Meet AFR Weekend’s Andrew Burke

Group 5

Rethink Ink
Meet AFR Weekend Editor,
Andrew Burke


“We set out to provide worth to our readers every weekend." AFR Weekend’s Andrew Burke discusses how to give your readers what they need to know and what they want to read.

In B&T's ongoing Rethink Ink series, we chatted with AFR Weekend editor Andrew Burke. In his seven-year tenure, AFR Weekend has grown to be one of the most read newspapers in Australia, enjoying significant print and digital growth despite the pandemic. And As Burke reveals, its success isn't all about insider stock market tips.

Group 1

We all know the AFR during the week, but is the weekend edition all for stock market addicts who can’t switch off? The “money never sleeps” brigade?

It’s interesting and it’s hard to measure this stuff. My impression, which comes from a lot of readership surveys we’ve done, is that people read the weekend edition of the AFR as much for the investment advice as the news and political analysis.

The weekend gives people more time to read things such as our news features section that they might not have time for during the week. We’ve also got the Weekend Fin down the back of the newspaper and it's a larger, colourful section that always comes back as people’s favourite thing to read.

People buy it for what they want to know, but also what they want to read.  That’s one of the more critical differences about what we do and the Monday to Friday edition.

Inner Pages Magazine

Who is the AFR Weekend reader?

I’m quite proud of the fact that with the AFR Weekend we have a position that’s in the middle of the market in terms of where more financial newspapers lie.

Sure, we believe in the markets, and we play in that centre right, but we’re in the middle of the market, as far as politics are concerned.

On a political level we want to be credible, and you never want a reader to know what they’re going to read before they get there. From that respect, I think that’s something our readers value in the product. There’s independent critical analysis that’s not necessarily coming from one side of politics or the other.

If the bookies are to be believed, Albo looks a shoo-in at the next election.
I can’t imagine AFR readers being too thrilled about that.

You’d be surprised, but our readership is only marginally more skewed to the Coalition, by a few percentage points. Our view at the AFR Weekend has always been to take each of the party’s polices on their merit and never necessarily from a political party view. We just report what’s happening and from that we draw our analysis. It’s not like we’re preordained, just because one  party comes up with a policy. We’ve been very critical of the government over lots of things recently.



A criticism of the AFR would be that it feels quite “male” in its style and reporting. How do you respond to that?

We’re very conscious to ensure there’s a balance in who we are interviewing. I understand that business and politics is often deemed as a very male pursuit and so we are active in trying to write about women as much as we can, never just for the sake of it. The anecdotal evidence is that a lot more women now read the AFR Weekend.



This all makes for a prestige environment for advertisers.

Obviously on the weekend you’ve got a lot more time to engage with the reader. Something I’m quite proud of is that 70 per cent of our readers aren’t subscribers. That means they’re going down to their newsagent every Saturday morning to seek us out. You always want more subscribers, but I’m proud that our readers want to seek us out, and with that comes reward for the brands that form part of our product. There’s a value exchange for a product when a reader must pay for it.


We hear about the “death of print” all the time. But the AFR Weekend’s numbers certainly tell a different story, print sales remaining surprisingly strong.

It’s a fact of life that people are carrying a little computer around in their pocket all the time these days. News is instant. But all the stories in Saturday’s paper are online on Friday afternoon, albeit behind a paywall, and our readers are still quite happy to go into a newsagent the following morning and part with $4.50 for the printed copy. I also think we have entered a period where print is being celebrated again by brands and creatives for its ability to cut through the digital tsunami and offer consumers escapism and a focus away from the always-on digital world.

Obviously B&T’s core audience is adland. How difficult can it be to take a print product like the AFR and try and sell its merits to 20-somethings in a media agency?

People read the AFR in the office, even more so now that they  are no longer working from home as much. On the weekend people are reading it in their homes, and at the same time they’re making a lot of purchasing decisions about things like investing, holidays or cars, whatever. Those sorts of decisions are made by couples and that’s where AFR Weekend comes in. People are engaged with it around the coffee table, they’re less likely to be on the phone, on the laptop, on the emails. I like to think our content goes across the demographic divide in the house, the husband or the female executive. And so you get more eyeballs on these pages.



For all of COVID’s faults, it’s been a boon for people seeking out media. TV and radio numbers are up markedly. How has that played out for the AFR Weekend readership?

Broadly speaking, we’ve had large increases in our digital paying subscribers and that’s enabled us to hire 20 new staff in the last couple of months. In terms of print, we’ve held up our readership really well. We saw a print readership spike of 54 per cent during the height of COVID. What we’ve been really conscious about is delivering news about the pandemic that is relevant to people. You don’t want to scare readers, you want to provide worth to your readers.

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Content Marketing: Using the power of long-form content to tell a brand story

Powered Unpacked

Content Marketing: Using the power of long-form content to tell a brand story.


Reaching 12 million Australians with powerful tales of help and 978 different assets, IAG, Nine and Initiative amplified A Fire Inside to drive real-world action.

IAG didn’t set out to make a 90-minute feature film. But A Fire Inside became Australia’s number one documentary of last summer, with 850,000 views. In the process, NRMA, Nine and Initiative also created 978 different assets, according to Zara Curtis, Director of Content and Customer Engagement at IAG, to further fuel a story that she says is deeply connected with Australian culture. Telling Australia’s “raw, emotional” bushfire stories goes way beyond content marketing, and real-world results have left IAG “completely blown away”. More people are now talking about volunteering to fight fires and climate change, says Curtis, areas where Australia and its insurers can ill afford apathy.


Powerful stories drive change

The stories coming out of the Black Summer bushfires were raw, powerful, and struck at the core issues Australian society faces: a warming climate, a fragile ecosystem and a deep need to help each other though increasingly complex challenges.

Insurers are inherently risk experts. “Climate change isn’t going anywhere. As an insurer, we have seen that in Australia. Our statistics really talk to that,” says IAG’s Zara Curtis.

“Yet in Australia, volunteering is going down. So at the time when we need it most, people just aren’t leaning in to help.” Given that NRMA’s brand stands for help, she says, “What better way to show our brand purpose?” while driving concrete action to reverse that trend.

Using footage of the bushfires and the firefighters, NRMA made what some consider to be the most powerful advert of 2020, First Saturday, which was subsequently pulled after being judged to have breached advertising standards. It was unquestionably potent, perhaps too much, too soon for some.

But the “amazing, powerful and emotional stories” coming out of the Black Summer bushfires “about how people leaned in to help” needed to be told, says Curtis.

So IAG decided to take the vast trove of footage and imagery and, while treading carefully with production company Finch, approach Australians who had been hit by the fires.

“It was a very gentle approach, and very much their stories,” says Curtis. “We have hero firefighters like Nathan Barnden who saved people’s lives when he lost members of his own family, and so many others that leant in to help. Really powerful, really raw stories.”

The team filmed on and off for almost a year. “Every time we went back, mostly to the South Coast of NSW, a different story would unfold, so we tried to focus on the collective power of ‘help’, but with the message of volunteering to ask, ‘well, what can you do?’” adds Curtis.

Help to scale impact

After the film’s cinematic release, IAG and media agency Initiative sought to scale its impact. Initiative MD Sam Geer said Nine’s scale across broadcast TV and radio, as well as streaming and on-demand, plus news mastheads, is yet to be fully tapped for a single campaign by any brand.

“I don’t think any singular marketer has harnessed that power yet. Maybe in patches, using a combination of channels. But the cultural power that Nine holds across that suite of assets is something we looked at. Not only from a reach point of view, to get the message out  and make sure people saw the film, but also to drive conversation,” says Geer. “We wanted people to take action.”

Driving people to take action – to volunteer, to recognise the risks to society presented by climate change – were key outcomes.

“So the content marketing piece is the start,” says Curtis. “But we have a three-year partnership with Minderoo Foundation and the Australian Resilience Corps, for whom fire and flood resilience are key initiatives. So the impact of the content lives on.”

Meanwhile, IAG’s Safer Communities team, which sits outside marketing, will drive further action for both of those partnerships, through staff and community engagement, Muster Days across Australia, and via partnerships with Nine.

“That's the impact piece,” says Curtis. “It's okay to do content, but our view is, what difference is it going to make?”

Real world results, more to come

“The promise of an integrated proposition very rarely meets the execution,” admits Initiative’s Geer. But working with Nine’s Powered team, plus producers and journalists across the business, “means this is one of the very rare cases where it has.”

“We’ve reached 12 million Australians and intricately planned messages to different audience groups across the suite of assets. The film has been seen by 150,000 people. It was the number one documentary last summer. And now we are seeing that translate into action through the Minderoo Foundation, which makes you very proud.”

Curtis said the insurer has been “completely blown away” by the film’s impact.

“Sixty-eight per cent of people who saw the film said they were having conversations around volunteering and climate change and 58 per cent knew it was made by NRMA, and that we stood for ‘help’, which is just brilliant for brand awareness. Consideration for people to actually impact and help shifted from 43 per cent to 72 per cent.

“So we are in a really good place at the start of this journey.”

Contact us for more information on how your brand can leverage the power of Nine to deliver real business outcomes.

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