Thought Leadership
Fairfax Media on the Australian Independent News Advertising Landscape


Alex Sheath
Direct Sales Manager – Business & Finance and Entertainment
Fairfax Media Publications



For those of us not familiar with FairFax Media, please tell us a little more about your company and core audience.

Fairfax Media are owners and operators of some of the most trusted news sources in Australia such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. The SMH in particular dates back to 1841, but all titles have an inherent trust and credibility built through many years of independent journalism.

We also have interests across property (domain), radio (Macquarie Radio Network), events (City to Surf etc) and many regional and community publications.

The core audience of the metro division where I work are affluent, well educated, and typically fall into the AB demographic. This stems largely from the traditional print mastheads. We do however have such broad scope of brands and platforms, that each have their own nuances and points of difference in who they reach.


You have a team that sells to your Tier 1 clients through ad agencies, can you share more on the types of direct clients you work with, and their typical budget sizes? What are some common campaign success metrics they use?

Part of the challenge in our team is being able to deal across the entire spectrum of clients, from multi-nationals spending six figures sums each year, to the sole trader with modest budgets. The sole trader is often the client who expects the most from their advertising, and tangible returns on their investment such as sales, shop or site visits are important to them.

Our larger clients are beginning to see a click through rate as largely misleading, and increasingly look at engagement metrics such as time spend on page, or video completion rates for their measure of success.


Many publishers have started to feel the squeeze from major platforms such as Google, Facebook, and others, due to the sheer amounts of targeting data they possess. Due to this, a large portion of digital ad budgets have gone towards these big platforms, which siphons budgets away from independent publishers. What are your thoughts on this?

There’s no doubt that these platforms offer some very powerful and unique advertising solutions.

We partner with them in several ways and will continue to work with them in a way that is beneficial to our readers and clients alike. However, I believe we play a very different role to both Facebook and Google. What neither of these companies do is produce high quality, engaging, credible and trustworthy content. This is our value proposition and why we’re still relevant in today’s market.

Yes, Google is likely being attributed for driving conversions and yes, you can reach very specific audiences in Facebook, but who is driving interest at the top of the funnel? Who’s leading you to search for those keywords? Award winning native advertising and content marketing solutions have proved popular with advertisers over the last 2/3 years, and this is where our unique strength lays.


Publishers are also starting to feel pressure due to the consumer adoption of ad blocking. What is the ad blocking situation like now in Australia, and what is FairFax Media doing to mitigate it?

In the team I work on, ad blocking has not been voiced as a concern by our advertisers. Many of them are buying on a CPM basis, so not adversely affected by a user that chooses to block ads on their device.

Currently, whilst growing, the number of users who block ads are still low. Whilst not privvy to the conversations that I know are taking place around this issue, I believe the approach will be to ensure we’re giving the user the best possible experience with our content.

On our sites, you won’t have certain types of ad placements like interstitials, close buttons are prominent and pages won’t be ad-heavy.

If we can improve page load times, avoid click-bait and make the environments, including their advertising, relevant and useful, I think users will be less inclined to want to block ads.


You primarily work with clients in the Business, Finance, and Entertainment sectors. Are there any specific nuances about advertisers in those verticals, such as their success metrics, or approach to digital?

If you really boil their advertising down to what really counts, they’re all retailers. Our business & finance category deal a lot with investment houses and Forex traders looking to sign up new investors. Our Entertainment clients are looking to sell tickets to a wide array of events.

The environments they advertise in are vastly different, and the Entertainment industry advertising has a tendency to be far more engaging, with movie trailers and lots of video content, but essentially, the end game is the same.


Across the board, what would you say the digital and mobile ad landscape in Australia is like right now? (as in, how does everyone feel about CPMs, competition, large multi-national platforms, etc)

Digital advertising continues to throw up the same challenges as you probably find at any company selling advertising. Outdoor, TV, radio platforms and many many others all face new competition from ad tech companies vying for a share of the budget. By focusing on maintaining great relationships with our clients, becoming their trusted advisors, continuing to offer robust solutions and producing great content, we minimise the occasions clients look elsewhere and remain an important part of their businesses.


What role does mobile play in your proposals to clients? Can you give us a sense of the split between mobile and desktop content consumption across FairFax Media properties?

In the same way that the Australian market sits slightly behind the US and Europe in new adoption, so our Direct clients sit slightly behind where our tier 1 agency clients do.Its true that spend in mobile doesn’t match the time spent on these devices, but it is growing and will continue to do so.

We’re working hard to educate them about mobile and overcome the misconception that conversions and sales don’t come from mobile, that the ads are too small to be effective or that most clicks are accidental.

Our total digital unique audience number is 5.1M. 1.6M of those are from Smartphones, 3.3M from desktop and just under 1M from tablet.

I think what’s more important is the way people use mobile differently to desktop and the content they consume.

For example, we run Weatherzone, Australia’s most popular weather app. Users will typically check this first thing in the morning and offers all sorts of targeting opportunities such as by temp or condition.

We have what we call a ‘follow the sun’ strategy. Smartphone traffic spikes first thing in the morning as people wake and commute to work. Newspapers are also read during this time, especially at the weekend.

On reaching work, people switch to desktop, then back to smartphone at lunch, desktop again in the afternoon when they will commonly consume more light-hearted entertainment content. Smartphones used on the commute home, and in the evening tablet traffic spikes, commonly used as second screen.


Google recently announced the roll out of the Doubleclick Marketplace, which allows Doubleclick Bid Manager users to purchase programmatic guaranteed inventory from publishers integrated with AdX. What are your thoughts on this?

They continue to make it really easy for users to buy all sorts of inventory in all sorts of way, and in many senses, its what we’re all trying to do.

Like any advertising solution, it will suit some advertisers, but not others who need more complex buying models or targeting options.


What is the biggest challenge that independent publishers like FairFax Media face today?

Our decline in print revenue hasn’t been fully replaced by digital ad revenue. Our CEO Greg Hywood has worked hard to transform Fairfax into a digital company, investing in Streaming video on demand services like STAN, growing our property platform domain and through partnerships with global publishers like Huffington Post.

As long as we can keep generating enough revenue to employ the award winning journalists who continue to produce trustworthy credible content, we’ll remain relevant for our clients.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of monetization by independent publishers?

This largely comes back to what I said above. Our focus is on producing great content for our readers. Content that we find most users are prepared to pay for whether by subscribing, or by accepting ads on the page. I would suggest every publisher have a similar approach. Avoid click bait, avoid ad-heavy environments and think about user experience. Lose them, and you lose the game!



Fairfax Media Limited [ASX:FXJ] is an innovative and digitally progressive media company in Australia and New Zealand – the trusted voice informing, engaging and entertaining audiences and communities via newspapers, websites, radio stations, events and dynamic digital venues.

Fairfax operates several broadly-based services businesses spanning marketing, property, entertainment and beyond. Fairfax’s independent journalism and quality content has been keeping people informed and connected for more than 180 years. Business divisions include Australian Publishing Media, Domain Group, Digital Ventures, Fairfax New Zealand and Life Media & Events.

Fairfax has a portfolio of leading websites, tablet and smartphone apps, including the online news sites and in Australia and in New Zealand. The group also has leading classified and transaction websites in Australia.

Fairfax Media publishes metropolitan, agricultural, regional and community newspapers, financial and consumer magazines. In Australia, mastheads include The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, The Canberra Times, The Sun-Herald, and The Land. In New Zealand mastheads include The Dominion Post, The Press, The Sunday Star-Times, TV Guide, NZ House and Garden, New Zealand Fishing News and Cuisine, as well as agricultural publications.

Fairfax has a 54.5% interest in Macquarie Radio Network [ASX:MRN], following the merger of Fairfax’s radio business with Macquarie’s in 2015, with the leading News, Talk and Sport stations in Sydney and Melbourne.

In 2014, Fairfax entered into a joint venture partnership with Nine Entertainment Co, called StreamCo, the creators behind Australia’s newest subscription video on demand service, Stan.

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