Guardian trumpets ‘stellar’ revenue growth

The Guardian has credited a strong editorial performance – which included its NSA revelations that dominated the global news agenda – the launch of its Guardian Labs branded content agency and its above the line marketing activity for a “stellar” year of revenue growth in 2013.

Guardian
The Guardian’s publisher marked a ‘stellar’ year of revenue growth in 2013 as strong digital and international growth, as well as the disposal of assets, also helped narrow losses and boost profits.

Group revenue from continuing operations grew 6.8 per cent year on year to £210.2m in the 12 months to 30 March 2014 – with 2013 restated to exclude the company’s share of the Trader Media Group it disposed of last year, as well as radio and the Property Services Group.

The Guardian Media Group’s deputy CEO David Pemsel told Marketing Week more than 100 new advertisers have worked with the newspaper publisher over the last 12 months, demonstrating the “confidence” marketers have in the Guardian’s ability to deliver valuable audiences and growing levels of confidence in the premium nature of the Guardian brand.

The brand was boosted last year by the launch of The Guardian’s “own the weekend” tactical marketing activity, which Pemsel said was the “biggest contributor” to circulation increases. Pemsel said The Guardian also “massively upped [its] game in trade marketing”, with a large presence at the Cannes Lions advertising festival as well as taking part in more speaking opportunities and Pemsel himself having a more direct relationship with top clients than previous executives.

Pemsel said: “We have realised there needs to be a constant drumbeat when it comes to trade marketing. That was maybe not the case three years ago, we were less confident and had not quite worked out what it was to be always on. But you can’t be half baked commercially..All I ask is that the commercial team matches the confidence and conviction of our editorial – and the proof is in the numbers.”

Guardian News and Media also managed to narrow its underlying operating losses in 2013 to £19.4m, compared with £26.6 the previous financial year, as the Group gneerated strong digital revenue growth, helping to offset broadly flat print revenue.

Pemsel said: “If [journalists and media commentators] continue to say ’the Guardian continues to haemorrhage money’ we can confidentally say we our outperforming the market – reducing our operating losses while growing revenue and our top line…we don’t need more proof points [of our business model].

Digital continues to grow apace

Digital revenues rose 24 per cent to £69.5m, as the Guardian’s online audience rose to 102.3 million unique monthly browsers, up from 78.3 million the previous year. Some 40 per cent of the Guardian’s traffic now comes via mobile and 25 per cent from the US.

Guardian News and Media implemented its digital first and “open journalism” strategy three years ago, which  Pemsel said the publisher has been pushing hard ever since to ensure it is understood amongst readers, advertisers and investors. “At last we have the numbers to support that,” Pemsel said, adding that 2013 was “nothing short of a stellar performance”.

“Most brands are grappling with how they can have a more authentic, open conversation with their consumers. As they become increasingly more social, trust and transparency become criticial. Success in the digital space for organisations is to be more open. The idea of ‘open’ is not going anywhere, because of that, and [it has acted] as our trojan horse that has got us where we are so far to understand the digital opportunity,” Pemsel said.

Part of realising the digital opportunity last year included the launch of the Guardian Labs branded content division in February. Given its launch just months ago, Guardian Media Group has not released a year on year improvement figure for the Labs division, but Pemsel says “every target we have set Guardian Labs we have walked through with relative ease”, helped by six figure deals signed with EE and Unilever.

In May The Guardian released what it described to Marketing Week at the time as a “significant milestone” update to its mobile app. Pemsel says this has already shown signs of pay-off, having been consumed by 900,000 users since launch, which includes 300,000 new downloads.

The next 12 months

Going forward, the Guardian Media Group is looking to increase revenues both online and offline this year by offering membership services to leverage its loyal audience. Last year Guardian poached Co-operative brand director David Magliano to lead its membership efforts, the first iteration of which is set to launch in September, with more to follow in January. The Guardian is also considering opening a live events venue, Pemsel said, although no details have been confirmed.

The Guardian’s international audience also provides a “huge” revenue opportunity, having opened offices in both the US and Australia in recent months and grown traffic siginficantly in both regions over the past year. Revenues from the US operation more than doubled on the previous 12 month period, while the title won various awards in the region including the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of the NSA revelations.

The disposal of Trader Media Group helped lead to a threefold increase in the Group’s cash and investment fund, to £842.7m and saw profit before tax rising from £523.3m to £549.2m. That money in the bank will help The Guardian focus on international expansion, Pemsel says, which may include above the line marketing activity in the US and Australia as well as staffing up and opening more offices overseas. A US launch of Guardian Labs is also on the cards.

“In five years time we will be able to talk about reaching global targets as well as delivering domestically,” Pemsel said.

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