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Ep. 22, Featuring Steve Jones from Kelsey Media

For more than 20 years, Kelsey Media has been publishing some of the most inspiring and engaging content for their readers around the world.

With a portfolio of over 80 fantastic brands, including huge names like stuff.tv and psychologies, Kelsey Media’s magazines and sites have a tremendous reach and a wide and varied audience— with interests in everything from tractors to Porsches to fitness.

Today, I’m joined by Steve Jones, Digital Director at Kelsey Media, a driving force behind the brand’s continued expansion and success to talk about the importance of performance in publishing. Welcome to the show. Good to see you, Steve.

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Amit: Kelsey Media has been around since 1989, so in the past 30-plus years, how have you seen publishing evolve?

Steve: I can only really comment on the last few years where I’ve been involved in the business. But what we’ve seen is, in that time where we sit in the specialist space, it’s kind of held up from a print point of view.

The opportunity for us is to develop that business and to grow digital channels to find out more about our users. And then we’ve got some other broader interest brands where we really need to be digital-first in our thinking and put a lot of investment into that, working with you guys, looking at bringing on new content providers.

So there’s a lot changing in the space, and because our portfolio is so broad, it’s kind of different in every area, really. For us, we’ve been working with yourselves for about a year and a half.

Amit: What were some of the challenges Kelsey Media faced before working with XWP?

Steve: So we had a lot of challenges. We had a very big portfolio, and a lot of that has come from acquisitions.

Within our portfolio, we had a couple of really important brands that came from acquisitions from large media owners where they were on a different platform. They were both on Drupal. They were both unpicked from essentially a multi-site setup.

So we had a lot of challenges, particularly with one of our most important brands, which was Stuff, where quite often we had a lot of downtime, the site wasn’t reliable. It was very hard for us to get the right development results, which is all outsourced.

We had sites on different platforms. We had a lot of stuff on WordPress, a lot of stuff on Drupal, and even had some stuff on Squarespace—so we had a lot of technical challenges.

That meant that I got a lot of calls and contacts at the weekend and evenings with the site being down, and we had a brilliant editorial team that was hampered by a challenging CMS that kind of held them back, really. So there were plenty of challenges before we started working with you guys, and you’ve definitely helped us solve most, if not all, of those.

Amit: Kelsey Media has quite a lot of breadth. It has 30-plus sites, over 70 brands. How do you manage that many brands as an organization?

Steve: It’s a massive challenge because it is a very diverse portfolio.

We’ve got things in the B2B space with agricultural brands. We’ve got quite a lot of automotive brands. We’ve got some stuff in the sports space. We’ve had to prioritize and treat things differently.

There’s brands within there like Boxing News, where their approach is very much social-first, all about immediacy and leading the conversation. So things like their social reach and podcasts are really important to that brand.

Whereas, what we’ve done is we’ve highlighted a group of kind of five or six brands where we see considerable digital scale growth being a priority for us. They all meet a similar criteria, really. They’re all in spaces around people’s passions and interests, all global passions and interests.

So things like technology, photography, fitness, outdoor pursuits, and some of the automotive portfolio as well. So we’ve tried to look up where that passion involves a lot of products and where our editorial authority and trust enable us to help people on a user journey.

So whether that’s telling people what’s new in that industry, whether it’s review content, whether it’s comparative buying guides, or endorsements. It’s the five or six brands that meet that criteria that we’ve focused on investing in significantly, whether that’s from a results and a technology point of view.

Then we’ll look at other areas that we can roll that out and other areas where the challenge is slightly different, and it’s more about smaller specialist audiences and it’s about capturing data, knowing more about our audiences to be the catalyst for whether that’s content, whether that’s getting the right people in the room for a roundtable, whether that’s about actually feeding into our events business, which we’ve got a very established events business in the automotive sector.

But we’ve got some really smart stuff going on in some of those more specialist B2B top areas. So it does a different thing in different areas. Some of it’s about scale, and that’s where we’re investing, and that’s where we’re able to work with people like yourselves, which has been brilliant.

Amit: I’ve loved looking through the portfolio, brands from Porsches to fishing. There’s quite a wide gamut within that, which is really neat. One specific brand like Psychologies was a really interesting one. I think one that does really good for society. You reimagined and redesigned the membership process from the ground up. Are you able to talk about what that has meant for the brand?

Steve: I think it was an interesting time that we were working together on the Psychologies project because essentially its mission is to give inspiration and advice to help with people’s emotional well-being. We’ve had some quite challenging times, and it didn’t make sense to have any of that content not accessible.

It needed to be accessible to everybody. So we kind of flipped it on its head. We worked with you guys to move away from having some of that content behind a gate or a wall for our subscribers and our core audience.

We moved away from that and used the membership to enable us to work with very carefully selected partners that actually gave them access to the CMS to write content that’s available for all of our users. It wasn’t about putting things behind a wall; it was actually about using membership to give those carefully selected partners the opportunity to tell people how they could help them and add value to our site by contributing directly to it.

Amit: I think that’s wonderful, especially during this time when we started this project right smack in the middle of COVID-19 and lockdowns. Mental health and challenges were great, and I think it’s wonderful that you have that as one of the brands, one that we could contribute to.

Steve: Absolutely. It was an interesting time to be working on that brand. We’ve seen that the work you’ve done on both of the two sites has re-platformed from us to put them in a brilliant place where it’s enabled those editorial teams to capitalize on that and take away all the frustrations that they had with the old platform. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the Kelsey Media team.

Amit: Could you tell me a little bit about what it was like for yourselves working with our team, working with XWP?

Steve: I think it was a brilliant experience. We worked on two big projects for Kelsey with XWP.

They’re both very important brands for us. It was at a time where, across those two projects, there were some people that were involved in both, but every time that new people were involved, they brought something valuable and made a contribution to the project they’re in.

From our point of view, we very much rely on outsourced development results. The work we did on these two brands has set the benchmark for what we look for from other partners when that’s the case.

It’s been really important for us to make sure that those two brands stay within the XWP care. We absolutely would see working with you guys again. It was also a challenging time. It was all done over Zoom, and there was a lot of fun involved in the project, which I think is important as well.

Amit: Steve, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you, collaborating on these really neat projects, these wonderful sites which everyone should go and check out and support the great sites of Kelsey Media. Thank you for being on The XWP Tonight Show.

Steve: Thank you, Amit, and your team for the great work they did on both projects. Thank you. We’ll see you next time.

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