Maryanne Edwards from Global Marine Business Advisors (GMBA) speaks with Hillary Buckman – Founder, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at Ocean Media – about her business, the current market and ideas for those businesses wanting greater exposure.
“At the helm of Ocean Media for almost 20 years, Hillary Buckman has driven the growth of Ocean Media and its flagship magazine Ocean. She has established strong relationships with marques, boatbuilders, captains and owners worldwide, and the magazine, which recently celebrated 100 issues, enjoys a connection with audiences and clients that is quite simply unparalleled”
Hillary hails from New Zealand and has long been associated with the marine industry. Her experience within the superyacht sector, her knowledge of the industry and her contact base are extensive, and her networking skills are globally renowned.
Can you tell us a little about Ocean Media?
Ocean Media launched in 2005 with our flagship magazine Ocean, which still leads our stable of content. Ocean is a premium, world-class yachting publication for Australia, New Zealand and the broader Asia-Pacific region.
Our editorial profile and readership are strictly top-tier, reaching a circle of discerning, high-net-worth enthusiasts. Every issue features the latest local and international news and events, such as boat launches, new builds and concept designs, as well as industry developments and profiles. It is supplemented by extensive digital media, including OceanTV.
Ocean magazine is complemented by The Great Southern Route Superyacht Cruising Guide (GSR). Available in print and online, it’s regarded as the 21st-century version of a sea captain’s detailed almanac. Whether setting out for the Antipodes from the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, GSR provides cruising advice for yacht owners and captains on the more than 80 stepping-stone destinations along the way.
Sails is the digital home and online destination for sailing enthusiasts of all interests and knowledge levels. With a curated selection of the best racing and cruising content for our dedicated worldwide readership, Sails covers the sailing spectrum from sport to lifestyle.
Ocean Media opens up a world of possibilities in the luxury yacht market, partnering with the most exclusive brands and extending the lifestyle experience with the Ocean Club, which is renowned for holding much-anticipated events at international yacht shows and the adrenaline-fuelled SailGP.
The Ocean Concierge Service rounds out the offering, redefining what it means to have someone take care of life’s details. Whatever way you enjoy the yachting lifestyle, you’ll find something to delight, entertain and inform with Ocean Media.
Did COVID affect your business?
At the beginning of the pandemic, businesses slowed down their advertising as no-one knew what the immediate future held. Most of our online news turned to how companies were managing under such quickly changing circumstances, and there was a lot of pressure.
However, as time passed, everyone realised that doing nothing was not the answer. Interestingly, in light of restrictions, more and more people discovered the safety of boating and, as a result, people were drawn to the incredible boating lifestyle with family and friends. The interest in boating escalated globally, and not just the high end of the market – every aspect benefited.
With some assistance from the government, I was fortunate to maintain my staffing levels, which I greatly appreciated, as did many other businesses in Australia. During lockdowns, we managed the business as a team from our homes – Zoom became my friend! As a company, we emerged from COVID with a clearer focus, a dedicated team, and a strong and supportive client base and readership, which definitely grew over this time.
What is your view of boat shows in the post-COVID era?
Having recently returned from the Cannes and Monaco yacht shows after a two-year hiatus, we needed to reconnect with the industry in this way. It is not only where we view all the new yachts, it’s where we learn about the latest technologies, discuss future projects with marques, and source editorial features for the year ahead.
While Zoom allowed us to maintain relationships during COVID, being back at the shows reinforced how vital face-to-face contact is. Boat shows are where relationships are established, and real connections are made and thrive.
Both shows were very successful, but the industry is becoming more discerning in terms of where they choose to exhibit. With the cost of exhibiting and travel in particular becoming exorbitant, especially from our part of the world, we need to ensure every show or conference is working for us.
In addition, with a lot of the larger yard build times now out until 2025/26, brands are far more selective about who they spend time with. Given current order books, they could afford to be even more targeted. I was taken aback at one of the shows by the following comment: “Trying to sell boats into countries like Australia is just too difficult right now given the complexity of compliance, especially when you have easier customers on your doorstep.”
What is your view of the industry in Australia and New Zealand at the moment?
Like most boating nations around the world, yacht ownership over the past two years has boomed in Australia and New Zealand. Marinas are full, refit yards are busy, and associated businesses are thriving.
COVID brought about rapid change. Some owners with larger yachts, who would usually have kept them overseas, brought them back to Australian waters instead due to travel restrictions.
Our industry and yacht ownership are both maturing, and the local infrastructure is growing to meet the demand. A lot of investment from the private sector and government is assisting this growth.
The Asia-Pacific superyacht industry is starting to work together to promote the region for private yachts and charters. With exploration cruising also on the rise, this region offers incredible experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Since launching the first edition of the Great Southern Route superyacht guide in 2007, I have seen this exponential growth firsthand.
An international publication recently reported that Australia is, for the first time, in the top 10 countries for superyacht ownership in the world. I would suggest this number is even higher than reported. Most Australians who own large superyachts prefer to keep them in Europe and, being internationally flagged, tracing the owners back to Australia can be very difficult. While some owners do bring their boats back to this part of the world, most love the anonymity of the Med and keep smaller vessels locally instead.
What is your view of the global market?
I don’t anticipate a major correction to the current market as we saw in 2008, but no-one can be complacent. With interest rates and inflation still on the rise, the yachting industry will start to cool, though we knew it couldn’t keep going the way it has over the past two years.
In saying this, many yards will be busy over the next few years delivering their new build order book, as will suppliers and services to the industry. My concern is the increase in the cost of products and services, combined with staff shortages, which is affecting every sector in our industry.
One area that is at an all-time high is the refit and repair market. Owners who don’t want to wait for a new build are now looking at the second-hand market and undertaking a refit instead – some quite extensive. In our part of the world, refit yards are seeing massive potential. The maxim, build it and they will come, is definitely paying off.
Since I started in this industry nearly 20 years ago, the investment in this area of the market has grown year on year. Australia and New Zealand now offer some of the best refit yards in the world and, with more owners looking further afield for their cruising itinerary, I can only see this market sector getting stronger.
We’ve also seen an increase in new owners and charterers discovering the yachting lifestyle – during lockdowns, it was one of the safest ways to holiday with family. With the rise of social media, the interest from mainstream media, including TV programs, as well as influencers within and outside the industry, awareness of the yachting lifestyle is only growing.
What are the challenges for media?
It’s now so easy for individuals to start a blog, YouTube channel or website, and this has led to huge interest in our industry from mainstream non-boating people and current owners. Many larger media companies with expensive overheads, such as staff costs, have been slower to gear up for this new digital transformation. You need to be able to monetise each new platform – if it’s only one person, it’s easier to make it work.
Also, most people believe they should get all their media for free. Transitioning platforms to a paid system where readers pay is tricky when so many channels push out news for free.
At Ocean Media, we have four to five staff working on our news websites. Publishing high-quality stories, either written by us or supplied by PR firms, takes time and money to keep new items flowing daily and ensure our websites are updated. It’s about quality and maintaining the high standard we are known for; it is what our readers rely on.
Some companies are so busy with their current order book they don’t believe they need to attend boat shows, networking events and conferences, or undertake any advertising. However, I have noticed that the top-performing companies do a mixture of everything. Often, it’s not about the money you spend – it’s about where and how you spend it. Every business requires a different approach depending on the business strategy.
As a leading media company in our industry, we offer tailored solutions and achieve outcomes. My team is the best in our sector. We are as committed to increasing the awareness of your products and services as you are. This is what makes our clients want to return every issue, every week. We have built a strong following with owners and captains, and within the industry.
Ocean Media is very supportive of our industry. For 20 years, whenever a new player enters, I’ll sit down with them and chat through what we can do to help them promote their product or service. We always recommend attending boat shows, joining the main associations, and the importance of networking. I would like to see more collaboration, more sharing of ideas and talking through any difficulties the industry or companies might be facing, which is why I established the Captains of Industry.
At the recent Monaco Yacht Show, I also spoke to several international yachting journalists and editors about getting a group of us together a few times a year to discuss industry matters and share some of our thoughts on our changing industry, as well as any features we’re working through that might need input.
I’ve never worried too much about competition (even though plenty exists). For me, it’s more about working to the highest standard possible, sharing ideas and helping our clients get the best solution for them. This is not always through us, which I am upfront about. It needs to be a win-win solution for everyone. This isn’t always easy, but the only way for the industry to grow and mature is to work together and share ideas.
If all the yards currently working on emission-free, new engine technologies and solutions to a cleaner yachting world worked together, we’d get to the finish line in half the time for half the cost. Food for thought.
Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website www.gmba.blue are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA