Mar 20, 2019

Future-proofing the news business

Elsie Cheung, SCMP’s COO, on what digital transformation and innovation look like for the 115-year-old company

Elsie Cheung believes that technology should empower, not hamper, SCMP’s editorial talent
Elsie Cheung believes that technology should empower, not hamper, SCMP’s editorial talent

In the last decade, digital news platforms have proliferated, and you’re more likely to find someone reading about Chinese-American trade relations on a mobile device rather than an actual piece of paper. 

In this digital-first landscape, newspapers with decades of history face a conundrum: how do they ensure that loyal readers aren’t turned off by a revamp, and that their unique voices aren’t lost in the deluge of digital platforms? The 115-year-old South China Morning Post is proving that heritage and innovation are two sides of the same coin.

Going digital

SCMP started off as Hong Kong’s largest English-language publication. Set up during the Qing dynasty, the newspaper’s ownership changed hands several times before its current owner, Alibaba Group, acquired the company in 2016. As a media company in the 21st century, The Post enjoys a global readership on It recently upgraded its flagship website, including two new editions targeting audiences in the United States and Asia in addition to the Hong Kong and international editions, as well as a more interactive homepage.

Aside from the refreshed website, the publisher has also launched three digital content platforms: Goldthread, Abacus and Inkstone. The three platforms are united in their goal to tell China stories; while Goldthread is marketed towards the lifestyle-curious, Abacus and Inkstone target the tech- and China-curious.

SCMP's recently-launched Inkstone is for the China-curious

“This approach allows us to tailor distinct user experiences that best suit our target audience, as well as narrative formats that best present our content. For example, SCMP will tell a tech-centric story from a business-angle, Abacus will present it as a feature with in-depth explanation and analysis,” says Elsie Cheung, SCMP’s COO. “Each product has its unique voice, style and consumer focus, but they all lead to a myriad of perspectives that showcase a comprehensive picture about China and Asia.”

Content is still king

SCMP is also aiming for a bigger piece of the branded content pie with Morning Studio, the company’s branded content divison. According to the 2019 Content Marketing report, published by CMI and MarketingProfs, 57% of B2C marketers expect their content marketing budget to increase in 2019. While the Post isn’t new to branded content, Morning Studio takes a multi-media approach, freeing branded content from a print-only format. This is especially important in this day and age, when the average time spent on video content is now 1.6 hours daily across APAC, says a Kantar TNS Connected Life study.

“What makes Morning Studio stand out are its world-class journalists, storytelling experts, branding strategists, multimedia designers and producers, as well as data analysts. Many come from international news organisations and publishing companies, and have a deep understanding of what makes compelling content for readers.”

SCMP's Morning Studio

Since its inception, the team has created content for brands like SK-II, Qantas, SAP, Swire Properties, Hongkong Land and InvestHK, across mediums, from print and web to experiences.

A recent success was Tiffany & Co. SCMP created two videos for the brand’s Believe in Love campaign. The first video, featuring the story of Natasha and Richard Clausen, was the highest trafficked article among 100 articles published in SCMP’s Life/Lifestyle section over a two-week period following the launch.

For readers and brand marketers, Morning Studio is equipped with AI-powered features that allows the right content to be served to targeted audiences at the right time. Personalised recommendations are made based on readers’ interests, reading behavior and geolocation.

“This allows us to serve up displays that better match the target audience profiles, leading to more effective campaigns,” says Cheung.

At the end of the day, however, data shouldn’t kill off the human side of the business. The South China Morning Post is first and foremost, as Cheung emphasises, a purveyor of good story-telling. “SCMP believes that the people in our editorial team remain the most valuable and important resource, and technology should empower and enhance the talents of our people.”

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