Newspaper Brands Online: The Digital Lowdown

The UK's newspapers have thriving online operations - seven of the industry's digital chiefs tell Alasdair Reid what's going on.

- Alex Hole, digital trading director, News International

Last year, we reshaped the commercial arm of our business to provide a more focused service to all our customers, while ensuring we are faster, more competitive and more innovative. As part of this, we introduced dedicated agency teams, a digital sponsorship team and project management resource.

Our new business intelligence team delivers compelling insights and brand understandings, while the creative solutions team focuses on cross-platform and bespoke solutions.

As well as creating a more effective commercial operation, we are investing in, and continuing to enhance, the content of our websites through both editorial and product development initiatives.

In February, we launched new multimedia studios to boost the audio and video content across our titles' websites. We are seeing clear results both in the enrichment of the user experience, through a bolder, more engaging presentation of big news exclusives, and through a dramatic increase in traffic across all our sites.

Our multimedia facility allows our journalists to produce up-to-the-minute content for our websites in-house and to participate in live broadcasts. Currently, The Sun's website, thesun.co.uk, offers video content around its SunTV portal. Among others, SunTV offers channels such as Sky News and TV Biz.

This investment has also given us the ability to create additional channels. For example, earlier this year we launched Sun Talk Radio, which is a fantastic way to engage audiences with audio and video content. With a newspaper, mobile offering, website and now Sun Talk, we are extending our portfolio and helping clients target the consumer from multiple touchpoints.

This year, we also brought the sales operation for newsoftheworld.co.uk back into our in-house ad sales portfolio, which includes thesun.co.uk, timesonline.co.uk and thelondonpaper.com.

With our highly improved commercial operation, we are in the best position to deliver intelligent and joined up solutions that deliver engaging user experiences.

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- Chris Pelekanou, sales director, Guardian News and Media

Community is at the heart of our brand, website and how we help connect our audience and advertisers. Somebody who engages by visiting the site regularly is obviously more valuable to us editorially but also to our customers.

Guardian.co.uk offers a unique level of audience engagement, a knowledge of who our users are, great targeting and research tools, and a market-leading range of content delivery platforms.

We've also been able to accelerate the move to a more integrated editorial structure. This allows our print and digital journalists to collaborate across stories, and may see them producing videos and podcasts as well as writing for the paper and web.

For instance, during our coverage of the US Presidential election we could pick up user-generated content and online debate around stories from the paper, which offered a more considered, analytical approach. The time difference meant we could react quickly online to the breaking stories and encourage discussion through our blogs. This approach also allows us to create more effective cross-platform campaigns and get the best results by using each platform to its best advantage.

Our latest innovation is the Open Platform initiative (www.guardian.co.uk/open-platform), which allows web developers to take articles or data sets and create entirely new products. By weaving our brand through the fabric of the internet, we will stay relevant and reach as many people as possible.

Main domain: www.guardian.co.uk

- James Bromley, managing director, Mail Online

Mail Online has shown spectacular audience growth over the past two years, accelerated by the launch of our new-look site in May 2008.

In March 2007, ABCe ranked Mail Online fifth against our peers by global unique users - now we are challenging for second position. Our editorial team produces incredibly engaging content that means users spend increasingly long periods of time interacting with our site. An average visitor spent more than 10.3 minutes on Mail Online in May, according to comScore - nearly double our peers.

While we are keen to grow our headline monthly figures, our focus has always been on increasing the number of users who come direct to Mail Online on a daily basis rather than people who might visit just once in a month.

We have also developed a number of new advertising formats. For instance, we now offer a bellyband, a large strap across the centre of the page, equivalent in size to three MPUs, that enables an advertiser to place "a site within a site" and become interactive with a user without leaving the site.

We also offer a "homepage takeover", where we work with a client to "own" the page with unmissable branding that frames the page and also has a defined call to action. We hope this will encourage clients to move outside of the standard advertising slots and develop entirely new creative approaches.

Our cross-media team has worked with Jacobs Creek, Sandals and Sainsbury's over the past year on campaigns that deliver both branding and measurable performance, whether through video, microsites, competitions or takeovers of sections of the site.

We recognise that clients want to produce something that has measurable ROI. What we can give them is our unparalleled understanding of our users and their reactions to advertisers within our environment.

Main domain: www.dailymail.co.uk

- David Black, group director of digital publishing, Trinity Mirror

Since we relaunched the Mirror's site last summer, we've seen significant growth. The goal of the relaunch was to bring the Mirror brand to life online, extending it across a whole range of content pillars, including news, sport, celebrity, lifestyle, advice and fun and games - broadening the content offering by harnessing the best of the newsroom and enhancing that with specialist digital skills.

As a result, we've seen more than 77 per cent audience growth for the year to date, with a particular focus on the British audience. Over the same period, more than 50 per cent of our users came from the UK, a higher proportion than any other national newspaper website. That's important because it's the audience that's of most interest to advertisers.

The success has been recognised by others too - we have been shortlisted for the Association of Online Publishers' consumer website of the year and best mobile site awards.

On the commercial side, we've concentrated on providing advertisers with integrated propositions on site - high-profile formats in clear positions to Internet Advertising Bureau standards. And there's a focus on creative solutions too, with an in-house team working with advertisers and agencies to create bespoke solutions. These include microsites that can be promoted offline within the newspaper.

It's all about drawing together the right resources - the creative solutions team working within advertising sales can pull together the right expertise from across the company to produce exactly what an advertiser needs. On the video side, we've signed a partnership agreement with Brightcove, to ensure we can create ever more compelling content on the site - and community is important too, as is reflected in our signing a deal with Pluck, a company specialising in supplying integrated social media expertise.

We're making good progress, and continuing to focus on building an engaged UK audience.

Main domain: www.mirror.co.uk

- Alison Reay, digital and multimedia director, Telegraph Media Group

Last year, we completely redesigned telegraph.co.uk in order to improve usability for the consumer, enable deeper engagement and encourage our users to consume more content. The content management system, Escenic, was introduced to enable easier navigation and improved accessibility.

The redesign also allowed a huge improvement in how different platforms are embedded on the site, especially video, and to integrate advertising and customer revenue streams more effectively. We also redesigned and launched our Telegraph mobile platform.

Digital is at the heart of our business, and creativity and innovation is a focal point for us going forward. We set up Telegraph Labs last year, in partnership with Apple, Adobe and Google, to encourage digital innovation.

The Lab is a space where commercial and editorial teams work in conjunction with our best technologists to create new products and advertising solutions.

Consequently, TMG became the first UK publisher to launch an application for Google Android when the operating system launched in the US and UK (November 2008) and this was followed by our iPhone apps (March 2009).

The application was the first of its kind to bring video to this platform and it continues to appear on the most downloaded lists on both the Android Market and iTunes.

Since early 2008, we've also restructured our sales teams to bring together the best of our TMG commercial expertise across multiple platforms and offering an integrated approach to delivering innovative client solutions.

Our award-winning multimedia solutions team, called Create, is leading the way in developing cross-platform partnerships. Recent examples include a £1 million multimedia deal with Barclays Financial Planning, HSBC's sponsorship of our Wimbledon coverage, South Africa Tourism's recent South African Feast campaign and Gordon's Gin's gastropub offer on all Telegraph platforms.

Our vision going forward is to secure our position as a leading, innovative, multiplatform audience business.

Main domain: www.telegraph.co.uk

- Bill Swanson, managing director, digital, Independent News and Media

The Independent website has shown great growth over the past 16 months. From the relaunch of our site in January 2008, to the end of April 2009, our page impressions have grown by 146 per cent to 43,466,977 and unique users by 112 per cent to 10,432,660. But our mantra has always been to constantly evolve the site. Compared with our competitor set, we work on much smaller budgets and, while we have great ambitions with the site, we need to ensure we are profitable, so we are limited on what we can do compared with what we wish to do. These are tough times.

The editorial development of the site since relaunch has concentrated on continued updates to key issues of the day, enhancing user interaction and incorporation of our blogs into the overall make-up of the site.

We are constantly working to improve our search engine optimisation and have seen the benefits of this, but this is by no means the finished article - I doubt there is such a thing.

We are just starting to incorporate video into our offering, with the main bulk of this content coming in from third parties and commercial partners. As the revenues develop we can then look to invest in our own content offering.

Coming up in the next month or so, we will be putting forward our initial mobile offerings now that the audience - and ad market - is established.

On the commercial side, we have always looked to diversify our revenue streams so that we are not wholly reliant on display advertising.

Our partner programme and cross-media deals prove we are on the right track, but in the current climate we also need to ensure that we are gaining a deep understanding of the needs of our users to ensure stickiness and relevance at all times of the user journey.

Main domain: www.independent.co.uk

- Tim Smith, general manager, digital, London Evening Standard

The London Evening Standard's online presence reflects the paper's strong London focus, which has been reinforced by the recent website redesign, as well as our new mobile offering for commuters.

The site has seen strong growth, with figures earlier this year showing 39 per cent year-on-year growth in unique users. In the last year, the content has seen more London news coverage, regular City news and more blogs from Standard writers, plus a live Q&A on Twitter, where columnists answer readers' questions. There's now a dedicated Showbiz channel, as well as the Life and Style channels featuring highlights from ES Magazine. We have also worked to produce "content hubs" around significant events, places and people in order to surface more of our great content to users.

Given that so many London Evening Standard readers are commuters, the launch of a new mobile site - istandard - earlier this year was particularly important. The mobile friendly version of standard.co.uk is designed to make life easy for commuters, with extra utilities, such as information on tube and train delays.

The Standard's commercial operation has recently formed a "strategic sales" team, which forges relationships with agency planning groups, offering creative solutions across our multimedia portfolio.

Where advertisers are interested in a purely digital campaign, we work with Associated Newspapers' digital sales division, which operates across the group's websites. Either way, advertisers looking to us to create content for them get access to our design, development and writing resource. A recent project for the advertiser Revlon included a branded Facebook application built in-house.

New ad formats on standard.co.uk include working with the video advertising company Inskin to deliver a living frame around our picture galleries.

Going forward, we are continuing our investment in digital. We will complete our video strategy this year and we are looking to further integrate the London Evening Standard digital and print editorial teams.

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