How Forbes drives European growth through branded content and events

During a trying time for global expansion in digital media, Forbes’ investment in diversifying revenue streams over the last two years has set it up to grow sustainably in Europe.

According to the publisher, it now has 12 million unique monthly users across Europe, 15 percent of Forbes’ global traffic, thanks largely to its European contributor network of 200 people. Forbes has 4.7 million monthly uniques in the U.K., per comScore.

Globally, two-thirds of Forbes’ digital ad revenues now come from programmatic, direct deals and branded content, with revenues from print, live events and custom research making up the remaining third, according to chief revenue officer Mark Howard. Howard said branded content and live events are the two fastest-growing revenue streams and areas of growth for Europe.

“We’re in expansion and growth mode in Europe; we’re playing offense at the moment,” he said. “Because we’re a single title, we can make a lot of decisions about our technology, infrastructure and resource to more nimbly change focus than perhaps some others.”

Events play an important part in Forbes’ business growth. Globally, Forbes hosted 17 paid events in 2017, up from 11 in 2016. In 2018, it will add at least five more events. Three of Forbes’ events franchises will run in Europe in 2018: the CMO Summit, the CIO Summit and the Under 30 Summit, which will make its Western Europe debut. Last year marked the first CMO Summit in London, which had 85 attendees, and the conference this November will extend to a full day.

Business events are competitive, but despite their challenges, they play an important role for Forbes. “If you look at the top 20 accounts in the company, in almost every instance they are borne out of very strong relationships with the CMO,” said Charles Yardley, managing director of Forbes Europe. “Convening [CMOs] is mutually beneficial.”

Forbes has only recently built its European editorial footprint by acquiring The Memo, a U.K.-based finance and tech publisher, which has a slim team of three editorial staffers that will join Forbes’ existing team of two editorial staffers based in London. Previously, Forbes’ U.K. edit team reported to its U.S. counterpart, but Alex Wood, The Memo’s founder, is assuming the position of Forbes European editor to deepen its business and finance coverage on the continent, particularly in the Nordics.

“The Nordics are underreported,” said Wood. “Coverage often overlooks Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, but they are smashing it consistently, particularly in financial technology.”

As well as growing the number of Forbes’ European contributors, the publisher will soon launch a European newsletter, inviting The Memo’s 20,000 daily newsletter subscribers to sign up. The open rate for The Memo’s daily newsletter was around 30 percent, according to Wood. MailChimp puts the average open rate for media newsletters at about 22 percent.

Having a stronger European editorial focus will help grow Forbes’ native ad program, BrandVoice, which gives advertisers access to its content-management system to publish content directly onto the site, said David Carr, strategy director at Digitas LBi. Forbes now has over 10 BrandVoice partners from Europe, compared to seven two years ago, the publisher said.

The type of branded content Forbes creates leans toward thought leadership and whitepapers for business professions. “We lead much more with audience and a content platform, organic discovery and distribution, as opposed to leading with large creative fees and following it up with big arbitrage traffic numbers,” said Howard, although he added that Forbes is investing in the creative services it offers. Last February, the publisher introduced geolocation and audience targeting to BrandVoice. As a result, Howard said 85 percent of the content views are within the target audience.

Yardley said an undersold service in Europe is Forbes’ custom research. In the U.S., Forbes conducts research on its audience, a combination of smaller email surveys and more thorough research. Custom research is increasingly the starting point for deeper partnerships with brands, which then run smaller events and BrandVoice content with Forbes.

“Research by Forbes offers a seal of endorsement,” said Carr, “despite the fact that people on the online front know there has been a detraction from the brand because [its large contributor network could dilute the brand]. Yet Forbes has cachet and has built a very successful model from it.”

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