Guardian US CEO Eamonn Store: ‘We don’t want to be Mail Online’

The Guardian’s 2013 coverage of NSA leaker Edward Snowden gave the British daily newspaper visions of global domination — with the U.S. as its primary target. The challenge to that ambition comes in two parts: Not only must The Guardian tweak and sell its brand to a U.S. audience still largely unfamiliar with it, but it also has to make a similarly fraught pitch to agencies, which may not appreciate what The Guardian has to offer.

The Guardian’s not-so-secret weapon in the U.S. is its new CEO, Eamonn Store, a former exec at media agency network MEC. Store’s job is to use his agency connections and buy-side know-how to sell The Guardian’s 30 million monthly visitors to the brands that want to reach them. It’s a slightly existential move for The Guardian news group, which lost £30.9 million ($47 million) in 2013 and continues to burn through cash. And it’s eyeing digital and international growth to help turn that around.

“The role of a commercial team in any market is to ensure the future of our editorial product in perpetuity,” Store said. “That’s our sole reason to exist.”

Store spoke to Digiday about how the agency world prepared him to be a media company CEO, where The Guardian fits in the U.S., and why he doesn’t want to compete with fellow U.S.-via-U.K. publisher Mail Online.

The Guardian’s brand in the U.K. is a lot stronger than it is in the U.S.  
As a Brit, the whole heritage of where The Guardian comes from is so well-established. Whether you’re a fan or not, you have a very clear understanding of where The Guardian sits in the U.K. — though most people say that over time it’s become more central than liberal. What’s interesting in the U.S. is that it’s kind of got a different position. It’s kind of a cool, young brand. We’ve done focus groups, and young people put us in the world of Vice more than The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. It’s a different position here, which means we can do more with it.

But that’s just on the audience side. How does that conversation go with the people who you’re trying to get money from?
From a base level, we go in and say that we’ve got a big enough audience that makes us not just as a small play. We have a big enough scale that gives you what agencies what to see.

Is scale what you’re chasing?
I look at the Mail Online and the scale they have. We don’t want to be all about that. We don’t want to be trading-desk sold at 80 percent of our inventory. If we continue on our plan, by the end of next year, only 20 percent of our inventory will be traded on the open market. We’re not in the scale game, nor do we have the ambition to be like that.

So what do you want to be?
When we go into agencies, we’re talking to clients in direct partner relationships about the quality of the product and how we sell that directly. We don’t have an ambition to have a scale of 100 million and trade it all at volume at low CPMs. We consider ourselves more of a middle-market player where we have a very high loyalty and trust with our  readership and sell that at a value those readers deserve. That’s a far richer, far more interesting and productive place than reactively sending out RFPs.

How does coming from the agency world change your perspective on how all of this works?
There are no clients that I’ve worked with at the executive level who care about the specifics of the CPMs. Senior clients aren’t interested in the metrics that media owners and agencies are obsessed about. They want to know whether their media-owner relationships are helping them move products or increase their brand value.

Do agencies in the U.S. understand what The Guardian is?
Yes and no. For me, it’s fascinating coming from the agency world because we hear reactions on both sides of the spectrum: There are people who are very familiar with us and what we stand for and others that say, “Who are you, and how did you get in my office?”

The Guardian’s Snowden coverage put it on the map in the U.S. in a major way. Does that still factor into your pitch to agencies?
Do we still go and say we are the company that broke the Snowden news? Not really. It feels like you’re a one-trick pony. What the industry does know is that we have core things that we stand for. Security is one of those things, and Snowden and our Wikileaks coverage fall under that.

What about your voice. Do you think of The Guardian US as American publication or a British voice in the U.S.?
We don’t see ourselves as a British publication writing for Americans. We are here on the ground creating U.S.-relevant content for U.S. readers, but we think about how we do that in an independent, outside perspective. One of the reasons we’ve grown is that we have an outside perspective on what happens here. People talk about Snowden, but the big phase of our early growth was actually post-9/11 because in a world of very patriotic reporting, there were a lot of readers who wanted an outside perspective to balance it. That’s grown with us.

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