By Sally Rawsthorne
With 1.2million unique views per month, over 200,000 Facebook fans, 73,500 Instagram followers and a database of over 74,000 across three cities, The Urban List has an impressive business model. Founded in 2011 as a startup, the self-described “guide to the city’s best” oustrips its competition across key verticals – food and drink, fashion and design, travel, events and entertainment, health and beauty.
Founded and 100% owned by entrepreneur Susannah George in 2011, The Urban List bills itself as a go-to guide on what’s worth eating, drinking, buying and booking in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Despite a plethora of competition from traditional media and other digital players, The Urban List has enjoyed unparalleled growth. “Over the course of three and a half years, we’ve built the business from zero to 1.2 million unique visitors/month. That very rapid audience growth reflects our immense learning. Over that time, we’ve really invested in building a team with a similar entrepreneurial spirit. They take personal responsibility of the stuff that’s on our site, and I’ve honestly never met a crew who works harder. While things have changed [since 2011], we’ve got a cultural ethos that we’re very proud of what we build. We’re focused on doing the best by two groups – our readers and those businesses we endorse,” George told Mediaweek down the phone from her Brisbane base.
She attributed The Urban List’s success in part to its strong investment in staff, a model that’s increasingly uncommon in a time of outsourcing and freelancing content. “We’re in an age where a lot of media companies are looking to be increasingly lean and outsource a lot of activity. Contrary to that, we’re really invested in building in-house expertise. We have content creation, digital marketing, creative strategists and development. Most local publications are relying on a portfolio of freelancers, and while they are certainly talented they are perhaps not as unified in tone and accountability when it comes to branded content.”
Branded content is an important revenue stream for The Urban List. “One of the differences between us and our peers is that when a brand works with us, they get access to our entire team – by that, I mean the stable of people who have taken our brand from zero to 1.2 million readers in three years. That team collaborates to drive results for the business.
“The best example is The Mini Edition, a creative collab that we’ve done with Mini. We’re in the midst of creating 30 videos across three cities in 10 months. From March until December, we are releasing three videos per month around the top 10 things to do in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. You can see the hottest new openings and events, and it really links Mini with the social calendars of what’s going on in each city,” George explained.
[blockquote style=”3″] ↘ OF HER COMPETITION, George said: “Anyone who is supporting local culture is a peer – Broadsheet, TimeOut and Concrete Playground. We have a huge responsibility to play in maintaining a diverse and sophisticated urban culture.”[/blockquote]
“In terms of results, it’s only month four so it’s super early days, but so far we’ve delivered 300,000 views, a social reach of 3.3 million and Mini has just reported that it’s been their strongest sales quarter in history. We’re very pleased, because it’s all in-house talent and content. We do one day of filming in each city every month, and it’s pretty much everyone’s favourite day,” she enthused.
As well as native content, The Urban List also features display advertising. “It’s not the bulk of our model. We appeal to brands with an edge, who are dissatisfied with standard EDMs. The Urban List is an alternative providing branded content, display, market research, data and social media. Unlike other digital platforms, our model is not really around display inventory. We really focus on pulling our audience of 1.2 million together, and placing the brand in their hands. We focus on trust and authenticity, which then drives more awareness, more action and ultimately more ROI.”
As to the future, George noted that expansion in both cities covered and content verticals were on her priority list. The Urban List is looking to expanding to both Perth and Auckland by the end of the year. “Geographic expansion and growth is something on the cards for all businesses like ours. We’ve got some pretty exciting plans under way! Audience development and growth are also important – we’re looking at growth across our verticals to include more beauty, health, fashion and fitness. They’ve always been in our editorial edict, but we’re looking to up the ante in those categories,” she said.
>> Founding The Urban List
Like many entrepreneurial pursuits, The Urban List was founded out of George’s desire for a similar service. “I had moved to LA for work, and was doing all those research things you do when you move to a new city – looking where to get a haircut and go to yoga or get a drink. I was cross-referencing about eight different sources, and I found that really frustrating and time consuming. Nobody was doing a good job of whittling down all of the directories out there to recommendations that are actually good. I thought that if there was a gap for that in LA, there was definitely a gap in Australia. I spent about three years working on it from LA, until I finally got up the guts to come home and do it full time in September 2011.”
>> The Video List
“Video is something that we’ve invested heavily in, it’s imperative in terms of savvy brand output. There’s all sorts of stats out there. Consumers are apparently 64% more likely to purchase after seeing a product on film. There are 3 billion videos watched every day on Facebook. If you cannot deliver video content for your clients, you do not deserve to have them. Investing in video capabilities has been our strongest move, and that strategy has really delivered more valuable content for our clients. We’re going to double down on that over the next six months, because video is unlocking some exceptional audience action and really building loyalty. We don’t look at The Urban List as a website, we look at it as a content platform for our users,” George stated.