How Ziff Davis is expanding globally

The economics of digital advertising favor players with scale, and, increasingly, publishers are looking overseas for growth. The trick is to establish local credibility while keeping costs in check. The Huffington Post does it by partnering with local-market publishers. BuzzFeed takes an owned-and-operated approach but focuses on markets that have strong social media usage on which its viral content can easily travel.

Ziff Davis has tried to take the best of both worlds, with an approach that mixes local and corporate control. The tech, gaming and lifestyle publisher of IGN, and AskMen publishes 39 editions globally. Its non-U.S. audience grew 25 percent year over year in the third quarter, and now accounts for about half of its 100 million total monthly uniques. Translating that to revenue is harder: International makes up just 10 percent of the company’s overall revenue. (The Huff Post isn’t that much further ahead, international accounting for 10-20 percent of its overall revenue.)

Here are five ways Ziff Davis is making global publishing work for it.

Common CMS
Other global publishers like The Huffington Post and Business Insider are, or are in the process of, using one content management system across their international sites. In a similar vein, Ziff Davis has all its overseas editions (most of which are partnerships with local publishers) using its homegrown CMS. The idea is to give its partners local autonomy but have the technological benefits of a shared platform. The common CMS lets them pick up content from Ziff Davis’ owned-and-operated markets and repurpose it for their own editions, and it makes for a consistent user experience.

Getting established in a foreign country is hard for any media company. Going into India, where IGN was publishing an English-language edition, or the Middle East, where gaming is relatively new, added to the challenge. In cases like that, Ziff Davis looks to its local partners to put on events, as its Middle East region did earlier this year with IGN Convention, a Comic Con-like event in Bahrain that drew 20,000 gaming fans. Six to seven such events are planned this year, up from about four last year.

“When you’re launching an international audience, that can be a really powerful way to build community, make your mark and build a lot of good will,” said Adam Doree, Ziff Davis’ London-based director of international business development.

Editorial coordination
Everyone talks local autonomy, but with 39 editions stretching across 95 countries, coordination is key. So Ziff Davis has events that gather all its editorial teams for a week for training and idea-swapping. Games is an area that’s ripe for coordination, as games tend to be released globally. So Ziff Davis developed a program called IGN First, in which it will guarantee monthlong, global coverage of an entertainment product such as a game in exchange for exclusivity.

“The challenges are that it is really easy to do the same as IGN is doing,” Boris Lehfeld, senior manager at Gamescom, the giant gaming fair in Europe, of which IGN was a partner this year. “But they’re grabbing people who are good in this business and on social media.”

Ad coordination
To date, the global business still accounts for only 10 percent of total company revenue; here, coordination can be a benefit. Noticing that ad formats had varied from region to region, Ziff Davis created a common ad kit to facilitate multi-territory buys. (Said Doree: “Clients said, we can’t be creating 100 different versions of these creatives.”) A handful of clients like Sony and Paramount Pictures have done multi-territory buys, and Ziff Davis sees potential for more through AskMen, whose client base includes globally minded categories like auto and accessories.

Human translation
With so many local-language editions, you might expect Ziff Davis to use a translation company, given half of the content on the global sites is picked up from the company’s English-language sites and repurposed. Here, though, Ziff Davis found this task works better on a local basis, because translation companies can miss nuance and context, and can’t localize video, which is a big part of the local editors’ need, Doree said.

“What makes content ‘localized’ is not just local language, but also local relevance, and translation companies can’t provide that,” he said.