Best practice | by Danny Meadows-Klue
The Guardian is in a unique position among British newspapers, a charitable trust with a share holding structure that historically let its regional newspapers support the national title. But the aim that emerged in the last few years of repositioning as the international liberal voice is a massive leap for the brand and its teams. However, with a focus on the global, an intuitive understanding of social media, and shifts in their rights and workflow process, The Guardian is achieving the rare global expansion of a once national title. Not surprisingly the web is at the heart of this.
Since 2000 they were among the highest trafficked online newspaper site and after a few false starts in the 90s put in place the technology platform that would act as the foundations for change. Consistently strong traffic growth came from US audiences as well as those in the UK and while many publishers struggled with making their data transparent, The Guardian led the way on auditing.
Digging into the stats, there’s a strong correlation between page traffic and audience growth, with both fuelled by a content publishing strategy that was one of the first in the UK to harness social media effectively.
An extensive link-building programme pushed Google Page Rank metrics as well as enhancing wider search engine optimisation goals. While it may not have immediately delivered more than 10% of the traffic, it opened up the brand to wider discoverability.
Leading cultural change
Around the same time, management changes gave Carolyn McCall the position of CEO for Guardian Media Group and unlocked a cultural shift in the management thinking within the title. The internet division, though physically isolated from the main newsroom, promoted a culture of integration closer to the product development at portals than the experience of many news media rivals. The warehouse loft, the edgy location in London’s Clerkenwell district: the digital division had a feel of innovation.
When integration into the main organisation came, it came with structure and strategy. At the time McCall explained that "it is becoming inappropriate to look on our websites as completely separate to The Guardian… It’s one editorial budget, it’s ‘The Guardian’ content and that’s how we’re going to manage it”.
At the time of the stepchange, talking about the profitability, McCall was adamant that newspapers need to:
"I think Guardian Unlimited will be in profit in another year or two again because we’ve just put in a £15 million capital expenditure on the rebuild and redesign. We’re rolling that out to all our sites. It’s an 18-month programme and we’ve redesigned the front page: you can see that quite visibly, but actually it’s going to affect every single one of our sites.”
The product and editorial position is focussed on liberal thought and comment. The Guardian is actively repositioning as a global media property and as an early adopter of digital channels continues to innovate.
Their strategy is deeply cross platform in outlook, and this is backed by a history of digital innovation. From the on-demand printing of PressPoint in the late 90s to the smaller print ‘Berliner’ format for the print edition, to the early blogs and RSS feeds, to social media and the ‘CommentIsFree’ initiative: this cross platform behaviour created a climate right for entry into the North American market and the launch of dedicated US and international editions.
While some newspapers remain closed to the market, McCall sees the future as wide open. “I fundamentally believe that newspaper publishers who are prepared to experiment, innovate and invest online will create significant cultural and commercial value as a result of their efforts.”
“It has allowed us to shift our horizons as an organisation and look beyond the British newspaper market we have traditionally operated in. Our stated goal now is to be the world’s leading liberal voice. It is a bold ambition - rooted in core values that have been with us for the best part of two centuries, but made possible entirely by the new horizons that the internet has opened up to us over the last decade. We look to a world beyond print, beyond text and pictures; and beyond the UK.”
“The point is - this is about change. Not a gentle, “start of the new school year”, kind of change - but disruptive, “shifting of tectonic plates” kind of change.”
• Weaving itself deeply into the fabric of the web
• Strong content for web discussion and discoverability
• Strategically advanced publishing models
• Editorial niche as an international ‘liberal voice’
• Strong brand
• Strong alignment of audience with internet demographics
• Enjoys benefits of being owned by a trust
• Strong print circulation
• Expertise driven by small number of people
• Radio assets (traditional broadcast) draining profit
• Massive investment underway in redesign of online (following print) and relocation
• Succeeds in maintaining high traffic through audience contribution, comment, international and a unique editorial positioning
• Web ad revenues offset migration out of print
• Expansion into rolling news, radio and television stretches the group too thinly
• Print recruitment revenues collapse
• Profitability of regional titles and ad funded titles erodes further