Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Championing independent publishing: Matthew Witham, Head of Digital and Strategic Partnerships, The Race

The Independent Publishers Alliance was set up to champion and empower independent publishers. To celebrate the work of the organisation, NDA is running a series of interviews with its members. Next up is Matthew Witham, Head of Digital and Strategic Partnerships, The Race.

As one of the founding members of The Race Media, Matt created and delivered the platform and commercial strategy for The Race and WTF1 brands. He has more than two decades in Motorsport Media including leading the commercial divisions at Autosport, F1 Racing and Motorsport News

Why did you join the Independent Publisher Alliance and what do you hope it can achieve?

The concept of small, Independent businesses coming together, sharing information and learning from each other is appealing. The IPA was almost something else 4 or 5 years ago, when Alex {Newberry} real name Sean, and a couple of others were in The One Ton to hear an ‘over a quick beer idea’, which was for smaller publishers to combine to compete with the scale of the bigger players and to be more attractive to ‘Big AdTech who won’t touch the little guy.  

The already healthy membership and diverse board is the real appeal of the IPA now, and this attracts the aforementioned vendors as well as the ad tech community who can see the value.

What is the biggest challenge for your business in 2022?

Time, resource and conviction.  It’s been an exciting couple of years in motorsport and digital media, obviously challenging, but thanks to the right content strategy in place, combined with the right people (and some luck!) we have seen meteoric growth.  The challenge now is to continue to develop the right platforms and make the right choices.  

But if there was one thing; it’s humans.  The right people are required to eat our strategy for breakfast and make the right choices every day because there is only so much time to play with.

What is the biggest opportunity?

Our biggest opportunity will always be the quality of our output.  Content is King.  There is no compromise on that.  Creating an effective eco-system that consumes it is the biggest opportunity.  It’s evolved from “this is the way things are done, Matt Witham…click on the link in the bio etc” to working out depth, tone and personality on different platforms, how much to say and in the case of Newsletters when to say it.  

The centre of the universe was once a brands’ magazine, but brands now have the opportunity to be different by platform.  This allows content to be consumed on the platform audiences want to consume it, which is not necessarily what media owners set out to do (wouldn’t it be nice if audiences consume every single product!) but it actually provides a far bigger reach, different behaviours and excitingly different entry points to engage.  It makes for a compelling sales story.

How is your business adapting and evolving to take advantage?

Applying what I’ve already said really and remaining agile, we’re lucky to be independently owned (obviously) so can move quickly.  Our approach has always been to disrupt and lead our particular marketplace, but if you don’t engage and listen to the data, audiences and advertisers, whilst applying some common sense, you cannot grow any of them.  We don’t always get it right but you won’t see a facsimile of someone else’s work in what we put out. 

And with tech partners?

It would be remiss of me not to say how we harness our first party data and pour more in.  Nobody truly knows what Google are up to, good on them for bossing it – who wouldn’t behave that way with all that data and power? But we’re not sitting around letting it happen and then crying about it – we hold plenty of audience insight, and of course we know who and where our audiences are, how they behave and how to speak to them.  So when the time comes we’d like to think we can continue doing what we do well.  Content is King.

It’s important to say all partners are vital to us and we believe that partners aligned with our goals get the best out of the market for all involved; it’s not just see if you can get 90:10 splits. We cannot have multiple massive headcounts in every part of the business so we need to be able to have trust in what they do.  

In terms of new partners; what will make the difference for any media business is incremental improvements that work with our content delivery strategy and fuel growth.  Swapping one partner for another to simply compare performance isn’t necessarily the best use of anyone’s time.   We see real opportunity in the market right now, some really clever people with solutions that will make the car faster, we just need to make time to bring them in and give them the opportunity to understand us better.

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