It’s time for another instalment in our Pockets of Excellence series. These articles are designed to explore the success stories in South Africa’s media space, despite the tough, challenging times the industry is facing.
We started the series with a look at cinema as Ster-Kinekor explained how people are still flocking to the big screen despite supposed belt tightening. Then we explored how the Out of Home advertising industry is flourishing with Primedia Outdoor explaining their strategy and latest plans. This week Michael Bratt unpacks the unique combination of a digital agency and a media house under one roof.
Digital agency Creative Spark is the driving force behind the Burn Media Group, a series of internet properties that focus on the intersection of technology and media, entrepreneurship, cars and gadgets. The Burn Media Group is described by its founder “not as a media company or an online publisher, but as a content distribution network”.
The Group contains: Memeburn: focuses on everything digital in the emerging markets sphere; Gearburn: a look at the newest gadgets from around the world; Ventureburn: the tales of the world’s startups and tech entrepreneurs; Motorburn: exploring the motor industry from a tech-savvy perspective; and Jobsburn: advertisements of career opportunities in the tech sector in broader emerging markets regions.
Creative Spark and all of the above sites were the brainchild of South African internet entrepreneur Matthew Buckland, who previously worked as a journalist at The Star and Out There magazine. He also previously headed up the Mail & Guardian Online and worked as head of the innovation division at 24.com. “Burn Media creates a culture of innovation within the company and gives our agency a ‘unique flavour’. The agency services Burn Media from a technology and platform point of view, and sometimes the agency uses Burn Media’s content skills,” says Buckland, describing how the two elements of the company interact.
The business, now 40 people strong, has been running for five years and has seen an evolution in its operating model. It started as simply a web development company but is now a full-service digital agency which includes development and design of websites and apps, digital marketing solutions and digital strategy. The group also recently opened its media division which places advertising for companies via Google, Facebook, Twitter and on online media. The 25 clients which are serviced include ABI, Philips, Kimberly Clark, Gautrain, Edgars via M&C Saatchi-Abel, e.tv, DStv and Ndalo Media.
In terms of the tech websites Buckland says Ventureburn, which tells the country’s start up and entrepreneur stories, has been the fastest growing. The sites target the digital industry as well as everyone and anyone who is interested in technology and digital trends. Collectively they get around 300 000 monthly unique users per month. However being a niche player has led to some advertising challenges for Buckland and his company. “Because we have relatively small traffic as a niche player, we have had to innovate with regards to our revenues streams. We were one of the first sites locally to offer an interstitial ad, love it or hate it, as the site loads,” he said.
And the innovation doesn’t stop there. There are big plans in the works for the group including the launch of a company office for VentureBurn for the start-up ecosystem soon. Also on the cards is a move into the print space. Despite doomsayers who predict that the print industry is rapidly dying and being replaced by digital, Buckland says, “The reality is that most print products outperform their digital media counterparts in terms of revenues. Despite the ‘received wisdom’ and what the philosophers and digital gurus say, print at this point in time outstrips digital in the media industry. In business you need to work with what is happening on the ground, which is our immediate reality.
“And this is the immediate reality. I am not saying the magazine industry is not tough, tougher than it ever was, but if done right – I think a niche print magazine can be a good business.”
Buckland is also looking to expand the business including its personnel from the current 40 to 200. Both organic growth and partnerships with larger entities are being explored.
But for now Creative Spark and Burn Media Group are doing well with Buckland concluding our chat by saying, “We now get offers on a monthly basis to buy a stake in the business – so I guess we must be doing something right!”
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8
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