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FIPP meets...Mongoose Publishing's chief content officer, Matt Bellotti
Date: 13 April 2015
Source: FIPP


Media products don’t need to be over-complicated. Simple, but effective products and quality content, will underpin overall copy sales and revenue, says Matt Bellotti, chief content officer at Mongoose Publishing in Malaysia. He spoke to Piet van Niekerk.

The second quarter of 2015 is a good time to talk to Matt Bellotti. Mongoose Publishing in Malaysia is seeing its revenues hold up well in an increasingly competitive market. The recent investments made into diversifying into digital media, social media, events and brand extensions are working well. So much so that they are reaching larger audiences and growing market share. Yet, warns Bellotti, it is a fine balance – keeping brands growing while launching so many new titles – each of which brings its own set of challenges with recruiting and training quality staff. Launching new titles is something Bellotti has found himself emerged in.

After initially editing Mongoose’s Expatriate Lifestyle magazine, he soon turned the bi-monthly into a monthly and the number one newsstand magazine for Malaysian expats. What followed was even more challenging – recruiting teams and guiding editorial format for launching a number of new titles: Time Out Kuala Lumpur in 2008, Esquire Malaysia in 2011, Men’s Health Malaysia in 2014, ELLE Malaysia in 2014 and Women’s Health Malaysia earlier this year. All of this while overseeing editorial teams in Mongoose’s Singapore office where Time Out Singapore and Esquire Singapore are produced.

Having recently bagged the Media Publishing Company of the Year award in the 2014 MPAS Awards in Singapore, I am keen to understand Bellotti's recipe for success. He starts with people. “In terms of our people, the best team members are those who are creative, passionate and hard working. How successfully those qualities are channeled into iconic media products is a mark of how good it will be. But it all starts with recruiting the right people. We need to see that they are as passionate about our products as we are.” Even with the right people in the Mongoose “family”, it is even more important to keep media products simple. “Never over-complicate it,” says Bellotti. “There is a danger for passionate people to get too emerged into their products. The consumer is not as emerged as we are. Often products can become vanity projects and the message gets lost.” His solution is to check that the message is immediately apparent. Keeping it simple does not mean there cannot be many layers to the message. If there are many layers to a simple message, it can also be taken online and into alternative media with greater success.

Matt is intrigued by my description of the Malaysia market as “sophisticated”. “Yes, it’s certainly getting more so, but that conversation can go on for a while.” Most important is to be meticulously tuned into your market. “The Malaysian market is interestingly poised. We see an exciting, demanding middle class emerging. However, there is low transparency.”

To maximise Mongoose’s product penetration in a market where many people have diminished access to reliable information, they use the tagline ‘Communicating With Integrity’ to reassure clients that they deliver on promises. One of these is that they produce “disruptive media”. This means Mongoose Publishing is not afraid to be different or write about topics others may consider off-limits. As an example, Esquire Malaysia was the only magazine in the country to devote 5,000 words to report on the state of a water shortage in the country.

But being different from the mainstream media does not always need to be political or controversial. Something as simple as getting an event off the ground that is slightly out of the ordinary and away from the mainstream, can pay dividends. Like the Time Out Comedy Thursdays (of which Matt himself is usually the compere), which has now become the longest running and biggest stand-up comedy shows in the country. Or publishing on different platforms. Last year, Mongoose launched Men’s Health books with localised and international content and worked with a local filmmaker to produce a video on “Kuala Lumpur’s Kopitiam (coffee shop) Culture”, winning the WAN-IFRA Award which recognises how organisations embrace emerging technology in the Asian region.

“We need to show readers that we want to give them something different, something we’ve created that is smart, impactful and respects their brains. Then they’ll come back. And advertisers want to make use of this. We believe being ‘disruptive’ works. As content producers, we are far better set up to be disruptive than, for example, agencies or clients themselves.”

Inevitably, we tackle the prickly subject of print titles taking content online. “We treat this extremely seriously. We are fortunate to have a brilliant digital director, Tahmina Ashraf, who was formerly with Guardian News Media in the UK. We also have a group editor, digital in Lim Chee Wah, who oversees our activity alongside each brand’s editor/editor-in-chief.”

Apart from getting expertise on board, it also won’t pay to treat online cheaply. Mongoose has invested in senior editorial expertise across every title and brand. Most notably they have invested in four full-time in-house staff on www.elle.my, in addition to the print team who all contribute to the site and social media.

“It’s a major operation in a market where none of our competitors have serious digital presence (yet). We’re delighted that many big brands have already started spending with us digitally and are seeing good returns for their investment. We don’t have any plans to introduce a paywall for our content and charge competitive amounts for digital subscriptions because all our titles are available as digital replicas as single copy and subscription sales.”