Brand builder: The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post: underwhelming first year in the UK
The Huffington Post: underwhelming first year in the UK

After an underwhelming first year in the UK, the site has readied a fresh campaign.

The Huffington Post, the phenomenally successful news and current affairs site, which was launched in the US in 2005, has won plaudits there for its pioneering approach to news and blogging. On this side of the pond, it has fared less well, however.

The AOL-owned site unveiled a UK version last summer, its first operation outside North America. Its presence was initially promoted with an outdoor and Twitter campaign encouraging people to 'blog all about it'.

However, it seems that what worked in the US has not in the UK, prompting the brand to change tack to attract users.

Earlier this month, The Huffington Post UK unveiled details of its latest campaign, which is scheduled to break in the coming months. It will promote original editorial content, and be based on the site's 'Conversations start here' positioning.

Noel Penzer, managing director UK and vice-president, international at The Huffington Post Media Group, has said the objectives include presenting the site beyond the 'digital-savvy'. AOL also recently appointed agency Gravity Road to handle advertising and content strategy for the brand.

How would the UK site best evolve? We asked Daryl Fielding, vice-president of marketing at Kraft and former commercial director at The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, and Marc Sands, media director at Tate and a former marketing director at Guardian News & Media.

THE FIGURES

$315m - amount AOL acquired The Huffington Post for in February 2011

2.04m - unique UK visitors in April

59.4m - unique Huffington Post Media Group (HPMG) news visitors in April

Source: comScore.


DARYL FIELDING, VICE-PRESIDENT OF MARKETING, KRAFT (former commercial director, The Independent)

The Huffington Post faces many more challenges than it did in the US, and building the brand here will be hard; it is a late entrant in a super-tough market. To top that, any digital news provider is competing with the superbly well-funded and hugely respected state product, the BBC.

Furthermore, there is no cultural connection to Arianna Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group. Therefore, the site needs to work hard to build a highly relevant and well-differentiated positioning.

The Huffington Post management may be too assumptive about the status of the brand. Judging by last year's 'Blog all about it', it needs to go back to launch basics: what it is and what it's for. Its edge for many years in the US seemed to be its liveliness, its inside track and its ability to direct readers to the hot topics.

So, I'd go back here to look for its raison d'etre. For a product conceived in the digital age, it is rather old-fashioned looking.

The Plan

- Work out what it is really for in the UK market. I might start with its ability to select the hottest talking points, giving you lively and unique insights and opinions. Position it as the tool of those in the know, whom you want to know.

- Create celebrity ambassadors to build awareness through traditional and digital channels, so it becomes associated with lively commentators to which its audience aspire.

- Redesign the site to give it a more contemporary look.

MARC SANDS, MEDIA DIRECTOR, TATE (former marketing director, Guardian News & Media)

The Huffington Post is a very small, very interesting media brand that is largely unknown beyond the media literati. However, it punches above its weight, in large part because the media spends a lot of time writing about itself. This is a good basis from which to grow.

It is looking to expand into a market in crisis. One in which, despite the public's insatiable desire for news and comment, there is little agreement among major media providers on how their future business model will operate. They are all adopting different revenue models - a sure sign that there are problems below the water line.

Being a digital-only product will be a benefit for The Huffington Post. It has no legacy of dirty print and trucks delivering product, which means it is not a brand shaking off a once glorious, but now troublesome, legacy. There are few digital-only 'serious' media brands that are financially viable, but it is in a better position than most to ride out the storm of the next decade.

Arianna Huffington is the face of the brand in the US, and in many respects, she is the brand, though I doubt she will register beyond true digital aficionados in the UK and Europe.

Online media brand choices are brutal, but less so than offline. HuffPo needs to become one of the few - not necessarily the only one - to succeed.

The Plan

- Establish it as a brand through breaking comment or news and decide its primary audience.

- Be ahead of the game in its design and presentation.

- Decide what to do with Arianna Huffington.

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