Media: Understand the potential of MSN

MSN UK unveiled its first major redesign in three years last week. The changes aim to make the site a one-stop portal where users can access Facebook, Twitter and email updates, the Bing search engine and a broad range of editorial content.

Web portals are often overlooked by PROs, because they aggregate content from partners such as Reuters and AP. But MSN has its own team of in-house writers looking for exclusive content. And with a reach of 26 million unique users a month (60 per cent of the total UK internet population), MSN UK should be on the radar for any PRO.

The homepage now displays an increased amount of editorial content from MSN's individual sector channels, including the award-winning MSN Cars and the recently launched men's area 'Him'. It also places more emphasis on video content, with its video player offering both short clips and full-length free-on-demand TV shows.

MSN UK editor-in-chief Matt Ball says he is trying to keep users on the site for as long as possible by making the homepage more interactive and the individual channels strong players in their own right. 'The big question is once a user reads an article on our site, what do they do next? The most successful sites offer related content and links,' he says.

So MSN will now allow users to share content on social networks, research a topic on Bing, view more related pictures, stories or videos or discuss a topic with other users. 'The more interactivity you can offer, the more engaged your users will be,' he says.

MSN takes content from a range of sources. News is taken from PA, Reuters and ITN, opinion is often taken from Newsweek, The First Post and The Daily Beast, while video comes from a range of providers. Ball says his key piece of advice for PROs is to make sure content is listed on the correct intermediary sites such as Precise's Media Planner, or for the MSN Money channel. 'If you're pitching stories to our content partners, there's a chance we will use it too,' he says.

But MSN UK's 35-strong editorial team are also looking for tailored content. 'We're interested in stories that might be exclusive,' says Balls, pointing out its recent exclusive of the video for Kylie's new single. 'We're keen to run celebrity videos and interviews,' he adds.

Seventy-Seven PR's managing partner James Gordon-MacIntosh says PROs often overlook portals such as MSN, AOL and Yahoo. 'They seem to be seen as media channels that have somehow had their day,' he says.

But he argues that with the large reach and influential audience, PROs should take the time to understand how they work.

'Once you understand which content the portal's editorial teams originate, you can deliver them stories reaching a core, slightly older, higher-spending audience in the process,' he says.


Unique users: 26 million a month (UK)

Twitter details:

Staff: 35 editorial staff for MSN UK

Reaches: 60 per cent of the UK internet population


Email details are in the site's 'Contact the Editors' section:


- Describe your editorial style

Our style tends to be shorter than for print. We're looking to get great content and information to our users with minimum fuss.

- What are your deadlines?

Each team has a news meeting around 9.30-10am each day, but we are publishing all the time so there is no specific deadline. We monitor clicks off our home page to see which stories are pulling in readers. We can then adjust our content according to what our readers are telling us.

- How can PROs contact your team?

I'm seeing an increasing number of approaches through direct messages on Twitter, which is fine. All of the team are on Twitter, but we also take phone calls and emails.

- What is your view of PR people?

I've worked in online media for the past ten years. PR professionals' approach to online media has come a long way in the past few years. I get far fewer randomised emails.

- Are you trying to attract global users?

We have more than 30 sites across the world with a global reach of 400-500 unique users a month. Each site offers local market, language and content for that country. Our entire focus is about attracting UK users, not those from other countries.

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