David Thomchak is something of an overachiever when it comes to digital media. He’s worked at the BBC, The Evening Standard and Number 10 Downing Street in the UK Prime Minister’s office. These days, he’s tasked with finding a way to fund high-quality journalism as Chief Operating Officer for the New Statesman Media Group (NSM).
Last year, NSM launched the Monitor series of niche verticals to provide focused content around property, green energy and foreign investment. The technology underpinning those targeted verticals is now being applied across the business and David said that’s an opportunity to ditch the vagaries of programmatic advertising and use clever AI to match commercial content with specific audience interests.
Volume up! Hear David Thomchak explain Lead Monitor to Peter Houston:
“Lead Monitor is the commercial infrastructure that sits underneath the group,” he explains. “It’s something that allows us to, basically, change our commercial model. We look at data from a bespoke perspective when it comes to our clients or partners, instead of just spamming people with ad tech.”
With client brands including Barclays, PWC, Chevron and IBM, the Lead Monitor technology provides ‘end-to-end’ campaign solutions using AI technology. It can reach 90 million users with content created by a bank of 700 experts and analysts in relation to 75+ data points.
In practice that means lead generation built off commercial content creation for targeted audience interests. David gives the example of a commercial partner working in the technology hardware sector supplying mainframe computers.
“They will want to advertise to quite a specific person, probably the CTO of a company or maybe somebody associated with the spend around strategy. What we would do in that case would be to pull together a whitepaper on ‘The most effective ways of using mainframes’.”
The root of the Lead Monitor strategy is to make the user journey just complicated enough to weed out people that don’t have a serious interest in the subject matter. “We know the people that are going to get to that whitepaper are probably interested in having a commercial conversation with a mainframe supplier,” David explains.
“When you go to the whitepaper, we say, ‘Listen, this is done in partnership with Mainframes “R” Us. If you want to read this white paper for free, just tell us who you are’. Mainframes “R” Us will have a much better idea about who’s coming to that white paper. But they’ll also know that person’s probably really interested in this stuff, because it is quite technical.”
The interested audience gets proper deep-dive content. The client gets lead generation and qualification and the opportunity to initiate permission-based marketing communications.
Layers of content
None of this means the New Statesman will abandon writing more generally about technology, or any other subject.
One of the lessons learned from the launch of the niche Monitor brands is that, although there is a clear place for highly-targeted B2B content, people also have broad interests. The New Statesman’s broad content base is crucial to the overall success of the business.
“To be an interesting media group, not a sales group, it’s important to serve quite a broad spectrum as well as reflecting the audience’s interests. We want to pull you in, we want to be of interest to you, relevant to you as an audience member, in a way where we’re not just talking to you about your business… people are much more interesting than that, they have a much broader perspective.”
That sounds like a classic marketing funnel strategy, but David isn’t too keen on the term. Instead, he prefers an old journalism analogy to describe the approach: The Inverted Pyramid.
“When you’re writing an article, you know, first year of journalism school, or first month, they talk about writing as an inverted pyramid. Load everything that’s of interest up at the top and then get into the details.”
The theory is, use the most interesting things to get attention and if people have a real interest, they’ll read on. “It’s less using the funnel of marketing and more focusing on how journalism works. It’s talking about broad ideas, big concepts, and then letting people work down into the details if it’s an area that interests them.”
I wondered if the News Statesman’s 107-year history and its reputation for broad social and cultural reporting and commentary gave it an advantage in creating targeted commercial content. “Coming to something in our industry from a legacy position can be, should be, an advantage,” says David.
But that doesn’t mean legacy media always has an advantage. Having reporting credentials, an established audience and strong brand awareness can make life easier commercially, but success can still be difficult.
“I think in the right hands, legacy brands or titles that have a history can have an advantage on the newer digital pure plays or newer brands that come out, but nothing’s black and white,” says David. “In the wrong hands, a really strong brand can be driven into the ground. It’s not just a simple case of having a strong brand.”
After about a year at NSM, David says he feels the team see themselves as caretakers for the New Statesman brand.
“None of us is bigger than the New Statesman; there’s a lot of respect for the history of the brand. We’re going through a redesign at the moment for both print and digital and the history of who we are is really important in that. And that’s the case across, not just how we look, but also more importantly, what we cover and how we write about it.
Mixing business models
The NSM group spans media news titles Press Gazette and the Monitor B2B verticals as well as The New Statesman. And although Lead Monitor represents an important new string to the NSM’s commercial bow, the New Statesman remains a subscription title.
“There’s a balancing between the different types of stuff we do, but it seems to work quite well. It’s not easy to do what we’re trying to do, but once you’ve committed to it, it can be a really exciting, creative thing to get involved in. You’re not tied to certain types of commercial pressure that existed before and that gives you space to be a little more creative on how you do things.”
The additional data-driven sales focus for the business has led to a requirement for additional staff.
“You do need people, different people, for some of what I’ve described,” says David. “But they tend to be people who are complementary to what we already have. There’s an editorial and commercial core that remains and then added to that we have new product skills in the business, new data skills.”
David says that, in some ways, NSM has been a little bit behind some of its competitors and, ironically, that has been an advantage. “We didn’t have a whole bunch of legacy stuff that we had to change,” he explains.
“We’re very lucky because we already have the legacy; not just the brand, but the strong editorial team, and the strong sales team to back up the other stuff that we’ve brought in. But we’ve been very lucky, because we can act like a startup in some senses.”