‘We want to take the secret sauce from the U.S.’: How The Atlantic is planning European expansion

Like many U.S. publishers with global growth ambitions, The Atlantic has recently pitched up in London to expand international readership and foster closer relationships with advertising clients in Europe and Asia.

The London office will have 10 employees, half on the editorial side and the other half on commercial. Another two reporters, based in Paris, will create Europe-focused content. Anyone outside the U.S. will see the global homepage, which the London editorial team curates. The homepage is still weighted to American content at this point, although more European stories are emerging, such as how the Eurovision Song Contest will be extra political this year.

“We want to take the secret sauce from the U.S. That’s talent, and also a good experience from an advertising perspective,” said Hayley Romer, The Atlantic’s publisher, on a recent visit to the U.K. “It’s a place to gain perspective from a credible authority. A mix of daily news and thought leadership: We want to say why what happened matters.”

For instance, The Atlantic has published at least half a dozen stories about Donald Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey since the news broke a day ago. These have covered the news itself, what the dismissal implies about the law’s power over the president and how Democrats have responded.

But media companies migrating from the U.S. face challenges from local incumbents, and with monetizing audiences and scaling branded content. Even so, industry onlookers appear optimistic.

“It’s not moving into an easy market, but it’s a strong brand with a reasonable U.K.-based following,” said Thomas Caldecott, a senior media analyst at research firm Enders Analysis. “There will always be a significant minority of U.K. readers interested in quality American brands.”

The Atlantic said it had nearly 34 million monthly unique users in February, with around a third of this traffic from outside the U.S. ComScore finds it had 1.3 million monthly unique users in the U.K. in that month. By comparison, last September The New York Times had around 5 million U.K. monthly unique users, according to comScore.

While scale matters to advertisers, The Atlantic is focused on reaching the right audience. “The audience is similar to the U.S. — half of them are C-suite level, and the rest are this emerging, younger set, and brands want to talk to this next generation of influencers,” said Lucy Kirkland, The Atlantic’s executive director for EMEA.

The Atlantic plans to run regular U.K. events, such as conferences and conversations with politicians and business leaders, to build this audience. With this international expansion, it also started selling a digital-only subscription, a replica of the magazine, for $24.99 (£19.30). The idea is for overseas readers to take advantage of its membership benefits, like access to e-books, audio files and conference calls. Now, it offers three subscriptions: print, print and digital, and digital. The Atlantic said 68 percent of new subscribers have chosen a subscription with a digital component in the last month. International subscribers have doubled as a result of the new subscriptions tiers, according to the company.

Since opening in London just over a month ago, Kirkland has shopped The Atlantic’s native advertising wares, which drives two-thirds of its revenue, to local brands and media agencies. In addition to new business, six existing programmatic clients have extended their partnerships with The Atlantic through branded content. She estimates that global branded-content campaigns from European partners will start running in July. The publisher’s U.S.-based branded-content arm, Re:think, has grown from 32 people last year to 40 to meet this demand.

Mark Syal, managing director at Essence, said The Atlantic was “brave” to open a local commercial team. “There will be barriers to overcome in making direct connections,” he said.

“With smaller publications, the campaigns are too small to see if it has really worked. There needs to be demonstrable value in the impact, either through research or the right measurement in place,” he said, referencing The Atlantic’s ability to drive high dwell times on branded content. “If someone goes to a publisher six times a month, then they really value it.”


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