Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Madfest Insights: Ben Walmsley discusses the challenges involved in transforming an iconic heritage print brand into a multi-platform digital brand

Ben Walmsley, outlined the changing face of The Sun at Madfest and outlined how Britain’s best-selling tabloid is evolving from being a newspaper to an international online entertainment and news organization

Walmsley, Managing Director of The Sun discussed the challenges facing news brands when “the majority of the digital audience hasn’t picked up the physical newspaper before – how do we make our content available everywhere”

He went on to talk about the focus on building communities and changing the areas they are discussing online such as more of a spotlight on money, fashion and beauty. The change also extended to formats with video content taking a much more central role

Walmsley spoke frankly about how The Sun is viewed.

“We are known for very strong opinions, and that can be a blessing or a curse. But that has always been part of The Sun’s ethos. There is too much content out there that is increasingly bland and not provoking conversation. Sometimes we can get it very wrong, ( The Jeremy Clarkson case in particular), but we have to take these mistakes on board, learn and move on. There is a role for this in marketing as well – we found a correlation between emotion and the advertising placed in the context of this emotion – when a piece is more emotionally stimulating the advertising placed around it does better. That being said, we always need to make sure advertisers are presented in a safe environment”

Walmsley went on to discuss how this approach translates to the US market. The Sun US launched in January 2020 in an election year but didn’t have to take a political stance, avoided toxicity and focussed more on lifestyle and consumer content

“We targeted a female audience to begin with. This gave us a higher share rate, but we have since broadened out to the entire population. We take the best elements of the UK paper and apply these to the US paper especially the humour and irreverent tone”

“Continued international expansion is a goal particularly in English speaking markets, but we are also planning to explore outside of these. We will continue to look at new platforms, keep investing in video, and collect more data from readers to continue to bring them into the conversation”.

NDA is the official media partner of MAD//Fest 2023