Inside the Look At Media newsroom: how to turn a small digital publication into a media powerhouse

The founders and top editors explain how to stay relevant in a changing media environment, and why using internal tools are crucial for the publication’s success.

ANNA SAVINA

Author

KSENIA BABUSHKINA

Photographer

Accent continues its series on digital publications around the world. We dig into everything from the tools they use to the principles they work by. This week we talked to the editorial staff of Look At Media — one of the biggest lifestyle digital publishers in Eastern Europe and the company where Setka tools were first developed.

Look At Media is a well known Eastern European digital publisher that has won over 65 international awards for its innovative content. In 2017 it won The Native Advertising Awards‘ Gold Prize for Best Native Advertising Strategy (other winners included T Brand Studio, Atlantic Re:Think and Forbes Media). Founded in 2007 by Muscovites Alex Amyotov, Katya Bazilevskaya, and Vasily Esmanov, it grew from a small fashion blog into a large media outlet with several brands and millions of monthly visitors.

Look At Media publishes several digital lifestyle magazines: Hopes&Fears (a culture publication in English), The Village (about city life in Russia), Wonderzine (a feminist publication about life, culture, and style), FurFur (a website for young men), and Look At Me (dedicated to art, design, and tech). The company is also well-known as a pioneer of branded content among Russian digital publications. They have worked with over 900 international and local brands, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nike, Ikea, Ford, Sony, Google, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Chanel, Samsung, Gap, Johnson & Johnson, Mastercard and many others.

The company’s founders and top editors explain how to stay relevant in a constantly changing media environment, and why using well-designed internal tools like Setka are crucial for the publication’s success.

Location: Moscow

Audience: 7 mln unique users per month

Tools: Setka Workflow, Setka Editor, Google Docs, Onthe.io

On developing the perfect tools and processes

ALEXEY AMETOV

co-founder of Look At Media and Setka

Look At Media’s success was facilitated by the fact that we have always paid a lot of attention to setting up processes and increasing the effectiveness of our editorial staff. It was important for us to streamline the processes so no one would forget their tasks and everything was published on time.

First, we tried using Google Spreadsheets, but it was inconvenient because the tool isn’t made for this purpose. It helps to compose an editorial calendar but doesn’t allow you to assign responsibilities, move tasks around, etc. Then we tried Google Calendar, but it wasn’t ideal either. We used Trello for a while, which works if there are several days allotted for each task, but becomes chaotic if you have 50 tasks each day. We didn’t even test Asana because we felt it was more suitable for programmers.

We wanted to bring together all the information related to preparing and publishing a piece of content together in one place

In the end, we decided to make our own tool. We wanted to bring together all the information related to preparing and publishing content into one place. We also make it flexible, so you can move and change information throughout the process—kind of like putting sticky notes on printed drafts – you can take them off later. And that’s how the early version of the Setka Workflow was born.

We then decided to add data monitoring to track content after publication. This enabled us to analyze the results of our work and finally see which authors and categories were performing best.

By more closely tracking our budget, we were able to understand whether we were charging enough for our ads. It also became immediately clear which types of content were working and where money could be better spent.

On defining our editorial voice and guidelines

Tatyana Simakova

editor-in-chief of The Village

The Village has existed for many years. Over this period, Moscow has changed a lot and the publication has evolved with it. For example, our column “People in the City” used to just be pictures of people and a couple questions. But now there’s more interest in getting to know different communities better, we’ve expanded this feature. Recently, a reader said that The Village is important because she’s able to learn about people she otherwise wouldn’t meet.

Right now is an exciting time for The Village as there are franchises in cities across Russia and other countries, using our proven formats and ready-made tools to support their own communities. Even though we’re all around the world, we are united in our vision of creating cities we want to live in.

Julia Taratuta

editor-in-chief of Wonderzine

Wonderzine has a very loyal audience, but if we do something wrong (for example, if we are not inclusive of all feminist groups), it can be disastrous. That’s why we try to make sure that our content is balanced and that we’re taking into account as many positions as possible.

Sometimes we argue very strongly about how we should incorporate our beliefs into our writing. We agree that our liberal viewpoint on the world must be clear. For example, we have no qualms stating that the Russian law prohibiting the distribution of homosexual “propaganda” is harmful. But we do quite often remain impartial about other things to be as inclusive as possible. Instead we just talk about how the world is approaching this issue.

On prioritizing design (even on a budget)

ALEXEY AMETOV

co-founder of Look At Media and Setka

As complex layouts became trendier, we had trouble keeping up because it was labor-intensive and expensive. Design has always been important to us, so we decided to try creating tools that would allow an editor or designer who does not code to make beautiful posts quickly. We came up with the Setka Editor tool, and immediately implemented it in all the publications.

The effect was amazing. The design process became faster and costs went down, but the visual quality of our work went up. Our publications started to look more attractive, both from advertisers’ standpoint and from the audience’s perspective.

Julia Taratuta

editor-in-chief of Wonderzine

We’re always trying to be smart with our budget and time when it comes to producing visually engaging content. One way we like to do this is through meaningful photo shoots. Recently, we did a shoot with Asian models born in Russia, but while we were taking the photos we talked to them about why there are almost no non-European models on the covers of the Russian fashion magazines. We got great investigative work for the article and beautiful photos to accompany it.

Tatyana Simakova

editor-in-chief of The Village

At The Village, the work of photo editors and designers is just as important as the work of editors, if not more. The way we see it, pictures tell the same story but in a slightly different language. We think that illustrations should expand on a topic, rather than just support it.

On distribution in a changing landscape

ALEXEY AMETOV

co-founder of Look At Media and Setka

The popularity of platforms is changing all the time; with the desktop site ceasing to play a significant role. For us, Facebook Instant Articles are very important. While some major publishers refuse to use it, we make excellent money from this format. On Facebook, our readers receive the product in a more convenient form so we have more coverage and more views. We can also run expensive advertising on it.

I think it’s just a matter of knowing how to use these platform correctly. You have to adjust your content for each one, it will just look like a PDF of a magazine, which was the case in the early days of online publishing.

Julia Taratuta

editor-in-chief of Wonderzine

It seems to us that many people misunderstand the importance of the social media manager and fill the position with novices. But people on our social media team really have to speak the language of this media. They have to know how to represent the brand voice on different platforms and create unique content that works well on each one.

Unfortunately, there is no universal recipe for attracting an audience. Of course, there are some best practices, but most work has to be done by trial and error. We are only at the beginning of this journey.

On branded content

Katya Strelnikova

Head of the Sponsored Content Department

We have a small production agency within the company as well. Sometimes we publish sponsored posts based on our templates (seasonal digests, photo posts, promotions, business cases, etc.), but often create unique articles. We see that custom projects perform much better.

We have 18 people in the team. Our process consists of several steps. First, sales managers offer customers our services (media advertising and native ads) and ask them to fill out a brief if they are interested. Then it goes to our creative team, who start working on ideas. About 3-6 weeks later, we send ideas, budgets, and terms to the client, and then begin production.

Working on native ads is always a balancing act between producing high-quality content and including the customer’s wishes. Luckily they usually don’t contradict each other, but sometimes they do. Brands don’t always understand what native advertising is and  think the main purpose should be to sell the product. However, the aim is actually to build the image of the company and to establish a relationship with the consumer.

We always explain that we don’t write “advertorials”, as they create a negative impression of the product and our site and we do not want our audience to lose trust in us.

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