Val Morgan creating niches as a digital publisher

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 9 November 2023
Brian Florido

The digital arm of Val Morgan, since getting into publishing four years ago, has built a stable of titles using a mix of partnerships and proprietary sites as it positions itself as the gateway for brands to connect with audiences via entertainment, gaming, technology, food, travel and women's lifestyle.

The Latch, Val Morgan’s own digital platform that was launched in early 2020, has seen its audience “grow steadily” over time, according to Val Morgan Digital’s managing director, Brian Florido.

“The thing that we really love about The Latch is that it's found a specific niche in the market, in terms of the content we create, and we've seen a big drive editorially for long form content, versus quick, top-level stuff,” he told AdNews.

“The Latch has found its niche in core topics like travel, technology, entertainment and sustainability — and not just talking and writing about it, but walking the walk through our partnerships with Carbon Positive Australia, OzHarvest, and SeenThis, which really push the envelope for sustainable publishing.”

The recent multi-year content licensing agreement to represent BuzzFeed, Tasty and BringMe in Australia and New Zealand — a move that saw Val Morgan Digital's total audience propelled to 6.4 million from 5.6 million — introduced well-known brands into the wider ecosystem.

“BuzzFeed & Tasty have injected new life and new energy into the stable and we love that these brand additions have been so complimentary to everything we do,” said Florido.

“We've historically been strong with entertainment, film, gaming — those core ad categories — and the BuzzFeed Tasty businesses has really lifted our portfolio to food and drink, especially through our alignment with VMO.”

Florido says that Val Morgan Digital is bringing a “different take” to legacy publishing houses, and can carve out its own niche in a crowded market.

“We are very focused on our core passions of gaming and entertainment, because it ladders up to Val Morgan Cinema, and we're very focused on food, drink and travel because it ladders up to Val Morgan Outdoor (VMO),” Florido told AdNews.

Related to that, Val Morgan Digital’s new brand positioning of ‘Your Portal to Shared Passion’ is not so much of a message to the market, Florido said, but was created in response to looking at how agencies and clients plan and buy media.

“We're only four years of age and the work that we've done with the new brand positioning is really aligned with how clients and agencies are thinking about talking to consumers — and it's about talking to communities of people and what connects those communities is their passion points,” he said.

“Passion points aren’t anything new; but it's just now connecting the dots and helping our partners show up in authentic ways.”

Supporting that brand positioning are five partnership opportunities for advertisers, unveiled at Val Morgan Digital’s recent Sydney Upfronts presentations.

Game Like A Girl provides a safe space for female gamers to discover and play their favourite video games free of harassment, offering brands a unique way to engage with this gaming community.

Florido said this is an evolution of where Val Morgan Digital have taken POPSUGAR Gaming and the work the team have done around driving and fighting for equality in regards to women in gaming.

“This is the next step forward, because we've only just started that journey and we're big believers of making sure that we explore every possible opportunity to drive and deliver on equality within the world of gaming,” he said.

Val Morgan Digital is also launching a monthly dinner series on The Latch called No Waste Dinner Parties, to tackle food waste and help save households $2,500 per year.

Florido said the initiative builds on the legacy work that The Latch has done around sustainability and also the work that Val Morgan does through corporate partnership with OzHarvest — knowing that food waste is one of the biggest drivers of carbon emissions.

“Similar to Game Like A Girl, it's not a new idea, necessarily — it's a more of a deep dive in delivering what our audiences are really into,” he told AdNews.

Tasty Tours sees Val Morgan Digital inviting FoodTok influencers to create real-life experiences, bringing food and lifestyle content to life for audiences and advertisers alike, and Florido said that while Tasty is an amazing brand, it lives socially and online.

“Tasty Tours is about taking it into the real world” he said.

Video Store is an immersive, in-real-life experience that showcases the breadth and depth of content from Val Morgan Digital's favourite streaming partners, providing a unique opportunity for advertisers to engage with audiences.

Florido said that's where the “great collaboration” between BuzzFeed and Fandom really kicks in for the world of entertainment.

“Fandom allows you to deep dive into those universes and franchises and BuzzFeed allows you to play with those franchises,” he said.

“Video Store really is that next evolution which allows us to bind our mega brands together to deliver more meaningful connections.”

Val Morgan Digital has also partnered with Audigent to create custom audience segments that can be accessed across the entire network, empowering advertisers to connect with their target audiences more effectively.

Looking ahead, Florido said it’s going to be a very tricky next six to 12 months depending on what happens with the News Bargaining Code.

“It will make or break a lot of digital publishers that have been so reliant on Facebook traffic and relying on its social audience to grow,” he told AdNews.

“We're very fortunate to have a sister out-of-home network [VMO] that allows us to capture, push and engage audiences beyond the URL.

“Val Morgan Digital is on pace to deliver circa 30-40% growth year on year. The balance that we have as an entire organisation is resulting in the right things, but it's going to be another tough ad market next year.”

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