Engaging Millennial women: The Debrief story

Amongst the digital-only titles leading the way in the UK is The Debrief, launched last year by Bauer Media. With a focus on the fashion and lifestyle sectors this new title is carrying the torch for young media and giving Millennial women what they want.

Please introduce us to The Debrief offering: what is the content focus and how does the production work in terms of your relationship with existing Bauer fashion and lifestyle titles? 

Holleyoake: “The Debrief is the first digital only launch to come out of Bauer Media. It has its own content team and whilst Bauer Media fosters a collaborative culture we don’t directly use content from other brands. The team focus is on creating relevant and timely content for a targeted 20 something upscale female audience and therefore are talking to a slightly different audience to existing Bauer brands like Closer and Grazia.”

The Debrief was launched in February 2014. A team led by Holleyoake and launch editor, Hattie Brett, spent six months going around the country speaking to 20-something urban females. With consistent month on month growth on the site since launch, and an audience now of 600,000 unique visitors, this research would seem to have paid off. 

The Debrief grab ()

What did your research reveal about the target audience? What kind of content engages them?

Holleyoake: “There were numerous learnings. Our readers were less defined by gender than they once were, shopping in a more considered, thoughtful way, ruled by a fear of missing out – and needing to have something to add to the conversation. But the most important? That girl is glued to her mobile phone. 32 per cent admitted rescuing it from the loo when it’d fallen in when texting. A clear opportunity emerged. The digital sites she was visiting were either too mass (yes, she went to the Mail Online, but so did her mum) or too niche (she was obsessed with the personal tone and relatability of fashion blogs) – but she felt nothing offered her both the breadth of hard-hitting content with irreverent fashion that she felt spoke directly to her.” 

“What we believed – and what we know a year in is working – is that the tone and relatability is crucial and the fact that The Debrief is written for these girls by these girls (no one older than 26 is in the team!) has cut through. And by delivering the right content at the right time through the right platform we’ve add a functional benefit to our readers’ lives – delivering the exact content she wants at the moment she wants it.” 

What are some of the challenges facing new media brands launching today and what, especially given new and innovative online capabilities, are the opportunities?

Holleyoake: “The media landscape has changed hugely in the last decade. The growth of digital has been huge and standing still isn’t an option. We launched off the back of rigorous insight into the audience and the project was always intended to be a test and learn approach. Social is crucial and drives a lot of our traffic – any content brand needs to get that right to be successful. We have to make our content shareable but really that comes down to making it relatable – nothing new if you’re in the content business.”

“Video is also important in the mix. Content isn’t just about words and pictures it’s about using the right format for the subject – that could be a video, a list, a long form article, audio or indeed a Vine. It has to be a focus to ensure the best medium is used for the type of content being published and the audience it’s targeted at.”


I spoke to John Avlon recently, who told me that “dumbing it down is the dumbest thing you can do” to engage Millennials. It strikes me that The Debrief – which is clearly having success in attracting younger audiences – is following a similar tack, and has used extensive audience research to affirm the theory that a one size fits all approach will not do. By combining cutting edge editorial with an updated approach to traditional fashion and lifestyle reporting, The Debrief appears to be achieving a tonality and relevancy that has in many sectors so far been struggled for online. 

Bauer Media is a FIPP member company.

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