Newspaper publication for Broadsheet, Australia’s most influential, independent publisher.
A conversation between Nick Shelton (NS) from Broadsheet, Rhys Gorgol (RG) from The Company You Keep and Matt Leach (ML) from Australian Design Radio.
From what I understand, the relationship between TCYK and Broadsheet is pretty unique. So, I want to understand how it works?
It’s set up as a retainer, which is a pretty good way for really creating long term value for both parties. In essence, we’re just an extension of the Broadsheet team. We have staff members that are dedicated to this brand and this work, and it allows us to not only be very responsive but be proactive in how we think about the brand and its objectives. Rather than relying on being reactive to project briefs and things like that.
It was really important to me when I was thinking about the brand and the graphics and the creativity that drives Broadsheet — and that’s such a big part of what we’re known for — that it wasn’t a project-by-project relationship. Rhys and I know each other very well, and we have a really terrific personal working relationship, but it was vital that that would extend to our teams and not just to us as individuals. We’ve managed over the years to develop this relationship that has an ebb and a flow and some weeks we’ll have tonnes of work on and some weeks we’ll have less work on, but always we feel like TCYK are thinking about our brand, we’re thinking about what TCYK can work with us on and collaborate with us on, and the word you used earlier, “collaboration” is exactly it, it’s a vital part of the relationship. We don’t really think about it like a service provider. We think about it like creative collaborators, which is the key to the success of the relationship, which has a lot of longevity to it.
The projects you’re talking about are really varied. Everything from newspapers, books, restaurants. Rhys, how do you keep the consistency across such a varied output?
That really comes down to understanding the elemental of Broadsheet. What is the core DNA when it comes down to it? There’s that theory that the human mind can only hold three concepts when they think about any certain thing, so what are those three things when it comes to Broadsheet? And they’re the things that need to be consistent for it to have that fingerprint of the brand. But they’re inherently malleable, they’re inherently able to be applied to many various interfaces. Regardless of whether that’s a physical experience, something that you might walk into, whether it’s a tactical or an analogue experience, like a paper, or whether that’s more of a digital or intangible experience such as an EDM or a social push. This understanding of the elemental allows us to navigate that in a way where we can maintain that consistency throughout those various external interfaces or inputs, like commercial considerations as well.
The way we think about our brand at Broadsheet is not unique, but it’s very clear. And that is that we’re not defined by our products. We’re not a website, we’re not a newspaper, we’re not a book publisher. We are a brand and that brand is about having a particular point of view and voice, and it has an audience. And so what we do with that brand, what Broadsheet is, is anything that connects that point of view and brand with that audience. So obviously our website is what we’re best known for, and it’s really the core of the business. But it’s also books, it’s also restaurant experiences, it’s also pop ups, it’s newspapers, shortly it will be a podcast, and TCYK understand that and are drivers of that. So nobody gets confused when we say, “Hey we’re going to do this zany thing!”. People don’t say “Woah, I don’t understand? How can we transform a website into a restaurant?” — that’s never been a conversation we’ve had to have. It’s always been — OK, well because we understand what Broadsheet is, we know what that means in a restaurant environment. It’s just meant that we’ve been able to sail through this philosophy and build this brand in this way, because we have collaborators that don’t just understand it, but they really drive it.
I’m curious to hear — in your words, what is Broadsheet’s purpose and how has that evolved over the time of the collaboration?
I’ve always seen the paper as almost like a flagship product for our brand. It’s never been the driver of our business, it’s never been the core revenue driver. One of the challenges you have with digital is its broad scale. So you can speak to millions and millions and millions of people, but each of those millions of people has a different experience. Sometimes they’ve come through google and they get just one article about a restaurant they’ve looked for, sometimes they’ve found us through Facebook and it’s about some silly little story we’ve told that’s a bit of fun, other times they’ve read us through the email newsletter that they’ve signed up for and they really understand our brand. The sad state of affairs with digital is that often, even though we don’t like the idea of it, the reader doesn’t even know where they are. They’ve just found a piece of content, they’ve never heard of Broadsheet before, they might never hear about it again. A newspaper is a totally different situation. A newspaper is something that someone has picked up, they’ve looked at the front page, we’ve said, “This is the most important story we want to tell in this issue”. It’s got the correct balance of what we stand for, in terms of our topics. So there’s a bit of food and drink, there’s a bit of art and design, there’s a bit of fashion, there’s a bit of news telling. It’s something that we can control from beginning to end, it’s a finite product. Whereas a digital publication becomes this ever evolving, meandering, ongoing body of work. Which has its own beauties and incredible components too, but it doesn’t have that finite element.
We always talk to Broadsheet, and Nick — we’ve always had these conversations around the importance of offering varied experiences for the audience base with the brand. So rather than coming to the brand and always being constrained to a 16×9 backlit LED screen, how can we express the values and the position of Broadsheet through a variety of different paces, rhythms, times and moments within people’s lives? And what happens with the paper is that quite often these are being experienced within venues, which is a bit inception-y in that, that’s quite often the content within what Broadsheet covers and talks about in terms of being a lens of a city. But there’s a pace to that. Broadsheet’s woven into someone’s Saturday morning when they’re sitting there leafing through the paper and having a coffee, or they’re part of someone’s tram ride in to work on a Tuesday morning. The brand becomes interwoven into that person’s life in a way that’s a bit more active than passive, where they just come and click and find a piece of content and move on. And so that’s not to say it’s more powerful or better than the website, it’s just a companion piece that plays a really important role in the brand.
We’ve always thought of the print paper as a “lean back” experience. It’s something that you pick up, you have it open on the kitchen table or the table at the cafe, and you let it wash over you. The stories we tell are often a little bit longer, they might be 3,000 words, they might be an investigation into something we’re seeing in the city or a theme, or something that takes some time or some nuance to unpack. And we like the idea of that and the beauty of the laid out physical page to be able to pour over someone. The digital experience is more of a “lean forward” experience. It might be, “I’m looking for a restaurant to go to on Friday night, I’m going to go and discover that.” So you’re leaning in, you’re over your computer, you’re hunched over and you’re looking for something. The origin of the paper and the reason it continues to this day is because we had this website that we were very proud of, we had all this wonderful content and we thought, “How the hell are we going to get people there?” So we created something for the physical experience that was really the first time we thought about Broadsheet outside of a website, and it was the first part of this evolution of Broadsheet as a brand. We wanted to capture people out in the real world and bring them into the Broadsheet world, and having a piece of collateral is what we thought about to start with. Then it evolved into this publication, this beautiful product in its own right. It made a lot of sense to distribute in cafes and bars and shops and restaurants around Melbourne first and then Sydney, and the rest of the country. As Rhys said, it really has this companionship element to the website and the rest of the brand architecture which is working really well.
You’ve obviously worked together for quite a while now, and it feels like there’s been quite a few wins. I’m interested in ones that stand out.
For me, the newspaper is definitely one of those wins, because of the relative consistency of its publishing. There was a hiatus in the middle for a few years, but the relatively consistent timeline of that, the frequency of it, the way in which that is created is incredibly collaborative due to the pace of it. So, we’re far more ingrained in editorial decisions of how things come to life. When the team are talking about, “We’re thinking of covering this thing”, the conversation can come about: “Well, how would that work on page? Where would that break down best? How would we document or visualise that? Would that be best shown with illustration or through photography?” It also allows a bit more of a nuanced approach to typography and composition because again the parameters of that are a bit more finite in terms of just being a printed page and the pace allowing it. Broadsheet is prolific in the amount of content they publish each day, so a digital platform requires the setting up of a framework and the running of it where it has its own perpetual movement that is taken over by that internal team. But the paper allows not only that “lean back” experience for the audience or the punter who’s reading it, but also the “lean back” experience of the collaborative team coming together to make it. So that’s definitely been one of the highlights for me. Another one — before I let Nick jump in, is the Broadsheet Restaurant, Broadsheet Bar. These physical experiences are walk-in expressions of the brand that have a purity to them. To that point again, how can we enrich or give back to an audience? Rather than just: here is this piece of content, read it. Here is this commercial integration, engage with it. How can we give back to these cities that we document? Rather than sitting on the sidelines and being an observer, when Broadsheet becomes a participant I think there’s a really interesting point there that allows for really great creative outputs.
I was going to say the restaurant too. We’ve done a number of pop up projects across the ten or so years of our existence, but the one we did in Melbourne on Gertrude Street in 2015 was definitely the most ambitious. It was poignant, the sharpest example of when we took Broadsheet as a brand and turned it into something that wasn’t a publication, that wasn’t media. And we talk about it now as if the meal experience is the media. That is the participation experience of the brand, and it just worked phenomenally well. There was so much attention to detail in terms of the brand of the Broadsheet Restaurant and how that looked and how that worked. The way the menu design worked, and to the point of different brands — we had sponsor brands across it, we had each of the Restaurants we participated with and collaborated with, there were so many stakeholders. But the execution of the design, the brand building and then the tactical execution of the graphics made it look effortless, which is at the end of the day what we’re trying to achieve. Which is making it look as if it’s, “Of course! This makes sense, this looks easy”. But you only have to do it for half a second to realise how incredibly challenging it can be. The other one that comes to mind is our series of cookbooks. There are two things that come to mind. One is just: you look and you feel very proud of the incredible body of work we’ve been able to work on together across a long time. Just how consistent it’s been and it’s consistent in its evolution at the same time. So it hasn’t been static. It hasn’t been one thing, and then we just roll it out a bunch. It evolves and it changes and it grows but it’s always at its core rooted in who we are and what we do. So that’s incredibly inspiring to me when I look back at that. But it’s the things we do, the one-offs as well — where you can say, alright, this is the beginning of the project, here’s the end of the project, this is what we completed, we’re holding it in our hands. That’s great too. The cookbooks we did — first we did a Melbourne and Sydney version in one year, and then we followed it up a couple of years later with the Broadsheet Italian Cookbook. When you hold that in your hands, you look at this gorgeous photography, the gorgeous type-setting and layouts, the feel of it, that’s pretty special.
Let’s talk about the practicalities of the relationship. Is it WIPs? Meetings? How does a newspaper begin?
It begins with a meeting around a table with cups of coffee, as all good things generally do. The unique thing about a paper within what is a prolific digital publisher is it’s a time capsule. So it allows us to sit down at the start before anything has been commissioned and think about the best way for this content to be engaged with. And to challenge convention but also to optimise or elevate the experience of someone in taking that information. So we will sit down with the editorial team. They’ll potentially have a theme for that particular issue, and they’ll have a whole bunch of story ideas, and we’ll spitball them. We’ll be talking about, — “OK, this is this idea, this is what we’re trying to get across” and we’ll talk about how much of the page that might take up, in terms of real estate, practically. But also, where to use illustration, whether it’s a short form 300-word piece, or whether it’s better broken up into little segments of 25-word snippets with individual illustrations for each. Or whether it’s a photography piece and it’s a bit more of a photo montage and which collaborator we might want to engage to work on that, in terms of styling or photography.
One of the things that might be unusual in how these papers come about is that before we commission a single word, we come and talk to TCYK. The editorial director and our print editor will have developed a bunch of ideas and stories that they want to tell. They’ll come to me, and we’ll have another brainstorming meeting where I throw back my ideas. Then it’s almost like the layout gets so that our flat plan is almost set, and we sit down with TCYK and say, OK, here are the stories we want to tell and here’s how we’re thinking about telling them. And we allow room for TCYK to come back and say, alright, so we have an idea of how this could be told visually. Or, how this is going to be best told visually. Or, we’re going to challenge your idea about that, and we actually think that there’s this other way of telling the story. Whether it’s illustration or it’s a graph or it’s a chart or it’s a strong photograph, or actually, there’s no photograph and it’s going to be stronger if it’s just typeset. There are all kinds of different ways of doing it, and they’re obviously the best place to do that. So we like having that conversation right up front, and then we can go and commission the words to fit within a broader structure. It’s just so much more effective than writing a bunch of words and giving it to a designer and saying, “Please lay this out”.
Which is very unique, thinking about other publications; taking that design first approach is quite a different way.
At the end of the day what we think about it is a communication first approach. What’s the best way to tell the story? And design — the words don’t exist without design, even if you’re just putting them on a typewriter, that’s typeset. So you have to get this story, from a page into somebody’s head. We’re always thinking about what’s the most interesting and most effective way to do that.
That comes back to the relationship, and the way it’s administratively structured to the retainer idea. In my mind it’s not necessarily design first or communication first, it’s design embedded. We’re embedded as part of the Broadsheet team. And so that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a sequence, because they’re running in parallel and there’s this continual dialogue with content and form. With the paper as an example of that, there is this initial idea where we’ll sit down, and we’ll say, these are the stories that are going to make up the paper. But even as we’re going through it, it’s really, really iterative. So these stories come in at different times throughout that, and it gets built. It’s not designed as: here is the whole thing, here’s the first proof of the whole complete paper. It starts to come together like a jigsaw puzzle. And as these pieces come together then you might be sequentially after that going and doing a photoshoot. That insight, or that information is informing the approach to that photo shoot because you’re understanding how it might sit alongside something, or the rhythm or the narrative of someone moving through the publication.
It’s evolved a lot. We’ve been working together like this for 7 years at this point, and hopefully that’s just the beginning. Broadsheet now has a team of 50 who all have access to the TCYK capability. We get the best outcomes when we have that brand thinking and creativity right from the outset. The philosophy behind the relationship is the constant sharing of information.
I noticed there was a hiatus in the publication of the newspaper. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how the style evolved?
We took a hiatus a number of years ago where we felt like we had done everything we wanted to do with the papers. We thought, we’re just repeating ourselves here, we’re feeling like we’re just rolling these things out. Which is the worst place to be in when you’re in a creative industry. It was all about telling a brand story, and we felt like if we told that story, why keep doing it? That was the point where we took off and started working on our cookbooks, and devoted the resources into cookbooks. After a couple of years, maybe it was not quite three years, we really missed the papers. We missed the rhythm of them, doing them quarterly. We missed telling those long form stories, we missed capturing the city in that time capsule sort of way. And we missed the graphic layout, practical, held in your hand, ink on your hand, paper in your hand embodiment of Broadsheet. So we thought it was time to bring it back. But at the same time, we didn’t want to bring it back and go back three years. We wanted to think, “What does the paper look like for Broadsheet, now?”.
It’s interesting when you’re doing something and it’s such a core part of a working relationship, that sometimes, the by-product benefits that are less tangible, they get foggy. So as we were doing the papers towards the end, the other by-product benefits of stopping and having that “lean back” experience as a collaborative team, you didn’t necessarily understand the importance of that for the brand and how that might progress. As well as the feedback an audience might give you because they are in a rhythm of just expecting something. One of the interesting things that came out of that, was as soon as the pivot happened, and we focused on these bigger investment cookbook pieces and away from the regular publishing of the paper, that audience started to speak up. Obviously, you’re always thinking about the brand and you’re asking people, “What do you think about this at the moment?” and they’re, “Oh I really miss the paper!” and that was something that was constant feedback. That starts to linger in your mind, and you start to think about all these other by-product benefits that aren’t as active or as present and how they inform or help elevate and escalate other periphery work that we’re doing together as a group. I remember having conversations with Nick and the editorial team about that, and we thought, why not do it again? In terms of the stylistic evolution as Nick mentioned before, we often think about Broadsheet as a lens. The lens is looking at a city, and it reflects back what is important to the fabric of that city and that community. And cities change, things evolve, culture moves. It isn’t stagnant, it isn’t static. The same way with the paper, when we started to look through that lens in the format or the interface of a paper, three or so years later, what we were looking at had changed. The dynamic of the city, the energy of the city, the buzz of the city, how esoteric certain elements were, were all shifting and changing, and we wanted to reflect that within the design, within the grid, within the typography. There was also again, that self reflection, not only just on the external component of the city and the audience but on the internal team, and the role of this project to this creative team. Editorially, commercially and creatively. We really started to articulate what the core role of it was, and it was this capture-all for this expression of the idealised version of how to tell a story because the parameters were far more controllable. So, it’s really been lent into with this second wave expression of the papers.
Directors: Rhys Gorgol
Designers: Benjamin Siero, Samantha Hogan, Simon Harris
Client Service: Penny Gow, Samantha Aldridge
Photographers: Pete Dillon, Brook James, Jake Roden, Mark Roper, Tim Grey, Nikki To, Kitty Gould, James Geer, Kate Shanasy, Yasmin Suteja, Gareth Sobey, Amanda Santamaria, David Hyde, Sam Bisso, Nic Walker
Illustrator: Jeffrey Phillips
Production: Fairfax Media
Typefaces: Hoefler Text, Hoefler Titling, Brown, Founders Grotesque