everyone’s radars – they can’t ignore us. That’s translating into ad dollars now. There are some areas where we’re underdone and we need to get working on, but the mobile space is a great opportunity for everyone that nobody is yet fully realising.”
Daily Mail Australia is looking beyond traditional dots and spots, he said. “Native is big for us. We had the commercial editor for the Mail Online Anne Shooter come out earlier this year, and we’ve learnt a lot from her. We’re not doing social, we don’t want to mess with the editorial integrity of that. But it’s dots and spots, it’s display, it’s integrated, it’s native. The potential is enormous. If we keep increasing our audience numbers, there is an expectation that the coin will increase alongside the audience.”
A sporting future?
Daily Mail Australia’s two key verticals are news and entertainment – but would they consider sport? The pair tentatively suggested it’s more of a long-term strategy for the website.
Holder: “We have a lot of readers of our sport coverage. We got good numbers off the back of our English Premier League coverage. In May, the numbers went through the roof because it was the pointy end of the EPL. [Local] sport is a good opportunity, but a longer-term one.”
McIlveen: “It’s something that we’ll get to. The main focus for year one was to set up that local showbiz team. We’re combining stories people want to read – whether they’re Lara Bingle or Miranda Kerr – with the existing great love for Kim Kardashian. The news has been our big focus since doing that, and month-to-month the big performing stories have been in news. They’re either exclusives or running news stories that everyone has done – but we’ve done better.”
Daily Mail Australia was built upon an existing foundation of Australian readers of Mail Online, which McIlveen said numbered at around 1 million before the 2014 launch.