Cameron McCullough grew up on the Mornington Peninsula at his father’s farm in Tyabb and he has spent his whole life in the area.
Says Cam, “I think the area has a great vibe and it’s a wonderful place to raise children. While it’s a large area, it's still small enough where you can get to know people and there’s a real sense of community. I always say to people that because the Mornington Peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides, you tend to associate with others more closely and have a stronger interaction."
As the Founder and Publisher of MPNG (Mornington Peninsula News Group), Cameron’s interaction with the community is deep and wide. His life in the publishing industry happened quite by accident though - although his entrepreneurial skills were evident from a young age.
“I owned a newsagency in Hastings which I bought when I was 20 years old," explains Cam, "and we were quite concerned at the time that the local paper didn’t really interact well enough with the community so we decided to create our own. It started as an eight page little newspaper which we printed on the photocopier and we distributed 3000 of them. One day I had a phone call from someone asking how they could advertise in the paper, and we thought wow, there’s an idea. And from there the business just grew and we created more editions. It all happened organically.”
Cameron’s enterprise grew quite quickly to the point where it grew larger than his core business which was the newsagency, with more staff, more turnover and more profit, so he and his wife Melissa decided to close the newsagency and focus on newspapers full time.
“To put it in perspective as well there was a lot changing in the industry at that time and I think we entered the arena at the right time to make the best of the situation. The Independent News who were our main competition when we started was purchased by Fairfax. It went into a fairly rapid decline and eventually shut down which meant they put off a whole lot of staff – who became our staff. So essentially our team is made up of around 80% Independent News staff. It was the right place at the right time rather than any level of skill."
"We started with a very lean model. We were charging $360 for a half page when we first started compared to the Independent News charging 5 times that amount. That’s what the industry was like at that time, but of course the change that was happening to newspapers in general meant that they were no longer able to achieve those rates. As a result they really struggled trying to retro-fit that model, not because they were greedy but because they had a large cost base. We were born into a new environment so we were able to cost it accordingly and survive and thrive even though we were getting a lot less per page."
The whole process meant that advertising became much affordable for every business owner rather than just the larger companies and the chain stores. And because the MPNG model is quite lean, they are still able to work closely with the ‘butcher and baker’ type stores and help them tell their story to the public. Now with a staff of 26 local professionals, MPNG is also one of the larger employers in the area. Photographers, journalists, designers and sales people (all of MPNG’s publications are free, so the sole source of revenue is via advertising sales) can now find job satisfaction in a leading publishing organisation close to home.
The heart of the publishing enterprise was the five free weekly newspapers (Mornington News; Frankston Times; Chelsea, Mordialloc & Mentone News; Southern Peninsula News and Western Port News). The magazine venture began with the launch of Peninsulas Kids, which MPNG purchased from two local mums who were keen to get out of the venture they started. It was an online brand at that time, and the fact that it was making a digital revenue based company that was making a profit was what made it attractive.
Explains Cam, “It’s hard retro-fitting a company that’s based on print profit to becoming a profitable digital company. If we based MPNG solely on digital revenue there’s no way we could survive – it’s still a small portion of our overall turnover. It was a great learning base for us though and helped us explore the online world.”
Being a print-based company though the natural step was to turn Peninsula Kids into a magazine. “Contrary to what everyone says, print media is still a flourishing business," says Cam. "Relying on digital revenue is so much harder because it’s such a competitive space that just doesn’t garner the same dollar value as print. Digital advertising is so fleeting to the eye and in such a random space whereas people still like to see a hard copy in print. The fundamental thing about print media is that the community still wants to receive a free newspaper in their letterbox that has a photo of their child on page 3 getting a maths award, knowing that their neighbour is going to be receiving the same newspaper and will see that photo too. There is still a level of prestige and notoriety to seeing yourself or someone you know in print."
MPNG also added Peninsula Essence to their portfolio, a glossy magazine that rounds up their offering. Being geographically constrained by borders of sister publications from other companies means that MPNG won’t be expanding their free newspaper offering, and with Peninsula Essence focused on providing articles and information for the adult community and Peninsula Kids covering families news and activities, the range of publications in the MPNG stable is complete.
Says Cam, "We’re now really focused on making these publications the best that they can be. The free weekly papers are working well with a growth in the last year of around 8% which is a solid result, and Peninsula Essence in particular is showing great potential.”
The MPNG publishing empire offers a unique community service, providing forums for businesses to promote their wares and services to the general public as well as giving local residents and visitors a way of finding out what is happening in and around the Mornington Peninsula in terms of entertainment, recreation, retail spaces and education. So it really does service every aspect of the area.