MEDIA ANALYSIS: Mail site aims to be number one

As national newspapers attempt to bridge the gap between print and online, the Daily Mail has revamped its website to stay on trend. Kate Magee reports.

Daily Mail Online: employs 30 workers
Daily Mail Online: employs 30 workers

The Daily Mail is the latest national paper to revamp its website as media outlets race to improve their presence in the online world.

The new site is 'bolder, brighter and bigger' than previous incarnations, says the editorial director Martin Clarke, and there are plans to develop the site further with a new video channel and community area.

It is already the third most visited newspaper site in the UK with 18 million unique users per month, according to April's ABCe figures, putting it just behind the ever-popular Guardian and Telegraph portals (chart, below).

But for a site that boasts such a high number of viewers, it is curiously overlooked by PR people. While many say they treat The Sun Online, and as separate entities to their papers, they tend to only go to the main Daily Mail news desk with stories.

'I wouldn't consider the site to be worth a separate call unless I was doing an intensive push,' admits Bright Young Things Communications MD Niall Cowley. Instead, he would go through the main news desk, expecting them to circulate it internally.

He contrasts this with the BBC, where he would always sell in to the online news desk as well as broadcast. In his experience BBC journalists are less likely to share stories across platforms.

Scope's head of comms Alexandra O'Dwyer concurs: 'We are approached more by Mail online reporters for responses to breaking news, but generally we only tend to target the newspaper itself.' But she does treat other titles' sites such as The Guardian differently, because 'there is a stronger brand separation between paper and website'.

If the Mail Online is to change this attitude, it needs to build up an online presence that has a strong and unique relationship with its users. The redesign attempts to foster a closer relationship with visitors and tries to create a magazine environment. Content can be presented in more imaginative ways than before.

'In the past it was frustrating that we could show content in a rich way in the paper, but not on the web,' says Clarke. Users are now able to view pop-up pictures of clothes on the fashion pages, take part in quizzes and view all the magazines online including Femail and Live.

Up to 75 per cent of the next day's paper is up online the night before, but Clarke says the title is careful not to dilute the effort of its print journalists. 'We don't make journalists write for the web. We want them digging around for an exclusive,' says Clarke. Instead, the site has a dedicated 30-strong team focusing on online content.

This extra space provides PROs with more opportunity. 'We can squeeze more stories on the web because we are not limited by paper,' says Clarke. 'I don't have to choose between story A and story B. If they are good, I can put them both up.'

Online stories also allow for more effective evaluation than print versions. Talk PR director Tiffany Arntson says she has found being able to measure the impact of editorial by tracking click-throughs to client websites 'massively valuable'.

But more important than space, presentation or evaluation is the site's influence. While Borkowski agency founder Mark Borkowski believes seeding a story on some websites can be a great way to kick-start a ripple in the media, he does not believe that the Mail Online is the place to do this yet because of its relative youth.

'The site is unlikely to break a story because it hasn't got enough of a community yet. PROs want to get a story in both forms, not just sitting on the site,' he says.

But as Borkowski argues, it would be foolish to overlook the Mail Online as a PR target. 'At the moment the site is too young and hasn't formulated its personality. But it has the resources behind it and it will become important. It is 100 per cent the one to watch.'

Quick facts
Deadlines Ongoing. The team has a morning and afternoon conference. The quietest time to call is usually 2 - 3pm.

Unique users per month 18,039,943 (April 2008, ABCe audit)

Telephone: 020 7938 6000
Danny Groom, online editor
James Martin, news editor
Natalie Trombetta, showbiz reporter

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