Media relations

How to work with LADbible

LADbible has moved away from its laddish roots and is now a massive media organisation that brands need to work with

When Alexander Solomou, a business student at the University of Leeds, first came up with idea of a social media publishing company, he could hardly have expected it to become as ubiquitous as it is today.

Since LADbible launched in 2012, it has grown from 75,000 interactions on its Facebook page to more than 24.3 million followers. Last year, the site was ranked third in top media and entertainment properties by video analytics company Tubular Labs. What started as a site capitalising on university ‘Lad Culture’, now  covers everything from the peace talks between North and South Korea, to a story about an elastic band becoming embedded in the arm of a four-year old girl.

The stories that matter to LADbible are those that will interest their readers, and that, quite simply, can be anything. ‘I think it’s a slight exaggeration to say it changed the way we consume media,’ says Ray Murphy, senior editor at We Are Social. ‘If anything, it’s the likes of Facebook and Twitter that did that. What LADbible has done is see a really good opportunity back in 2012. It saw that the way people were consuming content was changing. It saw a gap that wasn’t being filled by the broadsheets and, to some extent, the tabloids too.’

It is a model example of any media company that starts off with any specific niche and then when it gets popular, becomes a little bit more wholesome or tolerable

‘What [LADbible] has captured is that giving people articles they want to read and engage with, as opposed to traditional media, which is more about what they think you should know, drives clicks,’ says Katie Buckett, founder of OneFifty. ‘The change it brought to PR is in what makes a story; what can and can’t be effective is much wider.’ ‘It’s reflected the overall change we’ve seen in media of bringing the news to you, rather than having to go off to whatever traditional news source,’ adds Rick Guttridge, managing director of Smoking Gun PR. ‘Not hard news, obviously, but it is a great collator of the zeitgeist, whatever the cultural trends are at the time, and brings that together for their audience, which tend to be younger adults.’

Its audience is a lot more diverse than some might think. Former LADbible marketing director Mimi Turner told the BBC in 2015 that around a quarter of ‘lads’ reading the site’s content were actually women. She added that it ‘absolutely redefines what lads are’.

Indeed, Murphy points out that a site that once started off as very ‘student union, laddy humour’ has managed to diversify, and even has offshoot sites such as SPORTbible and Pretty52, a site tailored more closely to women. ‘It’s done a very good job moving away from lad culture,’ explains Murphy. ‘It’s now pretty agnostic; it’s not purely aimed at men. It speaks to a wider emotion and a wider appetite for emotional content. It is a model example of any media company that starts off with any specific niche and then when it gets popular, becomes a little bit more wholesome or tolerable.’

Andy Barr, managing director of agency 10Yetis, agrees that LADbible has successfully managed to distance itself from overtly ‘laddy’ content, but adds that other, more traditional brands are starting to follow its example by publishing more risqué content of their own. ‘Some of [the LADbible] content has been risqué in the past,’ he says. ‘But if you look at other sites like Buzzfeed, LADbible is no more risky or dangerous than they are. They have a few historical posts that might have given brands a headache a few years ago, but less so now. It’s probably one of the few media brands that has done okay since Facebook’s algorithm change, pushing brands further and further down the newsfeed. All outlets are trying to do the same, even sites like The Telegraph are trying to do more risky stuff.’

It also covers not quite the stories you’d expect. Guttridge notes that in the past, Smoking Gun has managed to secure coverage on LADbible for a bed company, amongst others, which, as well as being a very ‘middle England brand’, was also not particularly au fait with the site. ‘The name LADbible might immediately raise some questions, Hang on, we’re targeting middle England housewives, what are we doing on LADbible?,’ he explains, ‘and then once they understand its reach and the fact that around a quarter of its audience is female anyway, they realise it’s the perfect vehicle for amplifying their message.’

So what actually makes a story perfect for the likes of LADbible? ‘I don’t think the approach is all that different from traditional PR,’ says Barr. ‘It all comes down to making sure the story is interesting enough. Has the story got the ‘pub factor’? That’s the golden rule. You know in your heart if it’s interesting and if it’s not, how can you make it interesting? That’s the bottom line.’

Buckett concurs. ‘I don’t think it’s different in terms of narrative. I think there’s a difference in what is a news story, what is shareable and engaging. PRs need to be more creative. LADbible is very focused on what does and doesn’t work and it is competitive – it’s very good at tapping into what people want to read.

‘It needs to tie into readers’ personalities. Content has to feel like it identifies with me or I won’t share it. By sharing something you are saying I want to be associated with this. People project their own identity. The likes of Buzzfeed and LADbible are tapping into things people identify with and have personal a connection to.’

I would always make sure to approach LADbible with a story that includes video, great content and graphics to support it. They are not interested in flat stories

Buckett advises companies to actually read LADbible before they decide to approach them with a story, but with the site’s remit expanding not only to funny stories, but political and emotional ones too, the real question is how exactly do you know that it will want to work with you too? It all comes down to the pitch.

‘It’s important to consider Buzzfeed when talking about LADbible because they are two big new media publishers,’ says Murphy. ‘Their approach is very similar in that they are both so prolific. They publish so much it allows them to constantly learn about the editorial content and that helps control their partnerships. I think brands working with them are going to have to go with a very, very open mind and be willing to relinquish control. LADbible has hundreds and hundreds of brands wanting to work with them, I imagine it gets to pick and choose.’

The site’s success, and its ability to amplify stories, taking them to millions and millions of followers, means that a brand is really going to have to stand out if it has any hopes of going viral via LADbible.

‘It’s one of the driving forces for moving PR away from deathly boring press releases,’ says Barr. ‘I would always make sure to approach LADbible with a story that includes video, great content and graphics to support it. They are not interested in flat stories. If you’ve got a quirky story and it performs well, you’ll find that story gets spun out across other platforms. Much in the same way as if you get a story on Press Association, other sites of that ilk will pick it up and write something similar.’

‘It is making PRs think about what people genuinely want to read,’ says Buckett. ‘It’s not trying to be the News at Ten, people have broader interests than that. There’s a difference between what people will read and what they are happy to share. LADbible wants clicks: it picks content based on what it thinks will drive traffic.

‘We need to think about human behaviour. Think about your content package in advance. Put together a top ten points, and be able to present your images and videos at the same time.’

But Buckett warns: ‘Pitch them if they’ve got the audience you want. There’s no point if you haven’t got a story that will resonate. You need to understand the style and tone and that’s how you’ll have a compelling pitch.’

‘Be open to risk,’ concludes Murphy. ‘A lot of brands could benefit from trusting the content creators they partner with. These are the things that have built them massive success and given them a following. LADbible manages to cut through the noise.’