Lourdes’ appointment comes just weeks after CNN announced a major digital expansion with a US$20 million investment. The company is significantly increasing its global footprint by creating an additional 200 jobs plus enhancing its products and technologies, with a specific focus on mobile and video. It has also made digital investments to enhance CNNMoney and CNN Politics, launch CNN Style, and create the socially distributed video network Great Big Story.
Based in Hong Kong, Lourdes will lead CNN Digital’s Asia team across editorial content and multiplatform programming for CNN’s global audience during Asia's working day. He will work closely with CNN’s digital teams in London, Abu Dhabi, New York and Atlanta and as the digital leader in Asia-Pacific, will be responsible for devising and implementing strategies to grow key audiences in the region.
Lourdes previously worked at Yahoo! for five years, most recently as editor in chief in Singapore. He also spent more than a decade as a journalist, working at publications like The Star and New Straits Times in Malaysia.
Andrew Demaria, vice-president and managing editor of CNN Digital, International, described Lourdes as “a perfect fit” for the organisation.
“His experience in co-developing news apps, growing social-media traffic, and working with teams to drive new opportunities will help us realise our vision for the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.
CNN’s three pillars
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Demaria said that the company’s three priority areas for this year and next were “mobile, video and global.”
On a global level, there are untapped opportunities that the media organisation has been to take advantage of, even with the growth it has enjoyed of late.
Figures provided by CNN, from an Ipsos Affluent Survey findings released in September 2015, showed that CNN is the “number one international news brand in Asia-Pacific.”
The brand lays claim to being the number one multiplatform news brand, with 35 percent monthly reach in the region, 35 percent greater than the next news brand. Its digital channels enjoy 11 percent monthly reach, which is 47 percent more than the next brand.
The survey also found that at least three quarters (74 percent) of consumers of competing news brands also consume CNN, while between a half (46 percent) and three quarters (73 percent) of CNN consumers do not view or read competitor news brands.
The company also leads the international news genre and is growing in both TV and digital audiences, with an 8 percent year-on-year jump in weekly and monthly TV reach, and 26 percent year-on-year growth in monthly digital reach.
“Our data, metrics and audience data are indicating that there are still opportunities that we can tap,” Demaria added. “So we’re doubling down on areas where we’ve already had success across all regions globally, and in Asia Pacific we are expanding the team that’s already here.”
The increase in staff count follows the commitment the organisation has made to be a “truly global” operation.
“We are taking more of a ‘follow the sun’ approach, Hong Kong picks up as Atlanta is going to sleep after which it’s transferred to London then Atlanta again,” said Demaria. “So we’re now allocating resources to what our priority of coverage is going to be.”
The expansion and restructure of editorial operations also comes with a focus on how best to present content across multiple mediums and find its audience on the platforms and devices where they are, at the right time.
“We’re investing heavily to research, and how to engage a lot more with our audiences and optimise performance of our content,” he added.
Demaria said that the added insights into audience consumption behaviour translate to added value the organisation can bring to its advertisers.
“From a commercial perspective, Asia is extremely important and comprises a lot of different markets and behaviours we need to understand and capitalise on,” he said. “In mature markets such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, how do we increase engagement, while in developing markets such as India and China, how do we further our reach and grow our audience.”
Demaria added that the work the company is doing in native content is also faring well, pointing to a campaign it conducted for airline brand Cathy Pacific as an example.
The integrated campaign, which launched late last year, incorporated on-air, digital, branded content and social elements.
The centrepiece of the campaign is the sponsorship of a series of six on-air segments called ‘The Trip That Changed My Life’, which featured high-profile personalities across various fields share their stories of how they changed careers or paths after a particular trip or journey.
CNN International’s in-house creative agency, TCP, was behind the complementary native campaign that ran across TV and digital assets.The narrative follows architect and designer Usman Haque as he travels from Hong to Kong to London with Cathay Pacific.
“It was a robust editorial execution combined with extremely engaging audience data-driven native content,” said Demaria.
He shared that one of the biggest insights garnered from that campaign was tied to the use of behaviourial data tracking for insights.
During the campaign, the audience that engaged with the content also showed interest in other related topics.
“This told me from an editorial stance that if I produced content around these topics they were interested in, that I would get a much more engaged audience for it,” he said. “And our ad sales teams can approach advertisers with that knowledge and say ‘we’ve run this campaign but data shows that there’s also interest in these other areas’, and that creates opportunities.”
Demaria said that most importantly, it creates something of a “full circle” for the media publisher and user as well, where engaging with content and the advertising solution attached to it becomes a more natural experience, not a jump or lurch to something else.
“We’re evolving as audience behaviour changes, and we’ll continually see a lot of changes and new ways to engage with audience,” he added. “In tandem with that, the advertising side will also evolve as they find new ways to connect to the audience they want to reach out to.”
Head to head with native web brands
The organisation’s increased focus on mobile and social channels reflects its aspirations to have a stronger presence amidst a landscape populated by native web properties such as Buzzfeed.
Demaria said that the organisation comes into the fight from a “position of strength”, and CNN Digital last year has a “successful year” in terms of metrics and revenue, with a number one position globally for video content.
“But instead of being happy with status quo, we’re doubling down on this,” he added. “And the challenges are really, how do we continue to create effective and engaging storytelling methods and keep pace with the changes.”
To illustrate, Demaria shared that 18 months ago, having the word “drone” in a headline would result in stellar traffic and engagement but today, thanks to changing sudience sentiments, one needs to take it out for the same story to do well.
“So you need to always understand how audience preferences are changing,” he added. “And take a different approach for TV, mobile and social platforms.”
Demaria said the new brand has “a lot of different competitors in a lot of different spaces”, for example going head-to-head with Vox Media for explainer videos, which are increasingly popular as audiences seek more context to developing news stories or The Guardian for it’s live blog updates when it comes to major breaking news.
“People are not going to a specific destination, the information is finding them, and they now are not sticking with one media publisher to get what they want,” he added. “So we need to compete effectively against all these other platforms to consistently deliver to our audience the content they want at the right time and on the right platform.”
In its quest to be ahead of the curve, the company was recently one of the pioneer orgnisations to sign up for Facebook’s Bots for Messenger. Through CNN's bot, users can message topics like "zika virus" or "politics" and CNN will respond with related stories and information on the topic.
“It's important for media publishers to find new ways to engage, be on new platforms and continue to grow, and this is a space you ignore at own peril,” he said. “It’s also important to be able to experiment, and we are going to do more Facebook Live events, which is in line with CNN’s reputation on live reporting."
The brand is also active on Snapchat, with Demaria sharing that one of the biggest learnings was the fact that widescreen format video does not work well on the platform and how to best present on a square format must be taken into account.
“The other thing is that many assume the younger audience doesn’t engage or care much about news or global events, but that’s where you’re wrong,” he added. “We’ve discovered that our younger audience on Snapchat are a lot more interested in news content, they want to be kept informed and we are changing our editorial strategy accordingly to meet that demand.”