AIB Featured Business Leader – Mia Freedman
In an era when traditional print journalism is in its dotage, digital media entrepreneur Mia Freedman’s empire is going from strength to strength on the back of page-views, ad revenue and the diversification of media. Freedman owns four websites aimed at female audiences, and employs over 100 full time staff, as well as freelancers. The confessional style on showcase in her website content is also her own personal style. “I’m a heart on my sleeve girl in every way”, she told the Sydney Morning Herald about her own intimate journalistic style.
Freedman attended the exclusive Jewish Ascham School, and then took a gap year in Italy before returning to do an Arts/Communications degree at the University of Sydney. At 19, bored with university, Freedman turned her attention to the glossy, shiny world of women’s magazines. She persuaded the editor of Cleo magazine to give her a fortnight’s unpaid work experience, and then hung on in the office for months, making herself as useful as she could before landing a plumb job as the magazine’s beauty editor. By the tender age of 24, she was made editor of Cosmopolitan, the youngest editor Cosmo has had ever, in any of the 58 versions it publishes globally. She went on to become editor-in-chief of Dolly, Cleo, and then finally back to Cosmopolitan at only 32, all the while writing a regular column for Fairfax. Her glittering career wasn’t the only string to her bow, either – Freedman married Jason Lavigne in 1999, at 28, and the couple have had three children; Luca, Coco and Remy.
After 15 years in the magazine world, Freedman jumped at the chance to move sideways to television, and accepted a job at the Nine Network as Creative Service Director. The move was a disaster. Her style wasn’t popular, the daytime talk show she launched was axed, and seven months into her contract, Freeman left television. Unemployed and with no job offers, she was at a loose end for the first time in her fast-paced career. So Freedman started a personal blog. It was called Mamamia, and it rested heavily on the personable, confessional style that characterised Freedman. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it won a following, and its readers increased every day. Freedman worked at it for three years on her own, learning about social media from the ground up. She taught herself how to drive traffic to the site, how SEO worked and how to create ‘an elevator pitch’ that summarised the site’s goals. She also used her considerable charms to bring on board other well-known voices and – controversially – courted new writers who were happy to write for exposure in lieu of pay. As Mamamia has become more profitable, those policies have changed, and all writers are paid. And then in 2010, her husband Jason stepped in and helped finance Mamamia as a profit making entity.
After working to a magazine cycle for most of her career, where issues are planned six months out, Freedman relished the chance to respond to new stories as they arose, making Mamamia fast-paced and relevant in an online world. Five years from inception, Mamamia boasted a waterfront office, 20 full-time staff and regular takeover offers from bigger media players. And while Freedman has come under plenty of fire for her social and political views, which have variously been described as too liberal and too conservative, depending on who’s talking, there is no doubt that her site is hugely influential in the Australian landscape. Julia Gillard has visited the office for a live chat to the Mamamia audience, followed by other high profile politicians.
Mamamia, the personal blog, became Mamamia Women’s Network, with several new verticals. In 2012, she launched the Australian iteration of US parenting site iVillage, which in 2015 was rebranded as The Motherish to underscore its uniquely Australian status. In the same year, Freedman also launched Debrief Daily, targeted to women over 40. The Mamamia Women’s Network also includes The Glow, a beauty site. And then, in a characteristic Freedman move, the entire structure was rethought. Going back to her original principle, that women don’t like to be pigeonholed by their age, marital status or anything else, Freedman decided to pull all of the niche sites back to Mamamia so that it could become a one-stop shop for the varied content provided.
The company is also widening its reach via other media. The Mamamia video app will allow the audience to upload and share video content, and then there’s the podcast – Mamamia Out Loud. The company is continuing to explore e-commerce opportunities that will sit alongside their traditional advertising revenue, and there are plans to launch Broad Media, a consultancy company seeking to connect brands with female customers. All in all, the move is characteristic of a woman whose career has been fast-paced and frenetic since her teens. Freedman’s biggest asset, perhaps, is her ability to see how the mood of media is shifting and to be in the forefront of those shifts. In a world where traditional media is struggling to adapt, Freedman’s Mamamia is a model example of adaptation to a digital landscape. And neither it, nor she, show any signs of slowing down.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, AdNews, The Guardian, Women in Focus, Mumbrella and ABC News.
Image Credit: Herald Sun