Mobile accounted for 50% of The Irish Times’ traffic by the end of 2013. Having started the year at about half that level, continuing at the same rate, it has potential to reach up to 70% +.

The launch of our responsive site in March 2013, along with continuous updating of our app platforms, has fed into meeting the requirements of our audience, who are mobile content consumers. This in turn has had a direct impact on our mobile traffic consumption. 

The exciting part is that it’s not so much a migration from desktop to mobile, but a new traffic line in itself that is making one of the most coveted URLs in the Irish market for traffic stats alone.

Monetising mobile is a priority for us. As a 155-year-old publisher, we recognise that reputation, readership, and an enviable mobile marketing environment are — by themselves — insufficient to monetise a mobile platform. 

As Ireland’s first media organisation to go online in 1994 and to go fully responsive last year, we look for what we can do differently and better with mobile, knowing success relies on many moving parts: technology, user and market data, brands and merchants, agencies and their creative. 

We seek to involve our online partners from the start and try to get out in front of emerging mobile advertising and m-commerce possibilities.

The mobile market is one of the fastest growing markets in the media space. We all are aware of the stats on apps, phone devices, etc. Apple devices offer a good example of just how fast this market has grown. It took Apple 24 years to reach US$67 million on its computers; it took just five for its iPod, three for its iPhone, and just two for its iPad.

With Apple rumoured to roll out iWatch in the coming six to 12 months, we’re seeing devices getting slicker, in some cases, smaller, and in all cases, faster. The very fact that they are mobile makes them the most exciting space in the current market.

Brands can now target, anywhere, any time, and with different messages. Mobile is unique, and its properties create a new experience for the end user, spinning advertising into a whole new era.

With mobile, there are physical interactions that no traditional medium can offer: 

  • Touch: People can physically interact with their mobile devices.

  • Location: With mobile devices, data is immediately created on each individual device, including where it has been.

  • Movement: There are sensors in mobile devices that can create a unique experience — swiping, pinching, etc.

For brands, these capabilities mean that a user now not only sees your brand, but can actually physically interact with it.

I believe the mobile advertising market is in its infancy in terms of utilising these unique properties for ad campaigns. The penetration of mobile in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe, and it’s on the horizon to explode.

Mobile creative needs to be specific to mobile. The mindset needed to create digital assets from print or other traditional assets cannot render to mobile. Mobile creative messages should be bite-sized for brands and for publishers alike.

Like all advertising, brands are targeting consumers — not devices. However, the device size is the technicality around the creative. The consumers behind these small screens provide a huge amount of data to publishers and brands that other mediums simply can’t -- for example, check-ins on social media, etc. Geo-location targeting is one of the most important elements.

In the market globally, mobile is considered a successful medium. The Irish Times has had some of its best CTR rates through using good creative on our mobile platforms – much better than we ever have had on desktop.

Advertising aside, The Irish Times needs to be creative in how it monetises its brand on mobile. We are moving in that direction, but we recognise the need to work with partners and advertisers in this space.

Developing products for mobile devices that enhance reader engagement can also enhance what advertisers are able to offer. That doesn’t always mean an advertising campaign. But if it does, the creative needs to be targeted to mobile, just as the advertising is.

Looking deeper at our assets in content, text, video, images, and finding revenue streams outside of banners and display will be key. Monetisation of content needn’t be just about paywalls. It can also be about using these assets to create direct revenue platforms. Images used by editorial that have potential to monetise through selling products relevant to them, for example. 

Our strategy is to pick partners’ brains about mobile marketing and technologies, then use and share that information. To monetise the smartphone, we must identify market opportunities that take account of user behaviour and device-related technologies.

For example, completed in mid-2013, The Irish Times Fusion project arose from an incubator effort undertaken by the editorial and advertising departments to identify start-ups in Ireland. Unlike a similar 2012 initiative, Fusion focused on advertising. 

Within three weeks of soliciting entries to explore the future of online inventory, more than 130 start-ups had responded. After vetting their briefs, we narrowed the field to 20. Covering a wide range of ideas, what we generally found were mobile or mobile-enabled solutions. As the process moved on and the number was halved, all had mobile users as their target.

We engaged our advertisers quite early on. Those 20 start-ups presented to six agencies’ heads of online activity, who thereafter worked with us to mentor the 10 finalists.

The start-ups got in front of brands, buyers, and creative agencies. They got in front of sales people, marketing people, and editorial. They had an excellent opportunity to explore their potential within a media organisation and to get feedback from the market about what they might need to tweak with their future-of-inventory products. 

After pitching to advertising industry executives at the final event, two winners emerged: GetHealth and FrockAdvisor, which became Irish Times start-ups in residence.

GetHealth is designed to improve management and tracking in companies’ wellness programmes and to boost employee engagement. Its mobile app for employees offers individual feedback and measurement, using check-ins and other social components. An employer’s online dashboard provides aggregated data.

Two people with backgrounds in television and interest and contacts in the fashion world created FrockAdvisor, which will take over a retailer’s online presence when a store’s Web site is little-used and the owner hasn’t the resources or know-how required to make it successful.

We are helping the FrockAdvisor team build its product and will potentially sell it for them. Revenue flows from advertising and from those signing up to use it.

For a monthly fee, FrockAdvisor doesn’t just put merchandise online -- it enables someone on the street who sees, for example, a handbag she likes, to snap its photo with her phone and upload the image to FrockAdvisor.

It’s a social community, allowing the retailer to interact with the potential customer and offer a solution. It’s buying in a clever way. That’s Frock Advisor’s new inventory, and that’s why they won — because it’s a very new sales platform.

FrockAdvisor also supplies a strong editorial component. It’s really quite clever and something people will engage with, even if they’re not, at that moment, shopping or searching. We have already introduced a weekly column in The Irish Times to allow our readers to engage with the Frockadvisor brand editorially. 

The start-ups benefit from The Irish Times sales team and its brand, which can deliver a big audience. They also can take a test case from the Irish market to investors elsewhere. FrockAdvisor’s team already has made great progress in New York and European start-up events, and Get Health now has a New York-based team.

An initiative that was implemented initially for The Irish Times to assist and represent start-ups also proved to be an excellent learning curve for The Irish Times departments.All of these start-ups offer this 155-year-old publisher a new way of looking at things.

Understanding the role of mobile for businesses means thinking about the end user -- our potential consumers. Ultimately, consumers use mobile devices for three main reasons:

  • Killing time: News bulletins, checking updates, checking in on social media, etc.

  • Saving time: Booking appointments, paying bills, shopping, etc.

  • Prime time: Engaged content consumption (video, articles, etc.) leisure shopping, engagement — the ultimate consumer level.

Mobile for businesses can offer the following: services, transactions, brand awareness, entertainment, customer service, communication, and performance. These somewhat unique services need to be applied, where possible, with every strategic decision advertisers/brands make in the mobile market.

We need to be fully aware that mobile ultimately humanises the digital experience with its unique sensory connections. It is a constant attachment to our day-to-day movements. 

We, as content providers, need to move against the grain and actually scale back on traditional print content where possible. And when it comes to mobile, we need to provide interactive platforms to allow for engagement at every level. 

Engaging with start-ups in this space has certainly proved successful for The Irish Times. 

For traditional publishers to generate new revenue streams and retain current ones through migration of spend from print to digital, the opportunity can also be found in our flexibility. Risks should be taken. Mistakes will be made. 

But the opportunities will be endless.

For more on the Fusion project, check out our our video files here.

This is one of 17 case studies featured in the recent INMA strategic report “The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies.” For more information on this report, free to INMA members, click here