There’s a fundamental disconnect between how publishers’ describe their audiences and how they treat them. Many publishers – especially those in the news game – love to call their readers ‘premium’ or ‘valuable’ because they loosely fit a demographic description, because that makes access to that audience sound more attractive to potential advertisers.

But most publishers are simultaneously engaged in attempts to grow their audiences globally, because huge readership figures are also attractive to advertisers, and that’s a hard square to circle. Growing an audience to the scales required to make any significant ad revenue risks diluting that audience’s quality.

There are attempts to solve that dichotomy. Some might even work. But a better solution – one that works especially well for niche publishers – is to put that quality at the heart of a strategy and embrace the opportunities that follow. Ollie Lloyd is CEO of Great British Chefs, and oversaw its growth from a home kitchen start-up to an international publishing and consultancy business. He explains how the business grew from the kernel of a sole focus on a premium audience of foodies:

“The reason we’ve maintained a premium audience is that we don’t think like a publisher. We think like a brand. The fundamental question is ‘who is going to buy my product’, and you design everything to make sure that the products you’re building are right for that target consumer.

“That brand-centric approach means that you don’t end up doing things that aren’t relevant for that audience because it’s got to be relevant to the brand.”

Brand centric quality

Great British Chefs employs 120 chefs and around 80 bloggers in the UK to create content – whether that’s a focus on procurement of ingredients, through to specialised recipes or video profiles of individual chefs – that appeals to the UK’s most ardent foodies. By definition that puts a cap on the number of visitors the site and its properties will receive, but Lloyd argues that GBC’s reach goes far beyond its initial audience:

“We absolutely see ourselves as the gatekeeper to the UK’s foodie. There is no one else – Jamie, Delia, Nigella, BBC Good Food – none of these brands has anything like the kind of commitment to more aspiration, more premium culinary techniques than we do.

“There are 9 million people who will watch the final of Great British Bake Off, and people believe there are about six to seven million foodies in the UK. When you think about kinds of brands that ultimately we work with, I suppose what they all understand is that the audience we have is the core premium foodie audience… [which is] useful for two reasons.”

The first is that the standard UK food enthusiast has more disposable income than is usual, which means premium brands who work with GBC can create bespoke marketing campaigns that have a much greater chance of generating sales. Due to GBC’s “some would say insane” policy of only working with one brand per category (as broad as types of beef and as narrow as types of cooker), that ensures that brand “owns the conversation” with the potential consumer, a far cry from the spray-and-pray nature of much advertisers. 

The second reason is that core audience is one of influencers, who can spread that brand message far beyond the bounds of GBC:

“They know that when our audience is cooking they’re, in many ways, showing off the brand choices that they’ve made to their friends. Therefore that audience influences a wider audience.

“There absolutely is this trickle-down effect, but where it stems from in my opinion is niche-interest areas where leading publications set the agenda for what is trendy, what are the brands you should work for.”

Expanding without losing quality

But, having established a premium audience brands will pay to reach, how can a niche interest publication expand? Like most publications GBC is ramping up its video operation, which remains the great hope for revenue generation, but it is also expanding geographically and diversifying its business model, using its trusted status and premium audience as a launchpad.

Spin-off Great Italian Chefs now has 40 chefs creating content in the same way as its British counterpart, with a strong focus on the different cuisines that exist within Italy. Lloyd explains that, far from diluting the quality of the audience, such expansions allow for cross-pollination of ideas and the opening up of opportunities for other brands to get involved:

“Global expansion will come from us saying ‘right, we’re going into Spain, we’re going to launch Great Spanish Chefs, an English-language site about Spanish food, who will that appeal to?’ A group of UK consumers who are into Spanish food, so we can build deeper, even more relevant content and become an even more go-to place for our UK foodie audience.”

Additionally, having managed the relationship between brands and premium audiences has given GBC expertise that is being parlayed into revenue diversification:

“We are now doing consultancy work. The two brands we’re working with, one a private equity funded business in the hotel area, and one in a massive global FMCG brand… they’ve come to us because they believe we fundamentally understand foodies, food trends and can help them reposition their brands from where they are today with a deep insight on food and also into the way brands connect with audiences and content.”

Great British Chefs has the inherent value of being in an especially valuable niche. But by refraining from expansion for the sake of seeing numbers increasing and recognising that brands will pay to be connected to a niche audience of influencers, the foodie hub is expanding in a smarter, more lucrative manner.

Ollie Lloyd will be speaking at Monetising Media 2016 this September. For more information or to book a ticket, click here.