Nicole Sheffield
CEO
NewsLifeMedia

Dispatch from Australia: Forging Direct Relationships with a Mass Audience

“Whether it’s my journalists, my product people, or my sales team, everyone’s thinking ‘we are live, 24/7.’ We are not just breaking news; we are the game.”

Nicole Sheffield, CEO, NewsLifeMedia, owned by News Corp Australia, oversees digital and print operations for media properties that play a major role in the lives of Australians. The properties include: Vogue Australia and GQ Australia; News.com.au, which reaches six million people each month; and those that delve deep into verticals such as food, health, and parenting. All together, NewsLifeMedia content is accessed by 7.7 million people each month, representing 43 percent of Australians aged fifteen and older.

Sheffield shares with IAB how she develops direct relationships with audiences, the digital trends she sees on the rise, and her winning philosophy to constantly engage Australians and keep them coming back for more.

Q: What are your user’s expectations of advertising?

A: Users expect that any content is going to make their lives better. It’s going to add to the experience. For Taste.com.au, we did an award-winning campaign at Christmas called “Glad I Can Help.” Glad came to us with a problem: “We need to do a big Christmas campaign. We want to go 100 percent digital this time, but we feel like we always have to do television and other media. We want people to realize that Glad is not just the wrap for when you’ve got leftovers. We want it to be part of the Christmas experience.”

“Glad I Can Help” was an online helpline. The thing that I loved about that campaign was that it really was of great value to the consumer. You could send a question and literally within two hours, you would get a response. We had over 100,000 people send in questions. It was great in terms of advertising dollars and relationship with the client, but the most important thing for me is that digital allows you to have a direct relationship with consumers. And not a lot of media does that.

Q: Marketers are using digital to turn things and experiences never considered to be media into amplifiers of brand messaging. Do you, as a publisher, use digital to transcend conventional limitations?

A: Experiential is the biggest growth area for us, because as more and more things are digital, people still want the real world experience. Vogue’s Fashion Night Out is our biggest event and that’s a completely digitally-driven experience. We had 600 retailers participate last year and just under 200,000 people go shop. We have a brand called Delicious, Delicious.com.au, that has a dinner series every month where a chef will take over a restaurant. We are now selling out in eight minutes, and it’s $150 a ticket.

For our parenting site, Kidspot, kidspot.com.au, we’ve got an offering called Baby and Kids Market, which is basically a market for second-hand, pre-loved products. We run 60 of those markets a year, all around the country. Now they’re businesses unto themselves. The story, and the event, and the sharing, might be at a local level, but the message is on a national level.

Q: What do you see as the next big thing in digital for the Australian market?

A: Live is the next big thing that is going to take off for us. In July, we had an election in this country, and much to everyone’s horror—particularly the broadcast networks—the final political debate was held on the Facebook Live platform of our News.com.au. It was at six o’clock on a Friday night—a shocking time because everyone’s at the pub in our country—but we still managed nearly 40,000 interactions, compared to about 40,000 viewers for the debate on Sky News and ABC. We had around 160,000 views on the night of the event.

A national airline was at the office for two hours yesterday brainstorming with my team, and everybody was asking me about “live.” [Thinking about it from the perspective of our own brands], we do GQ Man of the Year, what’s the live component of that? I just used to tweet about it, do photos, and put up a video. You think about all those opportunities to strengthen those relationships with consumers to become involved in your event. It’s going to be a really interesting year ahead.

Q: To build relationships between consumers and brands, how important is it for advertising to be customized to a user’s existing media experience?

A: It depends on your product and your relationship with that customer. There are some instances where having highly personalized interactions is the game-changer for how your brand connects, [for example, on our health site].

There are other instances where people want to be in a sports field, watching a game together. It’s going to do more for my adrenaline and my experience and the rush that I have, and that’s the way we think about our news site. We feel like we are live all the time. Our audience is watching us, we’re playing the game, in the middle of the stadium, and we have six million Australians all around us, commenting on everything that we do. Whether it’s my journalists, my product people, or my sales team, everyone’s thinking “we are live, 24/7.” We are not just breaking news; we are the game.

So, how would a brand be part of the game? Or, if they’re not part of the game, how do they sit in the stadium with the six million people watching us? I’m all for personalization, and I believe it’s really important. But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of mass.