Almost every downturn presents an opportunity to take advantage of change and win — even for publishers. For Bloomberg Media, that opportunity is to become a bit more mainstream.
No, it’s not a new goal. Bloomberg Media has been trying to push beyond financial circles, the cornerstone of its business , for nearly a decade. At times, those ambitions have been realized. But arguably, that hasn’t happened enough. Bloomberg Media is still most famous for producing financial software most people have never heard of, let alone use. Still, if there’s ever going to be a time when a financial publisher wins over new readers then a global economic crisis is as good as any.
The plan is straightforward enough: expand regional editions in promising markets where it already has a strong editorial base.
First stop: the U.K.
It may sound like another strange move by Bloomberg Media. The U.K. is mired in a cost of living crisis, after all. But it’s a crisis that — at least for now — is hitting lower income households hardest. There are many other people who continue to pay inflated prices for the goods and services they want as evidenced by the profit margins to emerge from Q1. Bloomberg Execs are hoping this extends to business journalism — especially as its own subscriptions in the U.K have been on a tear (growth was up 30% in 2021 alone). And they may have a point. The current economic plight is a big story that’s only getting bigger. It’s not hard to see why those who can afford a Bloomberg subscription might buy one.
“We’ve been here in the U.K. for a long time with a newsroom of over 500 journalists and analysts, but we’ve always served the core reader that is the Bloomberg terminal customer that has used our news service,” said David Merritt, senior executive editor at Bloomberg News. “But we’ve never thought about packaging and promoting our work to the broader audience in the UK who are interested in business and finance.”
This is the real litmus test for how well Bloomberg Media’s plan works, if at all. It can’t win over the broader audience Merritt previously cited by chasing stories only the likes of bankers and financial traders would read. Now, there’s a clearer focus on what people across the U.K. might want to know about the economy. This puts Bloomberg Media up against the likes of the Financial Times and the Times — staples of business journalism in the U.K.
Moreover, it’s willing to spend money to do it.
Indeed, several high-profile, senior journalists have already been hired including BBC broadcaster Emma Barnett, the editor of Politico’s London Playbook newsletter Alex Wickham and senior tech investigations reporter from NBC News Olivia Solon. And more are on the way, said Merritt. The communities that follow those high-profile hires are more important than ever to publishers that are trying to become less reliant on advertising and more dependent on subscriptions and other direct business models.
“You need more personalities to pull people in these days,” said Merritt. “You look at the site today and you’ll see there are the headshots of the columnists — that’s new. We’re leaning a lot more into that. If you clock on a story there’s an option now to follow the author so you can get alerts for everything that person says and does.”
Which is to say those individuals are more central to the growth of the institutional Bloomberg brand. Barnett’s weekly interview series “Emma Barnett Meets…” launched in January and continues to air throughout the year. There’s also a host podcast and radio shows being fronted by talent at the publisher including a live daily political show.
“No one doubts the coming months are going to be tough because households will have to make difficult decisions across all aspects of their budget, and advertising will inevitably be softer,” said Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis. “However, the other big theme of our times is a renewed confidence in the role and purpose of U.K. media in all its manifestations — PSBs, production, publishing, agencies, news services. Online advertising will keep growing in a tough economic climate.”
Commercially, Bloomberg Media’s local push should be all upside — at least in theory. Subscription opportunities aside, there’s a lot more ad inventory being created, whether it’s on TV, online, at events, even on podcasts. This way marketers get more of what they want, said Duncan Chater, managing direcor of Bloomberg Media in Europe.
Half of the publisher’s revenue comes from advertising, and a further 25% from online subscriptions, with the other half coming from events, global partnerships and licensing deals. Nevertheless, subscriptions continue to be a priority despite it being a relatively young part of the business. Since Bloomberg Media launched its online subscription venture in 2018, it now has around 380,000, more than half (66%) of whom pay the full price. The best way to make money in media is, as always, in lots of ways.
“From a revenue perspective, we’re on the back of eight record consecutive quarters,” said Chater. “Our Q1 revenue in this region is up 87% year-on-year and that’s on the back of a record Q1 last year. So there’s a huge demand for this very precious audience that we reach. In fact, we reach 100 million business and world leaders every month.”
This will be like catnip to some marketers — those that want to, and can afford to, pay a premium to advertise on renowned titles like Bloomberg. Dwindling trust, differentiation and budgets have heaped pressure on marketers to demonstrate the value and impact of their brands. Capitalizing on that angst is key for a media business that generates around 90% of its advertising revenue from branded content. The rest of the ads business is built on a mix of programmatic direct and programmatic guaranteed deals.
“Every business right now needs to communicate their purpose and vision in a different way,” said Chater.
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Confessions of an in-house creative strategist on feeling unfulfilled, difficulty in returning to agencies as the ‘pay is less’
The war for talent between agencies and brands’ in-house agencies has cooled. Even so, for adland talent who’ve made the move in-house, some say they are looking to go back to agencies after feeling creatively stifled. It’s not the easiest strategy to execute.
In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from an in-house creative strategist about their experience, why they want to go agency-side now and how pay is keeping them from doing so.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s the in-house experience like?
I’ve been in-house for about a year. It’s very one-sided. The difference between agency and in-house is that with agencies, there [are] a lot of opinions and ideas [outside of the brand message] that go into creative. With in-house, you have the brand’s message and all creative is reflective of the brand’s message. With in-house, regardless of trends in the market, it’s a lot of ‘we’re going to stick to this one way of doing things’ mentality. It’s a lot of opinions about what the creative should be based on what it has been before. It makes it hard to introduce something fresh. It makes it hard to hire or be a new hire. If you’re not actually going to adhere to advice from new hires, what’s the point in getting new people? Are you just bringing people on board for a second opinion? That’s what it feels like.
Sounds like you don’t have the creative control you desire.
It feels like more of a second opinion role than to get something to manage or control. [Where I am now] it feels like we’re leaning more into what [our strategy] used to be than thinking about what we could be. That’s a big issue with in-house. With agencies, like I said, there’s a lot more trial and error. With in-house, a lot more of this is what we’re doing, these are the funds we have and this is what has worked in the past. In reality, a lot of what worked in the past, when you put it back into the market, it’s not going to work anymore.
Why do you think it’s more challenging to get to a new creative strategy in-house?
With agencies, you have multiple perspectives. You’re working on multiple brands. You can see something working for another brand and talk to your client about it. You can pivot. You have the background and perspective to [pitch that pivot]. When you’re in-house, you only have the knowledge of your brand and what’s working for you.
Are you looking to go back to agencies?
Personally, I am looking to go from in-house to agency but I get paid a lot more being in-house than what I’ve been offered at agencies. I’ve been in interviews with agencies where they’re telling me that I’ll be learning [programs I already know how to use] so that’s why the pay is less than what it should be. There are agencies I’ve interviewed with who ask me to move to New York for less than what I make now and make that work. [With inflation,] there’s no reason why salaries aren’t also increasing.
So you’d like to make the jump creatively but it’s hard when the compensation isn’t up to what in-house offers?
It’s hard. I’ve been lowballed, too. They’ll post a salary for a position, go through the interviews and then offer less than what’s listed on the salary description. What was the point of putting the salary range there? I feel like people are putting salary ranges on job descriptions just to attract people with the experience that they are looking for but by the time they make the offer, it’s not what they said it would be. It’s offensive.
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