Conversant Media’s long journey from hobby project to a vital part of HT&E group

Mediaweek speaks with the publisher’s CEO Zac Zavos

This month marks a year since Here, There and Everywhere (HT&E) acquired digital publisher Conversant Media. A lot has changed for the company, which started as a hobby project in 2005. Mediaweek spoke to the co-founder and CEO of Conversant Media Zac Zavos recently. The first year has been a big learning curve for him and the company. The focus was to ensure a smooth transition.

“There has been some history of acquisitions smothering the acquired business. And that certainly has not been the case. We have had good pushes in the right areas,” Zavos told Mediaweek.

The temptation to sell to HT&E was driven by three factors, he explained. “We needed to address a couple of things: we wanted to really grow our brands, give staff meaningful career opportunities, and have more traction with our advertisers and the media agency sector.”

Conversant Media is the home of sports opinion website The Roar, lifestyle and tech publication Techly, and online pop culture destination Lost At E Minor.

These titles joined HT&E’s suite of outdoor and radio properties that it operates through Adshel and the Australian Radio Network. HT&E’s acquisition of Conversant Media has allowed the latter to scale up its operations. “If you look at what the strategy was behind the acquisition from HT&E’s perspective, it was to add a digital pillar and enrich their digital offering,” Zavos explained.

“When you combine ARN’s digital sites with Conversant Media’s digital properties, it’s a broad and deep offering.”

HT&E acquired Conversant Media for upfront cash consideration of $11.6 million and performance-based earn-outs.

Being part of a larger organisation like HT&E has allowed Conversant Media to offer its staff bigger career opportunities by moving around within the larger network of the companies. Zavos said that Conversant Media has had 98% staff retention in the last 12 months. “You are not always going to hold on to all of your staff, but this is a good signal that says a lot of has been done well over the last year,” Zavos said.

Some staff members have come across from ARN to Conversant Media to help the latter with its new video initiative called Club Roar, which is aimed at helping and promoting “great sports people” and clubs. This allows Conversant Media’s sports website The Roar to develop and maintain relationships with grassroot sporting institutions.

Conversant Media has continued to operate as a separate entity. However, the commercial and digital sales teams have merged with HT&E’s sales division. “There has been a raft of promotions of our assets through the ARN network. This helps us have more of an impact when we take our properties to the market,” Zavos said. The Roar call-outs can often be heard on ARN’s Pure Gold Network (WSFM and Gold 104.3) before the sports bulletin. Techly also has a regular segment on The Edge.

In September 2017, Conversant Media’s network of websites had more than 2.9 million unique browsers. “We have had eight consecutive months of growth in traffic,” Zavos said. “Audience is the lead indicator in a digital business. It shows that our content is strong.”

Speaking about Conversant Media’s commercial performance this year, Zavos acknowledged, “The market has been challenging for digital sales.” Despite this, “We have performed well and the audience is really strong as well.”

The change in the ownership structure at Conversant Media has brought about some changes to Zavos’ role of chief executive officer. “Joining the executive group at HT&E has been really interesting,” he said. Zavos joins Adshel CEO Mike Tyquin and ARN CEO Rob Atkinson in the executive ranks at HT&E. They all report to Ciaran Davis, who is the CEO of HT&E.

“There are four key pillars to a digital business: commercial, content, platform and audience,” Zavos said. “We have instigated a content-sharing program across [Conversant and] ARN’s digital assets – especially video and social, which have been strong for both parties.”

This is an excerpt of the full article, which appears in the latest issue of Mediaweek magazine. 

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