Often when we visit or move to a new city and are ready to explore what it has to offer, we can be overwhelmed with choice. Where are the decent cheap eateries? Which art galleries will I like? Which music venues suit my tastes? There are plenty of media outlets devoted to informing us where the best bits are, but one of the more interesting—and increasingly popular—options is Concrete Playground, "an online weather vane pointing you to the cultural tornadoes that are just about to hit Auckland and Wellington".
Concrete Playground’s founder and director Rich Fogarty told StopPress the idea for the site spurned from the feeling of drowning in what New York had to offer.
"In such a big city, and with so much happening it was hard to know where to start,” he says. “The bigger city guide publications like Time Out were all-encompassing directories to absolutely everything that was happening in the city. I just wanted a shortlist of the best stuff. And so the idea for Concrete Playground was born to help people sort the signal from the noise.”
He says at the time he was working at a creative agency called Anomaly, an agency with big ambitions and an incredibly entrepreneurial environment (it is regarded as one of the few that has been able to venture into product development relatively successfully, in part because it invests in them) "and it stoked my desire to take a risk and start something myself".
Shortly thereafter, in 2009, Fogarty says he worked with one of the designers at Anomaly to create Concrete Playground’s first visual identity and website and moved to Sydney to develop the site and build up an editorial team, client base and audience from scratch.
“We released a beta version in August 2009, then launched our Sydney edition in earnest in December. For the launch, we created a campaign called ‘Conspirators’. We showcased Sydney’s 50 best young creatives in a 120-page book, made three short films, then threw a big warehouse party for 650 people exhibiting the work of the city’s best emerging musicians, artists, designers and collectives,” he says. “I partnered with a Kiwi named Kyle Bell on Concrete Playground New Zealand, and we launched our Auckland edition not long after with a campaign, ‘The Bloggers’, searching for New Zealand's best young writers. Wellington is quite a recent addition that launched in late 2014, but it’s growing quickly.”
The result is a streamlined website (a new version is currently in beta mode) that caters to the individual city—and helps those who live there enjoy it. The top left-hand corner of the site displays the weather and below are links to explore, including ‘food and drink’, ‘arts and entertainment’, ‘design and style’, ‘travel and leisure’. It also includes a map and a directory for shops, restaurants, cafes and bars as well as a calendar with upcoming events and a whole host of restaurant reviews. The site also features a range of editorial content, often but not always in list form, about particular city attractions. A few titles on the Wellington site at the moment include: ‘The eight best sustainable cafes in Wellington’, ‘Seven days of cheap eats’, ‘The seven best walks in Wellington’, ‘Five films to see at the alliance francaise French film festival’, plus many more.
Fogarty says the site is made up of a team of 40-60 paid contributors across its network of cities, which span over Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. This includes six full-timers, four in Sydney and two in Auckland.
“We [also] run a three-month intern programme from our office in Sydney, and have the odd intern working with the team in New Zealand. We all wear a lot of hats.”
The site was created for people who work hard and want to experience the best of their city when they play hard, Fogarty says.
“We want our readers to think globally, but play locally, and showcase the people, events and news that we feel best personify this in each city.”
He says it was also important to create a publication that attracted the brands they liked.
“In the New Zealand market we’ve been fortunate to work with companies like Corona, Mercedes-Benz, Rekorderlig, Converse, Stoneleigh and Jameson to create digital partnerships that go well beyond conventional digital display advertising,” he says. Like many modern media enterprises like Vice, Buzzfeed and many others, this means there's more of a focus on native advertising, like this example from Stoneleigh and sponsorship of series like its Autumn Guides.
It's also going direct to the source and increasingly focusing on creating branded content.
The site is growing quickly, Fogarty says, and just last month it had 610,000 unique browsers visiting it across Australia and New Zealand. It has over 40,000 e-subscribers and 80,000 social followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are big drivers of traffic.
Though it’s still relatively early days, Fogarty says the company is already thinking about expansion.
“We would love to look at South East Asia as a market for expansion, but we’d like to be reaching one million readers in Australia/New Zealand before we look at expansion overseas, as it’s not something you want to enter into lightly or under-resourced.”