ShortList Media, the publisher of free titles like ShortList and Stylist, is betting on in-house content studios to deliver significant amounts of revenue over the next few years. Back in the tail end of last year it announced the founding of its own in-house studio, Family, in response to demand from partners.

ShortList is hardly alone in going all-in with dedicated content studios and new events wings. Driven by advertising pressures and the ongoing disruption of traditional revenue models, many publishers are looking to new products and more direct relationships with brands to shore up those weaknesses. Its chief executive Ella Dolphin told an audience at Digital Media Strategies ’17 why ShortList is well-placed to diversify:

“Without a doubt there are structural declines in print advertising which is not in line with audiences. We do not have a consumer problem, we could easily double the circulation of Stylist. Thats been an adjustment for us. We’ve adjusted to the fact we’re going to have a new landscape. When you’ve got really strong brands, you can then diversify.”

ShortList didn’t spring into being fully formed and primed with that strong brand, however. Dolphin explained that the first nine years of ShortList Media’s existence was largely in service of building up those brands, from a free print product launched during a time of editorial cutbacks. Now that the brand is established in 10 major metropolitan cities, however, Dolphin argues that the future is about creating platforms that serve the audiences in those areas. She explained:

“There’s a belief in the business that is [about asking] what would everyone else not do at the moment? ShortList launched in the recession. We tend to think about where the gaps are.”

Session moderator Helen Philpot asked about how ShortList continues to focus on its existing audience given the need to appeal to more (and younger) potential customers. Dolphin’s answer was that since ShortList is first and foremost concerned with the needs of its audience, it can remain relevant to an audience that is predisposed to pick up lifestyle freesheets:

“There is a difference between a person who walks past a magazine… versus the same demographic in the city that doesn’t. We call them the Met Set. The [key differentials of the] Met Set is that they are happier, they rate happiness as a very important thing for them. They go out more often, they are the ones who influence their social group.

“50 percent of ShortList readers who are men describe themselves as ‘feminist’. They go to work with a hangover but they’ve got cures for it. We’re using that to engage with our audience in the way they want to be spoken to.”

As a result of that focus on what its audience expects from a media company, Dolphin says that ShortList sees social video as a necessary part of its media mix over the next few years. ShortList gave a video time free rein to experiment with the format for a while, to ensure they hd a good grasp of the grammar of social video. She explained:

“Video now is the gatekeeper to your social audience. About 10 months ago we carved out some of the best talent in the business, gave them the studio and said ‘go and learn how to make some video’. We actually specified that they didn’t get hung up on the analytics. They were playing quite a lot with social video and they learned you need to get good at silent movies.

“We’re launching ShortList this year, as a video franchise. We’ll work with partners to create branded video content. We’re talking about stuff to buy, things to inspire.”

In line with many of the other speakers we heard from on the product diversification stream at DMS ’17, ShortList is also looking to parlay its expertise in the subject of its journalism into a strong events strategy. Unlike Future Plc, Hearst and Dennis, however, ShortList is much more an experience and lifestyle publication in the vein of Time Out, which is looking to really own some areas of that space. Dolphin says that publishers have an advantage in transitioning to events production that shouldn’t be overlooked:

“Publishers in general are good at events because we’re brand owners. When we go into an events space we know how to control the brand in that environment. It’s almost like stepping into a magazine and I feel like we’ve pioneered a new format.

“The events team also works with our brand partners to put on events for the consumer which is a win-win for us.”

While is still a way to go before ShortList is quite in the position Dolphin would like – she mentions that a key priority for the upcoming year is building up the team’s data capabilities to take better advantage of the tens of thousands of audience emails to which they have access – ShortList is proof that the counterintuitive bet doesn’t always go awry.

As TheMediaBriefing’s CEO and co-founder Neil Thackray said, publishers looking for a diversification strategy could do a lot worse than to emulate ShortList.