Positioning A British Traditional Media Brand For A U.S. Digital Audience: 4 Questions For The Guardian’s Hannah Diddams

HD_guardian.jpgAlthough the British newspaper The Guardian is a nearly 200-year-old traditional media company in its home country, in the United States its Web site, www.guardian.co.uk stands alone as the publication’s only format. Still, site attracts nine million unique visitors a month from the U.S. — enough to make the home office take notice.

Earlier this year, Hannah Diddams (right) was appointed head of sales for North America and moved to New York to set up a sales team here that focuses on positioning the Guardian’s brand to a U.S. audience and U.S. advertisers, setting up partnerships with other companies and news outlets and building up the internationalist brand of the Guardian that Americans seem to love. We spoke with Diddams about her goals and strategies and what the future will hopefully bring for the Guardian’s brand in the U.S.

FishbowlNY: What is your role at the Guardian?

Hannah Diddams: Although we’ve always had journalists here in Washington and New York, the Guardian made the decision to launch our commercial presence in the U.S. by setting up a direct sales office here. The Guardian decided to send me out from London because they wanted someone who had worked for the Guardian for a number of years, who understood the brand and the company to come out here and set up our sales office. Since arriving five months ago I have recruited a sales team, I have developed our sales materials and filled out our sales position, answering questions like what does the Guardian mean and what positions are we occupying in this landscape. Now we’re just getting down to the business of media sales, getting out and meeting with all the agencies and talking about the Guardian, partnering with people who are doing really interesting stuff in the industry, maybe starting to have some events or conferences. We’re also looking at what kind of thought leadership we want to do, with a look towards generating some revenue and creating a permanent foothold in the U.S. market.

FBNY: How are you positioning the Guardian within the U.S. market?

HD: We feel that what’s quite interesting is that of the nine million unique users we get per month, about 75 percent are Americans. So we have a quarter who are British ex-pats and about a third of that U.S. audience maybe lived in the U.K. or has some affiliation with it, but really they’re Americans. And they’re the kind of folks that have passports, who travel, who like keeping abreast of truly international news and are kind of news junkies. We also have a strong heritage in lifestyle coverage including music, film and soccer. So the Guardian really is both about global news and politics — obviously that’s our foundation — but actually we offer a lot of lifestyle content that is quite appealing particularly to an internationalist audience. The kind of people coming to the Web site quite enjoy the British quirkiness, the “.co.uk,” and quite like the cache of being associated with and reading a witty, irreverent, slightly cynical British brand. It’s young and youthful.

FBNY: Are you working on any sort of unique projects or events that take the Guardian brand beyond just the Web site in the U.S.?

HD: We’ve recently partnered with PSFK, who are doing some really interesting stuff around innovation and design and the digital community. We’re looking to partner with them on panels and other events. In the U.K., the Guardian has a very strong leadership around innovation and sustainability and we’re looking towards how we can operate within that space here. We’re thinking about how we can create the debate around sustainability and conservationism and drive it forward. I think that’s definitely a strength of the Guardian and one we definitely want to look at here, as well as innovation with a focus on digital innovation.

FBNY: What are you doing that is unique from the Guardian in the U.K.?

HD: Here a lot of people know of the Guardian but it doesn’t have that same brand heritage. So we’re in quite a fortunate position whereby we have a very strong big old media organization back in the U.K. that is grown up and established and everybody knows it, but in New York we’re totally free to carve out our own story and our own journey. And I think that we as a team here are really focusing on how we can offer something new, both in terms of an advertising platform and in terms of an approach. We’re not jaded, we haven’t been around for years, we’re not knocking on the same old doors we’ve been knocking on for decades. So I think that we can bring a kind of vitality and a scrappiness to fight for every dollar and a desire to really give back and really make partnerships that are going to be amazing and win awards and start to connect with the community. That is our main approach.