The Pool’s Sam Baker; ‘I simply don’t believe in click throughs’

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

Last week I sat on the stage at The Barbican with Sam Baker, co-founder of The Pool, a ‘platform for women who are too busy to browse’. We were there for H+K’s annual conference, D2, and more specifically – to talk about creativity in publishing.

A former editor-in-chief of both Red and Cosmopolitan, Baker set up The Pool just six months ago with co-founder broadcaster Lauren Laverne, inspired by their shared frustration with the ‘quantity over quality’ approach taken by many media outlets online, and a desire to use devices & data to deliver more targeted, more relevant content.

Baker speaks passionately about creating content and making it available to women in a way they really want; “We build our content around where people are, and what they are doing. It’s really just about treating people like individuals. What magazines always did well was create emotional relationship with readers. Some have forgotten that.”

This idea of ‘speaking human’ is not a new idea for brands. We’ve been told to behave in this way since the dawn of Facebook, but for publishers, it’s an interesting thought. With journalists telling their own stories within the pages of magazines being one of the mainstays of their existence, speaking human doesn’t necessarily refer to a new way they need to write their content – but how it’s delivered.

The Pool tries to counter this by becoming part of people’s daily routines, through their device of choice.

For the uninitiated, the site publishes a daily ‘programme’ of upcoming stories each morning (which is also distributed via email), then posts them throughout the day according the schedule. This gives each story space, and means that there’s more focus to the editorial. The Pool also allows readers to register, save stories to read later, filter by topic – but also by time it takes to read.

“If I’m in a cab and I’ve only got three minutes – I don’t want to start reading a huge feature. We added ‘time to read’ tabs to our stories to give people more information about how long they need to commit to a piece, and make it more likely that they’ll do so.’

I asked what the most popular way to filter was; and Sam revealed that the time-search function is really popular; “The received wisdom in digital media is that something has to be very short or very long. As Medium has shown, that’s totally wrong.’

Baker also disputes the idea that personalisation in publishing has to mean ‘changing your content for each person’. “We can be more subtle with our observations. Personalisation doesn’t have to mean personalising the content you get served. There are big data opportunities for us by looking simply at what people save, when they save it, when they read it. That data can then inform our future content.”

In terms of how they get that data, Baker shared with the crowd that The Pool doesn’t use super technical analytics, just bespoke Google Analytics, adding that you have to look at data in the broadest sense. “Data is just asking someone a question. Where is she? What is she doing? Where’s her head at?” 

When Sam and I have spoken before about the struggle between content creators and advertisers in terms of output; she’s always been a fan of fewer, more collaborative commercial agreements. Just like The Pool’s editorial approach, the way they work with brands is the same.

Clinique and Marks & Spencer have long term partnerships in place, where exclusivity around relevant topic areas (beauty & food) and co-creation is key. Clinique has worked with The Pool on events, video content and sampling, and Marks & Spencer sponsor the daily ‘What To Eat Tonight’ recipes – which appear on the site and via email each afternoon.

“Our goal is to produce high quality content specifically for digital consumption, and publishers have typically have been slow to do this. The whole ‘see what didn’t make the cut’ approach doesn’t work; editorial doesn’t make a magazine for a reason – so why would you put it online?”

Baker also has strong (and popular) views on the future of online ads, saying that she simply doesn’t believe in many of the stats that publishers use to prove value. “I don’t believe in click-throughs. What we’re doing is creating great content that perhaps brands can’t do. And anyway, we all know they can be altered.”

This also refers to online display advertising; “The only reason to use online ad display is to make yourself, or your client, feel comfortable. The future of online advertising is content. Not display ads. The rise in popularity of adblockers just proves that point.” 

“I can’t remember ever seeing a Lego advert, but I have seen The Lego Movie several times… we can all learn from that.”

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