How Australia’s biggest niche publisher Universal Media Co is diversifying its interests

• ‘Media is still at the heart’ of the family-run company

Australia’s biggest niche publisher quietly rebranded recently to better reflect the business it has become. Universal Magazines became Universal Media Co. The family-run company is in its 33rd year and has been focusing on diversifying in the last 18 months. However, media is still at the heart of what it does, said associate publisher Emma Perera told Mediaweek.

“What we are doing is not just confined to magazines. That was the biggest trigger for the name change,” she said. “We are seeing a shift with our clients where over 60% now have cross-media advertising schedules. This has changed our team and the workflow.

“We have been focusing on brand extensions and businesses. This has seen us go into e-commerce in a big way.”

The projects that have been born out of Universal Media’s move to diversify include the e-commerce platform The Cosy Project, a corporate wellness business called Wellbeing Grow and a subscription box business called BeBox.

“We are not limiting ourselves in any way, shape or form,” Perera said. “However, it all boils down to media. We are in no way changing that.”

One of Universal Media’s biggest brands is WellBeing, which according to Perera has been “bucking every media trend possible”. In the latest Roy Morgan magazine readership results, WellBeing’s readership increased by 54.4% to 122,000 in the 12 months to February 2018.

“We are selling more copies of it. We are selling more ads and are stocked in more Coles and Woolworths across the country,” Perera said.

Universal Media is the home to niche brands like Grand Designs, Home Design, Australian Country, Kitchens & Bathrooms Quarterly, EatWell, Homespun, Dogs Life, Australian Road Rider, Dirt Action and Good Organic Gardening.

According to the company’s website, its portfolio of brands attract more than 50 million consumers, including readers, followers and visitors. This is more than twice Australia’s population, which is over 24 million.

“That figure comes from all the emma readership numbers, video downloads, Google Play downloads, likes and shares around the world,” Perera explained. “For example, with the Cosy Project and all our crafts magazines, 30% of our video plays come from America. Almost 40% of my database is American as well. Every day our audience is becoming more international. The figure of 50 million is an aggregated number of all the interactions that we get with our brands.”

Emma Perera is the daughter of the Universal Media’s CEO and chairman Prema Perera. At times, she is referred to as the future head of the company. Does she feel the pressure of this description? “I don’t see it as pressure,” she said. “It is definitely a challenge. It is not a walk in the park.

“Our industry is changing at a breakneck speed. This is exciting and exhilarating. I am really lucky that I can be at the forefront of these new media businesses so that I can take all of that back to our brands and use that for our future direction.”

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