How news publishers can leverage audiences to increase digital advertising

By Ivan Tan

SPH Magazines


For the past decade or so, “digital” has been the buzzword in almost every industry, and, today, “digital” is everywhere around us. Everything, and I mean everything — from mobile phones, household appliances, and even rubbish bins — can be connected to the Internet. 

To be part of the modern society is to be intertwined with these communication technologies, and, naturally, people are spending more time engaging with their electronic gadgets. In Singapore alone, users spend close to seven hours on average each day on the Internet via their various devices.

The SPH Magazines Luxury Circle allows advertisers to reach many potential customers with a push across several platforms.
The SPH Magazines Luxury Circle allows advertisers to reach many potential customers with a push across several platforms.

Throwing traditional media companies into a digital frenzy

This also means consumers are engaging less with traditional media platforms. And this shift in consumer preference has had significant impact on the publishing industry. Advertisers, in their bid to connect with consumers, embark on their exodus away from traditional advertising platforms, and move into digital advertising platforms.

Digital media companies have reciprocated with innovative systems through which advertisers can reach more consumers, the most prolific of which would be ad networks — such as Google Adsense, and, more recently, Facebook’s Audience Networks.

These systems introduced a new mechanic — programmatic advertising, which harnesses the power of consumer insights, combined with the speed at which digital technology is able to collect consumer data — to allow advertisers to engage their intended audience in real-time.

This targeted approach boasts enhanced accuracy in identifying the most receptive consumers, promising greater CTR and conversions, for lower CPM. The merits of this system are obvious. Reach more consumers at a lower price? Seems like a good deal. It also seems like a sure route to putting traditional media companies out of business.

Focus on what we already have

With advertising as our key revenue driver, how do we, as a legacy publisher, compete with digital media companies that offer innovations that attract advertisers away from us? The answer is simple. We need to identify our advantages over these digital media companies and leverage them.

Identify your audience

For a start, we have to look at who we are reaching: our audience, what is so unique about it, and what differentiates it from the general audience.

It is common knowledge that across the majority of markets, magazine readers are premium in terms of demographics.

According to the Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising 2015, traditional media, magazine-inclusive, remain the most-trusted advertising formats, more so than digital media. This finding is supplemented by Nielsen’s Media Index 2015, where it was found that magazine readers are more likely than the general audience to be on the lookout for promotional messages.

These imply that magazine readers would be more receptive to brand messages than general consumers. There should be no doubt, then, that the magazine audience will be ready to engage with an advertiser if its brand message is presented to them.

With the knowledge of our audience’s characteristics and its media consumption habits, we can now craft strategies to better engage these people. Looking forward, it must be admitted that engaging consumers through print only is no longer an adequate strategy for publishers, yet we may be a little intimidated by the ever-evolving and nimble distribution channels of a purely digital media company.

While it is irrefutable that digital media companies have a gargantuan headstart in reaching consumers through the vast expanse of online space, that is not to say that legacy publishers are out for the count.

The consumer today is elusive, fragmented, and time-starved, and this is something that publishers have to acknowledge. Taking this into account, many have taken the plunge and ventured into previously uncharted territory, offering content in digital formats, whether on mobile, tablet, Web sites, or even social media, touching all bases in a bid to engage with as many consumers as they can — anytime, anywhere.

Besides engaging consumers through all available channels, quality of engagement is equally important. To engage with consumers at their most receptive moments, publishers have also started looking into collaboration with other lifestyle domains, such as cafes and shopping malls, providing consumers complimentary access to their magazines, as well as an intimate reading experience while on their premises.

Create your own network

Even with these initiatives, we cannot afford to be complacent. It is a numbers game at the end of the day. Given that the playing field is now global, it seems that legacy publishers only have a remote chance of matching up to the likes of Facebook and Google.

Does this mean that we are back at square one? No. With this perpetual need to guard our revenue system, legacy publishers have to look beyond magazine brands and start to capitalise on our premium audience.

With the combination of a large portfolio spanning across the region, having our media properties cut across various distribution channels, and each channel touting unique readers, all we need to do is bring them together to kickstart our very own audience network.

With cooperation between a publisher’s titles, the audience network is able to reach unique consumer segments, and this translates to several benefits for advertisers.

Previously, to access all of a publisher’s platforms and brands, advertisers would have to speak to multiple personnel. With the inception of the audience network as a one-stop marketing solution, advertisers now just have to furnish publishers with information about the consumer segment they want to reach, and they will know how many consumers they will be able to reach through this network.

The publisher will then do the rest to make sure that this number is reached by inserting the brand message across its properties. This allows advertisers to maximise the value of their investment, reaching more consumers at a lower cost.

This new approach has proven itself. Results of a partnership between United Industrial Corporation Limited (UIC), a property development company, and SPH Magazine’s Luxury Circle can attest to this.

The Luxury Circle is a network consisting of SPH Magazines’ luxury titles, and the audience is affluent and well-connected. SPH Magazines crafted a bespoke solution for UIC, which wanted to reach high net-worth individuals who are interested in property development across the region, and also resonate with the affluent in Singapore.

By broadcasting the partner’s brand message through the Luxury Circle across print, online, and digital platforms, as well as hosting an experiential event for further engagement, this campaign garnered 340% more reach, and cost 31% less per consumer reached compared to the traditional print-only, single-platform approach.


Broadcasting UIC's message across its many platforms garnered 340% more reach.
Broadcasting UIC's message across its many platforms garnered 340% more reach.

What’s next for publishers?

This is not the only success story, and although the audience networks are relatively new, publishers are not resting on their laurels. Such networks are also not necessarily limited to publishers with large inventories or a diverse and broad brand portfolio.

The audience network represents but one way in which legacy publishers can leverage on their innate advantage — the intimate and highly engaged relationship that readers have with magazines.

With the audience lying at the heart of the business, publishers have to look past their owned properties moving forward. There is nothing to stop the publishing community from collaborating and tapping into each other’s audience base, scaling their reach beyond their owned properties.

There is indeed strength in numbers, clichéd expression aside, and the publishing industry is no exception. With the rapid evolution of the media landscape, it is increasingly meaningless for legacy publishers to jostle with each other for space in the market.

For us to thrive in these trying times, perhaps it is time to consider joining hands, and together, face whatever new challenges are thrown at us.

If you’d like to reach out and explore collaborating on our audience networks, write to

About Ivan Tan

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