Mad.co.uk: Seriously mad for it

One website is appealing to media professionals whose idea of news is deeper than the antics of supermodels and people in reality TV shows. Oliver Duff checks out a site that promises to go beyond the headlines

Wanted: media, marketing, advertising and design professionals who consider the trade press gossipy and frothy, and want instant editorial that takes the business side of the media seriously.

That is the pitch of mad.co.uk, a website battling the likes of Brand Republic, MediaGuardian and FT.com - as well as Haymarket's print editions of Campaign, Marketing and Media Week - to establish itself on the favourites list of the country's moguls.

You won't find bitchy diary items about your rival (or boss) or coverage of Big Brother. This is a site for people who take media money seriously.

"It's about giving you well-written stories on relevant subjects, helping you to do your job better, get more recognition, more success and more money for you and your business," says the publisher, Stephen Brooks. "We don't put up the winner of reality TV because it's not important to our customers. It is very much a service industry, as opposed to a magazine."

Before you get the impression that share prices rather dully take the place of celebrity misdemeanours, Brooks is keen to point out that the two can go together.

"Kate Moss is a classic example. The drug-taking is an important story only because she's an icon and brands have invested so much money in her.

"She's lost several contracts, but what does that mean? Celebrity brand endorsement is incredibly complicated. Where does the money go? What happens to the brand now? What do they do to stop this in future? That all got lost in the reporting somehow." The slow reaction of some of those companies that ditched Moss shows that there are boardrooms that might benefit from a subscription.

Launched in 1999, the site now has eight journalists, a 10-year archive of online and print content (from magazines including Marketing Week, Design Week and Brand Strategy) and 39,000 subscribers. There is a range of daily and weekly email newsletters, the meat and veg of any decent online op. It is making money too: profits rose by 40 per cent last year, the fourth year in the black. Subscriptions are reasonable: £25 a year for news updates and £210 for the archive as well.

The site's strength is its analysis: straight, insightful reporting that looks beyond the headline. It is earnest without being stuffy. To generate interest in political branding ahead of the general election in May, it asked six agencies to redesign the brand identity and advertising campaign of one of the main political parties. The Conservatives and Labour didn't bother to reply. (As part of its "debranding" of Labour, Geometry proposed a grey logo and "a popular vote to outlaw the use of any Moby or D:Ream pop songs at any party gathering of 10 people or more".) But the Green Party was so impressed with the way WPP's The Partners expressed its key arguments - "arguably more directly than we have", according to communications co-ordinator Matt Wootton - that the two plan to work together in the future.

Mad.co.uk's weakness is that for an online publisher - where being first to the story by minutes is secondary only to accuracy - it doesn't get enough scoops. If it truly plans to become required reading for execs, then it has to break more news. But better first to build a reputation for accuracy than spread its resources too thinly. The exclusives are beginning to come, says editor Sarah Lelic. Mad was an hour ahead of others on the news that BBH had picked up the British Airways account from M&C Saatchi, and was first to announce that Ofcom had banned Make Poverty History's television adverts because it considered it a political body and not a charity. Small successes, but the first steps on to a playing field inhabited by bigger beasts.

Brooks's ideal customers - his word - are "business decision makers" at dynamic, innovative start-ups, or "companies that think like funky, young companies". Apple, Google, eBay, 3, Vodafone, Honda and Dyson pass his lips.

Another is Innocent Drinks, which has been a subscriber for two years. Ailana Kamelmacher, PR, finds mad.co.uk "up to date, clear and easy to use". "Their reporting is balanced and, from my experience, accurate," she says. "I'd recommend it to anyone pitching for new business and trying to understand a brand quickly, as the archives are excellent."

Chris Taylor, head of communications at IPC Media, is another fan. "Increasingly it's a place for us to break our news, as the print trade magazines are focused more on issues and personalities," he says. "There is a critical mass websites have to achieve before they can break through as brands in their own right. Mad has a way to go yet but I recommend it to everyone from the chief exec to the publishing guys and editorial."

If people continue to take websites ever more seriously as an information source for news and jobs - and, crucially, if mad.co.uk gets those exclusives - it might just become a funky young brand itself.

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