Why Refinery29’s global push can work

Refinery29 opened the doors to its U.K. site this week, its first part of a planned global expansion, with France and Germany on the roadmap for early 2016.

U.K. agencies welcome the addition of the women’s publication, with its blend of fashion, style and current affairs, but it’s a competitive marketplace. The U.K. is Refinery29’s No. 2 market, with monthly visitors to the U.K. side reaching 770,000 in the month of October, according to comScore. By comparison, Vice’s female-focused channel, Broadly, has 480,000 monthly uniques and Bauer’s Debrief has 230,000 monthly uniques.

The site offers little by way of inventory — in the U.S. revenue comes from creating native ads in the form of branded experiences created in-house.

“The real opportunity would be to subvert the usual advertiser and media owner relationship,” said Adam Fulham, managing partner at Mindshare. “I would like to see that consequent bump in quality of content that can be produced with a brand partner. Refinery29 would need to be super selective in the brands they associate themselves with, cherry-picking aspirational partners who their audience would feel quite natural, rather than intrusive.”

Commerce was another revenue driver, but the majority of that business was scrapped in 2013. But because of the content it offers, combined with slicker technology possibilities, Marie Peters, director at Carat’s media investment arm Amplifi, is keen to see where the possibility is for commerce in the form of shoppable content and emerging platforms.

“It got onto the Snapchat wagon fast,” she said  “Many of the existing publications aren’t exploring the more unknown channels so this works in their favor. Also in terms of a target audience, it’s communicating to new, younger audiences in a way when people are taking a moment to explore content and be entertained. They’ll come to find the content, instead of having content pushed on them.”

This year Refinery29 raised $50 million (£33 million) in funding led by WPP and Scripps Networks Interactive, bringing its valuation to about $300 million. It has been able to invest in editorial talent to fill its London office. Kate Ward , Refinery29’s vice president of international, has enrolled a team of 11 editorial staff, headed up by U.K. editor Sarah Raphael who was previously acting editor of i-D, the fashion and culture mag acquired by Vice in 2012. Associate editor Amelia Abraham is also a former Vice employee, other staff members include features editor Gillian Orr, previously at the Independent, and fashion editor Alice Casely-Hayford, who held positions at Tatler, POP and MTV.

It’s a strong team and has the right effect, according to Tammy Smulders, head of Havas LuxHub in London, which works on the agency’s fashion and beauty clients like Net-a-Porter and Hugo Boss. Smulders couldn’t disclose whether it’s already working with the site, but did say that clients are interested in the more localized content and contributors.

“Now advertisers are putting Refinery29 as a priority, saying this is a place where we need to look at with our key buys,” she said. “Advertisers have historically been leaning more on print titles, but now we are talking to clients who are reevaluating this and asking do we need to advertise in print at all? It’s a very hotly debated topic.”


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