Private Media's Will Hayward on the chase for growth, information niches and the mental health cost of fighting Lachlan Murdoch
Welcome to an audio-led edition of Unmade.
Today we talk to Will Hayward, CEO of Private Media which owns Crikey, business site SmartCompany, and public service masthead The Mandarin along with the local franchise of Inc.
Further down, we cover a positive day on The Unmade Index as reporting season got underway, with Pureprofile first out of the blocks.
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‘I am very passionate about boring categories’: Private Media CEO Will Hayward
In today’s podcast conversation with Unmade’s Tim Burrowes, Will Hayward, CEO of Private Media, discusses innovating within the confines of a challenging media landscape; where the company plans to take Private Media’s business model; the economics of publishing; and the personal toll of the company’s defamation battle with Lachlan Murdoch.
Private Media runs four publications in Australia: news and investigations platform Crikey, small business masthead SmartCompany (which Hayward describes as the ‘reverse of Crikey’), Inc. Australia and public sector-focused The Mandarin.
While Crikey might be Private Media’s most famous asset - including controversial columnists like Guy Rundle in its ranks, and a mission to “tell the truth and shame the devil” - Hayward is as keen to discuss his passion for niche categories that attract readers who are obsessed with a particular subject matter.
“I am very passionate about boring categories. People outside the category think it’s boring, people within the category are obsessed with how much information there is. It needs to be sufficiently big so it can support an advertising product and subscription product, if not also an events product. It’s likely to be run by someone not from a commercial background, rather than someone likely to go into it because there’s money there.”
“The category needs to be information dense. I don’t think the future of media is more Buzzfeeds, more Vices, those products are really hard to build and run in a sustainable way, and clearly the market is showing that to be true, with Vice going bankrupt and Buzzfeed running at a third of its revenue.”
Hayward’s interest in publishing niches is one thing he has in common with the executive chairman of News Corp, Michael Miller, who evangelised deep niches when he was interviewed for the Unmade podcast back in March.
Hayward also discusses how Private Media is planning its growth beyond its current sites. “Within the centre of the company we are working very hard to build a great media product and make great media experiences irrespective of the category we operate in, and deploy that across all of our products. The obvious question after all that, is if you have built a really good product and growth strategy, why apply it to only four things? Private Media is currently thinking about what inorganic growth might look like in the future.”
Hayward also insists he wouldn’t change much about last year’s legal confrontation between Crikey and Lachlan Murdoch, where Murdoch filed a defamation lawsuit against the publisher for claiming his family were "unindicted co-conspirators" in the US Capitol riots thanks to the role of Fox News in stoking unrest. He reveals that the saga led to him seeking professional help for the impact it had on his mental health.
“Litigation is a very tense emotional battle that draws a significant personal cost. it’s hard to reflect on that without going into emotional things,” he says on the matter.
“I had the cast-iron belief we did the right thing. While it caused me a huge degree of personal unhappiness, I felt with absolute certainty it was the correct moral action to take.”
Some other Unmade podcasts focused on media businesses:
'I love to prove the naysayers wrong': Scire founder Chris Janz on launching a subs-led business publishing challenger
'The critics are saying they're going to give us six months': Trying to make sense of Disrupt Radio
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Unmade Index swings up as Pureprofile dips
Seja Al Zaidi writes:
It was a mostly positive Wednesday on the Unmade Index yesterday.
The index, our measurement of the performance of ASX-listed media and marketing stocks rose 1.88% to land at 676 points.
Yesterday saw research house Pureprofile report its FY23 earnings.
The company recorded record revenue of $43.7m across the year and profits of around $4m.
However, although the Pureprofile results were broadly in line with expectations, the share price fell by 9.68%, with the company warning in its outlook update that it was “experiencing softer global trading conditions”.
The bulk of Pureprofile’s came from the ANZ region - $26.9m - while rest of world brought in $16.8 million.
During the financial year, Pureprofile finally gave up on its programmatic advertising, media buying and audience insights business division, Pure.amplify.
Excluding the closure of the Pure.amplify business unit in the period, which ran a loss of $303k and cost $353k to wind up, EBITDA for the year was $4.6 million, up 23% from the previous corresponding period.
Elsewhere on the Unmade Index, the three biggest stocks all saw lifts in their share price. Domain rose 3.83%, Nine 2.49% and Ooh Media 1.12%.
Printing and marketing business IVE Group rose 2.67%, while Sports Entertainment Group climbed 4.76%.
It was a worse day for Southern Cross Austereo and Seven West Media, posting falls in share price of 2.65% and 1.33% respectively.
Time to leave you to your Thursday.
Today’s podcast was edited by Abe’s Audio the people to talk to about voiceovers, sound design and podcast production.
We’ll be back with more tomorrow.
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