‘The key word is focus’: How The Stylist Group grew digital ad revenue 72%

The Stylist Group, the U.K. female-focused publisher, has grown digital revenue 72% year over year between April and June, though the publisher declined to say from what base. In large part, the publisher has attributed that growth to narrowing its focus since shuttering the print edition of Shortlist, the group’s male-focused counterpart, last November.

Like a lot of publishers, The Stylist Group’s growth is driven by branded content revenue, which has increased 60% year over year since the publisher began proactively targeting new clients outside its core fashion and beauty verticals. Stylist has also grown programmatic revenue by 40%, which it claimed was a result of doubling its audience to 2.3 million monthly unique users, according to the publisher’s Google Analytics numbers, and inking more private marketplace deals to drive up CPMs.

“The key word is focus,” said Owen Wyatt, managing director of The Stylist Group. “Eighteen months ago we had to place bets, particularly if we wanted to be a growing business rather than a shrinking business. We didn’t want to wait for those elusive million-dollar partnerships which the whole industry is briefed on. We have a ruthless focus on campaigns between £50,000 ($60,700) and £100,000 ($121,000).”

Pitching for campaigns with unusually high budgets and typically tight turnarounds can be a resource drain. When these deals don’t materialize or are won by other content studios, it’s not just demoralizing but inefficient. While the process of pitching for work that you don’t win is unavoidable, by squarely focusing on a smaller cross-section of campaigns and targeting a list of 100 potential clients, Stylist is boosting its chances.

For instance, for British Airways, Stylist scouted out the airline’s two least-popular flight routes and approached the brand with two branded content articles. This led to a £150,000 ($182,000) partnership including branded content articles. Wyatt estimates that two out of five times this approach of proactively contacting marketers, and not waiting for pitches, wins business.

“This [£150,000] is an amount that’s not insignificant but also is attainable,” noted Bruce McGowan, head of content partnerships at Publicis Media, who has worked with Stylist in the past. According to McGowan, Stylist has approached Publicis twice in the last six months with content ideas.

Stylist isn’t alone. Other publishers, particularly digital-first businesses, are this proactive with agencies, but Stylist has noticeably improved its pitch approach, according to agencies. “Perhaps a year ago they could have been accused of sitting back on their reasonable readership,” added McGowan. “But they are well-regarded and have clearly invested in the team.”

Stylist is now running between 10 and 15 branded content campaigns a week across print, video and digital, said Wyatt. Between April and June, around 40 campaigns were from new clients since the publisher has expanded beyond fashion and beauty brands to advertisers like opticians Specsavers and contact lens company Acuvue.

The bulk, 80%, of Stylist’s digital revenue is from branded content but programmatic has seen a boost too. Stylist has doubled its audience by increasing the amount of content it publishes and honing its SEO and paid social tactics. This lets the publisher leverage more private marketplace and programmatic guaranteed deals, where premium inventory can be bought at a higher price in exchange for a guarantee of quality.

For now, 20% of the publisher’s digital revenue comes from programmatic advertising, 80% of this display inventory is sold on the open exchange, where factors like demand and targeting impact CPMs, in some cases lowering CPMs below £5 ($6.05). “We are getting to a place where we are going to be far enough on the front foot to start pushing back on bids at that level,” said Wyatt. “We want to work with brands who value quality and are prepared to pay for it.”

Stylist is now running roughly five PMP or PG campaigns a month. Recent PMP campaigns with luxury brands Hermes and Burberry have fetched CPMs of over £20 ($24.29). The goal is to increase the number of these deals possibly by hiring several new digital sales staff.

Currently, Stylist has 113 employees. Since mid-2017 it’s hired around 25 in digital specialists, focusing on areas like programmatic, data and digital content creation. Family, the content studio has around 10 people. Reportedly 20 roles were lost when Shortlist’s print edition was shuttered.


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