Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Martin Ashplant, head of online content at the Metro, on what makes a good online story, how PRs can best feed in ideas and why mobile will be the focus for the future...
Tell us about your role at Metro.co.uk.
I'm head of content on the digital side, which means I look after the metro.co.uk website and various mobile apps. The main focus is ensuring we have the best content up on all our digital platforms – written in the bitesize, and sometimes light-hearted, way Metro is famous for.
How many people do you work with? The web editorial team is 14-strong, but we work closely with the print team and those on the commercial side of the business to ensure we have a joined-up approach to everything – crucial now but even more crucial as we move into a multi-platform world.
Talk us through the key channels of the site. As with most newspaper websites, the main channels are News and Sport, while we also have a rich entertainment section split into Showbiz, TV, Film and Music. We've also launched our Olympics channel as the summer of 2012 is going to be huge for us, while reader favourites Weird and Odd Balls are where to go for the fun stuff. Additionally, we've got a very loyal community on our Games channel, with its unique slant on the video gaming world.
Which do you think are the most PRable?
The entertainment channels are the obvious ones, but we are always interested to hear about the quirky things that may be going on – and it seems that it is often the brains of the PR world which come up with these mad stunts. If there are compelling images and video content then so much the better.
You've managed to double the site's visitors in 12 months. How did you manage that?
It's been very much a case of finding out what our users want to read and doing more of that. We've not significantly increased our headcount but we have increased the breadth of our coverage to be as close to 24/7 as we've ever been, while we are also trying new ways of reaching our target audience through as many social media platforms as we can get our hands on.
How many stories go online a day?
It's usually around 75 a day – although that can vary quite significantly depending on what is happening on a given day.
What times of the day will you see spikes?
There are usually three spikes during the day – one as people are getting to work, another at lunchtime and a third at the end of the day. We're increasingly interested in the spikes we see on mobile devices, as reaching this crucial mobile audience is hugely important to us.
What makes a good online story?
It's more a question of what makes a good story in general – and then what we should be doing to optimise that story for an online audience, or more specifically, Metro's online audience.
How important is video content?
Increasingly so, particularly if it is the video which is the main focus of the story. This can range greatly from professional footage from the Leveson Inquiry, for example, to the unusual animal antics which are the staple of YouTube aficionados.
You and your team blog regularly. Anything PRs could do to help in this area?
We encourage our bloggers to post about topics they feel passionate about – so if PRs can arouse a sense of passion about something then go for it.
Are you a regular tweeter or do you use it more for "stalking"?
I do tweet, mainly about Metro and industry news (and the occasional gloat/complaint about Arsenal) but I'm certainly a stalker as well. I doubt there are many journalists left who don’t use Twitter as a source of news – we've picked up some great stories this way.
What's the best way for PRs to get in contact?
Always via email. You're much more likely to get a response that way than on the phone. We do see most things in our inboxes, even if it's just the subject line. So grab our attention in that – and please don't refer to us as a magazine, as has happened a few times before. That just prompts the delete button to be pressed.
Are you open to meeting up with PRs?
We're hugely busy, so a meet-up would have to be about something pretty special.
The Olympics is fast approaching. Any special plans at Metro.co.uk?
Lots. The Olympics is huge for Metro. We are going to be right at the heart of one of the biggest events to happen in this country in our lifetimes and we’ve been planning for it for some time now. We already have an Olympics channel with pages for every discipline, galleries, Olympic blogs, videos and more and we'll be adding to this as we get closer to the big day. There'll also be a 5pm special edition of the Tablet version for iPads and, of course, the paper will be 7 days a week so there'll be even more great content than ever before. It's going to be a busy summer.
Plans for the future at Metro.co.uk.
Again, there are lots of exciting projects going on at the moment. I can't talk about them all right now but suffice to say that our focus on mobile will be right at the centre of what we do over the next few months. Mobile is a natural arena for us and our Tablet Edition just won the 2012 Newspaper Awards this month beating off the likes of the FT and Guardian apps. Metro has always been a mobile on-the-go offering for urbanites on their daily commute – we're just extending that into the digital world. Watch this space.