[Congress speaker Q&A] Inside The Business of Fashion
Below, Nick Blunden, chief commercial officer of The Business of Fashion (BoF) tells us us more about the business, covering topics such as:
1. BoF’s history: 2007 to now;
2. BoF’s value proposition (including brand and audience development);
3. Channel innovation (including events, social and emerging channels);
4. Revenue model (including membership program);
5. Digital to print (the BoF magazine);
6. Where he expects BoF to be three years from now; and
7. What it is like working at BoF
Nick will also be at the 41st FIPP World Congress in London, 9-11 October 2017, where he will be among 75+ speakers from the world sharing insights, experiences and lessons with an expected, some 800-strong international audience.
1. BoF: 2007 to now
Imran Amed started The Business of Fashion as a blog in 2007. Briefly chart the start to now for our audience?
Having attended Harvard Business School and worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, Imran Amed, our founder and CEO, started blogging about the fashion business in 2007. His blog, along with the daily email newsletter that accompanied it, quickly become a key resource for fashion industry professionals looking to understand the business side of fashion as well as the creative side. Off the back of this early success, towards the end of 2008 Imran moved his blog off the Typepad platform and relaunched it at businessoffashion.com. By the beginning of 2013 BoF had built up such a strong and loyal global community of fashion professionals that it started attracting interest from investors and in February of that year Imran took on a round of seed investment led by Index Ventures to grow the business. This was followed by a Series A round of investment led by Felix Capital in 2015. Since then BoF has grown rapidly more than doubling in size every year.
How big is the BoF team today, what are the key departments and in how many markets do you operate?
Today The Business of Fashion employs more than 50 people across editorial, design, product, technology, marketing, sales and operations and has offices in London, New York and Shanghai serving a community in more than 200 countries and territories around the world.
2. BoF value proposition:
What are key considerations for building a vertical brand like BoF?
The credibility, integrity and quality of our content sit at the very heart of the BoF brand and business. This is the key driver of the extraordinary relationship we have with our global community. Above and beyond that we are extremely focused on only doing things that add real tangible value to the professional lives of our community members — and this requires a deep understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This means that what we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to. It also means that we have to maintain a really deep understanding of the wants and needs of people working at all levels of the fashion industry. This focus and discipline is crucial for anyone wanting to build a successful vertical media business. Finally we believe that having a truly global perspective is critical too. After all fashion is a $2.4 trillion business that really does span the globe.
Tell us about BoF’s value proposition to its audience?
The Business of Fashion is the place where the global fashion community gathers each and every day. Our value proposition to our audience is that from a content perspective we provide the definitive source of information on the business side of the fashion industry. To deliver on that promise we provide in-depth analysis and plenty of exclusive content, all on a global scale, delivered however our audience wants to consume it whether that be via email, in our app, on our website or on social. As for news, it is certainly part and parcel of our content offering, but in the digital world, breaking news is only exclusive for a few minutes before it spreads around the Internet. Thus, we are focused on providing insight and analysis on what the news means. This is not easily replicated elsewhere.
In addition to our role as the business information service provider to the global fashion industry we also provide our community with a host of other valuable services which help them build their career and professional status whether that’s through attending our events, using our online learning platform BoF Education, finding a job through BoF Careers or joining our membership program BoF Professional.
Above: BoF founder and CEO Imran Amed with Kate Moss and Alexa Chung at the BoF 500 gala dinner in London.
How big is BoF’s audience now?
In the first three months of this year we averaged 1.1m unique users a month on our website generating just over 10 million page views a month. Our Daily Digest newsletter goes out to more than 275,000 fashion professionals each day. And on social our audience stands at just over 3.5m across all platforms. BoF Professional, our memberships business, is growing rapidly and is far ahead of our expectations.
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3. Channel innovation:
What are some of the most innovative channels for you in engaging your audience?
Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a great deal of success with events as a way of bringing together our most loyal and engaged community members. For the BoF 500, our annual list of the people shaping the global fashion industry, we held large and very successful events in London and Paris in 2016. And, last December we held our inaugural Voices event at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire. Held over three days, this intimate gathering was attended by 160 of the most important people in fashion including John Galliano, Mario Testino, Marco Bizzarri, Amber Valletta and Ian Rogers. What makes this event unique is the extent to which it connects fashion to the wider world.
Above: Imran Amed talks at the Voices event
Social has also been a really important channel for BoF, both in terms of reaching new audiences and even more importantly in galvanising our community. Indeed, our recent #TiedTogether initiative where we championed solidarity, human unity and inclusiveness had an extraordinarily positive impact on our community and on the fashion industry as a whole — and became a global social media movement almost over night.
What emerging channels excite you?
As a digital first business we are always exploring the opportunities that emerging channels bring. However, we try and steer clear of gimmicks to try and understand how a specific new channel can really create incremental value for our community.
On that basis voice driven AI, AR and VR are particularly exciting as they have such broad applications for both the fashion industry as a whole and for us in particular as a media company focused on the business side of fashion.
4. Revenue model:
Tell us about the revenue model?
At BoF we have a multi-stream revenue model with means that we make money from five different sources:
1. Advertising and sponsorship
4. Careers subscriptions
5. Online courses
Although we don’t disclose specific details of our commercial performance each of these revenue streams is a meaningful contributor to our topline and we are confident that each has significant long-term growth potential. Indeed we aim to ensure that as the business scales we don’t become overly reliant on any one source of revenue, whether that be advertising, subscriptions or anything else.
Above: Imran Amed with photographer Mario Testino
As your membership programme, BoF Professional is a now core part of your value offering. Tell us more?
BoF Professional is a really fundamental part of our business because it creates tremendous value for our community and enables us to continue to invest in our agenda setting journalism. In addition to unlimited access to all our content our BoF Professional members also receive Professional only briefings and analysis, invites to exclusive networking events around the world and our content delivered in both app and print form. That’s why we think of BoF Professional as a membership program, which is participatory, rather than just a subscription service, which is passive. This approach also opens up the opportunity for us to add further value to BoF Professional going forward. This is something that we believe is critical for this type of service, because like any other product, it will need to evolve over time. Our north star as we continue to develop the product is to identify how we can continue to create more and more utility value for BoF Professional members.
5. Print magazine:
Tell us about your print magazine?
The BoF print edition is published twice a year in the Spring and Autumn and is distributed around the world. Our 9th issue, which has Anna Wintour on the cover, has just been published with a global circulation of 25,000 and is the biggest issue and most ambitious issue we’ve ever done.
How did it come about that a digital business launched a print magazine?
Although BoF is a digital first business we believe that as a modern media company we should make use of any channel that creates value for our community and for our business. In that context print provides a natural home for some of more in-depth analysis on the global fashion industry. It’s also a really effective way of building the BoF brand.
6. BoF: Three years from now:
What would you like BoF to be three years from now?
Three years from now I expect BoF to have established itself as the definitive global fashion platform.
7. Working at BoF
You have worked at The Economist, among others, before joining BoF. Tells us more?
Over the last twenty years I’ve worked as a management consultant, a client side marketer and an agency CEO but most recently before joining BoF I spent five years as first global digital publisher and then a global managing director at The Economist. I enjoyed helping The Economist transition from a predominantly print based media company to truly cross platform media business tremendously but the opportunity to join a fast-growing digital first media company with an extraordinary reputation focused on an industry that fascinates me was too good to turn down.
How is the experience working at a digital native company like BoF different from one with longstanding, rich brand legacy?
There are many similarities between The Economist and The Business of Fashion. Both are committed to producing journalism of the highest possible quality. Both value their independence and integrity above all else. And both operate as global businesses, albeit at different scales. Nevertheless, there are also some significant differences. BoF, as a result of its digital DNA, is faster moving with decisions made quickly and actions taken immediately. There is also an even greater focus on making sure that everything we do at BoF is creating value for our community members. Finally BoF is a highly integrated business with extraordinary levels of collaboration between team members regardless of function. This level of collaboration is unusual in any media company.
Hear more from, and meet, Nick at the 41st FIPP World Congress in London, 9-11 October 2017. Some 800 delegates from 40+ countries will attend the Congress, FIPP’s and the industry’s premier global event. Book your place here.
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