Singapore—On December 9, Monday, Tim Burrowes, the founder and content director of Mumbrella, an Australian marketing and media industry news website, announced that Mumbrella Asia is closing in the next few days.
Mr Burrowes wrote an “admirably frank” explanation as to why the company has had to shut down, calling it a tough decision, since the livelihood and careers of individuals is at stake, and also because the company had just had a successful event last month.
He wrote, “It was a tough decision because we’ve amassed a decent audience. We just delivered our 10 millionth page view. And we’ve now got more than 25,000 subscribers to the daily email.”
The primary reason seems to be the company’s bottom line since the company has not seen a profitable year in the last six and a half years. “Traffic has grown and revenues have grown, but we’ve never come close to breaking even.
This year, despite the (relative) commercial success of this month’s Mumbrella360 Asia we’re on course to lose another six-figure sum on our Singapore operation,” he added.
Mr Burrowes further pinpointed the failure of the company to the strategy the company had adopted. The business model that made the parent company a success in Australia did not translate well to Singaporean culture.
He mentions those who had taken charge of the site, who had been used to how things were run in Australia. The first editor, Robin Hicks, “was always passionate about the industry and the personification of a mission-driven journalist – who sees their job as serving readers by aiming to tell it like it is, rather than prioritising cosy relationships or short-term commercial considerations.”
At the beginning of his stint in Singapore, Mr Hicks wrote, “Now, I’ve been told that the Mumbrella approach won’t work in this part of the world. That we’re too controversial (WPP boss Martin Sorrell has called us ‘aggressive’). That, unlike in Australia, readers will be less willing to jump in and join the discussion. But from what I gather from the people I’ve met since I’ve been back, I’m fairly confident the doubters will be proved wrong.”
But with Singapore being much less confrontational than Australia, “it would sometimes be months before we realised a relationship was on ice,” Mr Burrowes wrote.
Next to Mr Hicks was Mumbrella’s general manager Dean Carroll, who “ discovered there were many relationships that would benefit from a reset.”
But the one who got into the hottest water was the site’s next editor, Eleanor Dickinson, described by Mr Hicks as “almost as driven as Robin, and just as likely to test the boundaries.:
When Mr Carroll was away on holiday, “Eleanor’s boundary-testing included writing about a sensitive Singaporean political issue. A few weeks later, her employment pass was not renewed by the government, and we found ourselves with a few days to get her out of the country.”
Ms Dickinson was succeeded by Indian marketing trade press veteran Ravi Balakrishnan, who came on board in 2018, and whose “gravitas” along with Mr Dean’s diplomatic skills mended a lot of fences.
And while the company made other adjustments to the business model, in particular, it seems as though some lessons were learned too late, and Mumbrella kept seeing losses, which were sometimes 6-figure ones.
Mr Burrowes writes,
“Which brings us to where we are.
We’ve got a publishing product I’m really proud of. Traffic’s growing and so are email subscribers.
And we’ve delivered events that I’m convinced are world class.
But only the sponsorship part of the model is working.
And on a business model based around advertising, ticket sales and sponsorship, one-and-a-half out of three is not enough.”