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Samar Verma, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer, Fork Media GroupBI India
Fork Media Group comprises publishing platforms like Curly Tales, Hauterfly, Ask Men, IGN and Mashable India
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How Fork Media Group is helping publishers and marketers strengthen their content marketing offerings

Fork Media Group comprises publishing platforms like Curly Tales, Hauterfly, Ask Men, IGN and Mashable India
  • Fork Media Group (FMG) announced the launch of ContextAds, an SSP that can be a big help for publishers and marketers.
  • In existence for the past 7 years, the organization has grown from being a sub million-dollar business in 2013 to slightly short of 15 Million USD in 2019.
  • Samar Verma, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer, Fork Media Group tells us about the new offering and how it has been helping brands and publishers up their content marketing game.

Recently, media-tech company, Fork Media Group (FMG) announced the launch of ContextAds, an SSP that can be a big help for publishers and marketers. While it will help publishers create incremental value on their inventory, marketers will get complete control over context and brand safety.

The brainchild of Samar Verma, a digital media expert, FMG had started about 7 years back as a plain native platform that delivered scale, efficiency and transparency has now evolved into a content community comprising publishing platforms like Curly Tales, Hauterfly, Ask Men, IGN and Mashable India.

In the last 7 years, the organization has grown from being a sub million-dollar business in 2013 to slightly short of 15 Million USD in 2019. That the organization is doing well proves that more and more brands are giving increasing importance to content and what it can do to benefit them.

We spoke to Verma about FMG’s new offering as well as all that the organization has been up to. He spoke to us about how the year has been so far for FMG, its key areas of focus for the rest of the year and some larger trends in the content marketing space.

Excerpts:

Q) Tell me a bit about ContextAds and how it can benefit brands and publishers?

Given the limitations on behavioral targeting, we truly believe that the new gold standard of targeting will be Context. Also, from a brand's stand point, inventory owners have kept context and brand safety opaque and over a period of time marketeers have demanded complete transparency on the same. You have therefore seen the emergence of third party ‘Brand Safety’ measurement bodies which have been helping brands understand the environment that their ad is being placed in.

Both Context and Brand safety are in a way predominantly driven through keyword targeting and we saw this as an interesting problem statement to solve while we took the product and the technology up the value chain. Over the last 4-5 years.we have been pioneering context and brand safety through AI/ML models that do not only rely on key words but also understand the image, article body, headline and the overall sentiment of the content. We are then able to pass these values to our advertisers to give them a complete context match and a brand safe environment.

We have now launched the SSP for Context and a DMP wherein we also extend context understanding to audiences. We categorize audiences and content basis context while delivering the highest quality of brand safety in the market. Our SSP today, sees over a billion consumers monthly and we are clearly the biggest and the most reliable players in this space. The platform has been launched as a multi territory product across GCC, SEA & India where we ran this product as a managed service (Feet on street) product historically.

Q) You speak about how there's a gap currently between content and context. How will your offering help brands increase their relevance in a consumer's life?

To begin with, we have always had a strong view about how conventional display models have been extremely broken. I will elaborate this with an example. How many times do you find the advertising to be absolutely non-linked to the content you are reading? The answer is clearly ‘in most cases, you do’, right? Especially, in case of news platforms that also happen to be the largest inventory owners, the mismatch is pretty much the norm. You would find ads of beautiful homes next to content that is in all probability talking of political strife, natural calamities, unemployment and so on and so forth.

Clearly, when advertising is married to context, there is an indirect interest match as well given that you are matching the attributes of the product / service being marketed to the attributes of content being consumed. The likelihood of a better engagement is extremely high and we have seen that translate into reality. Our engagement metric is 3/4 times better than display advertising models and that for us is a clear demonstration that delivering advertising in the right context is the way to go.

Q) How have things been for FMG? Can you share what kind of growth you've witnessed in the past few years?

FMG is a media tech entity that operates two multi-territory ad platforms and a content/ influencer marketing business that predominantly focuses on India. We have witnessed exciting growth over the last 7 years since our inception. In the last 7 years, we have gone from being a sub million-dollar business in 2013 to slightly short of 15 Million USD in 2019. With time, we have also changed the operating metrics that we use to assess the business.

Today, we have a strong view about the business delivering significant profitability and we are in the process of restructuring cost and some lines of the business to deliver that to our stakeholders. One also has to take cognizance of the dynamic nature of our industry and hence it is critical that one keeps investing in developing the current roster of products for them to move up the value chain.

Q) Did the pandemic and the lockdown have a big impact on the content marketing space, or on the contrary, made marketers realize the importance of good content? What kind of business impact did it have on FMG?

I would actually take this a bit further and say that the pandemic has made every business worth its salt realize that their business models need to be digital-first. We have seen the fastest pivots in these times. For instance, auto brands have expedited their plans for virtual showrooms that are powered by AI to give a potential customer an experiential consumer experience of a real physical showroom.

While the adversity is obvious, some brands and marketeers have been smart to leverage this opportunity to put digital at the centre of it all and I can tell you that these are the brands that would tide over these times and come out much stronger on the other side. One has witnessed a clear pivot in content as well. The pandemic clearly poses challenges to content production in the way we were doing it conventionally and hence it surely has impacted content marketing but quite a few brands moved away from high production content pieces to digital and creator-first models.

What has helped clearly is that content marketing is a given, so the pivot or the circumvention was more on the execution. The creator-first or the influencer model as one may call it, is clearly the fall back plan for most brands given the restrictions on content production.

From an FMG stand point, we took a significant hit when the pandemic began but the recovery for the business has been pretty rapid. May onwards, we started seeing interest bounce back for brands and our geographical and product diversity had tremendously helped us tide over these unprecedented times. For instance, when our Travel and food platform Curly Tales which also happens to be the No: 1 in India, took a hit, we were able to compensate that with the substantial spending that was happening from the tech sector on Mashable.

Similarly, our influencer business and the ad platform business in GCC/SEA have held up pretty well. The pandemic has allowed businesses like ours to do a lot of introspection on our product, technology stack, cost discipline and margin extraction.

Q) This has generally been a difficult year. So, going ahead, what will your key focus be? Do you have any revenue targets that you can share, and how confident are you of achieving it?


We have re-calibrated our P&L's completely and while we did take cost measures pretty early in the day. We have also parallelly created baseline scenarios for our different lines of business. These base lines have been created with a view to sustainability. I think some of our peer businesses mistook the longevity of the pandemic and their re-calibration was short-term. We on the contrary were much more conservative as we saw this as a potential long-term business impact. We have also taken this time to pivot our models across the two lines of business. Both our ad platforms are now DIY or programmatic. With content, we have developed an automated video creation tool that allows our editorial and video teams to put out the requisite amount of content on our channels. The pandemic has further created a need for each line of business to be more technology-oriented and we are extensively working towards productizing all our lines of business with technology being the core driver.

Q) What are some important trends you've witnessed in the content marketing space? As a market, do you think India has matured, when it comes to content marketing? If not, where do we lack?

We have been advocates of content marketing for many years now as we truly believe that businesses need to engage their existing and potential customer bases through meaningful conversations. It is only recently where businesses have taken cognizance of this need and have started investing significantly in content. We clearly see this as the fastest growing bucket since content is the only route to eventually building an organic sales funnel and hence becomes a very intrinsic element of one's business model.

It is primarily for this reason that one finds every offline or online commerce led business investing heavily in content. The Indian landscape is interesting but fragmented just like every other segment in digital. There is way too much of everything in the content ecosystem and we see that as an interesting problem statement to solve. I think content ideation, production, distribution and analytics needs a cohesive and a comprehensive approach which in our view is kind of missing in the ecosystem. Our endeavor is to fill that gap.

Q) Measurability is still a challenge in content marketing. How are you showing a campaign's effectiveness to brands? What are the yardsticks by which you judge the success of a campaign?

I have spoken of the fragmentation of content marketing above and that by itself poses a massive challenge in cohesively comprehending the impact of content marketing. There is a real need for us as an industry to devise a single metric that allows marketers to assess the effectiveness of the same.

Today, unfortunately, every segment of content marketing is assessed independently with different parameters. For instance, if one was to break down content marketing, you would possibly have three macro renditions of the "content ad" which is a written article, Video predominantly distributed on social and then creator led content distributed largely on the creator’s feeds.

All three have different parameters and I can tell you that as a marketeer it would be a nightmare putting all three together and trying to arrive at one single metric. As someone who is fairly entrenched into the ecosystem and a significant player in the space, we currently play to the gallery and deliver what is expected of us. However, we have been big advocates of a single metric and that’s another challenge that we have taken up internally though industry wide acceptance could be a challenge.

Q) What are some of the larger challenges the content marketing ecosystem is facing currently and what is the way forward?

I would peg fragmentation as the biggest challenge and I find the current ecosystem to be pretty similar to how display was back in 2010 when programmatic was just about taking off in India. Though, content has a clear advantage that it needs human intervention for us to tell interesting stories which clearly wasn't the case with Display where creatives / media buying and distribution all got automated. Besides, I strongly believe that for content marketing to scale to its optimal value, we need to solve the problem of scale in content creation and analytics. When I say scale, I mean that how many custom videos can a brand produce given that a> its expensive b> its time consuming and hence there are limitations to how many distribution funnels can one tap into. Both of these are interesting problems to solve and I am confident that the answer lies only in productization and technology.