PAMCo - at last // WPP saga // Facebook and GDPR - mixed messages
The industry has given birth to a new JIC but, writes Dominic Mills, there are questions about where it leads news and magazine brands. Meanwhile, he looks at how the WPP saga has put a previously inactive board in the spotlight, and probes Facebook's decision to open up facial recognition technology in the EU
PAMCo: a triumph of perseverance
Well woohoo, PAMCo is up and running – at last.
It was first mooted in 2014 – a time when only Nigel Farage thought Brexit was a possibility, when Donald Trump was still a TV reality show host, David Cameron was PM and Ed Miliband (who's he?) leader of the Labour Party, and a time – as noted by CEO Simon Redican here – when Facebook was Campaign's Medium of the Year.
Bloody hell, there are also rumours – as yet unsubstantiated – that Redican himself had a luxuriant thatch of hair when he started at PAMCo.
So let's just say Redican and the PAMCo team – stakeholders and all – deserve a lot of credit for getting the latest JIC over the line.
You can read about its launch here.
Leaving aside Trump and Brexit, one of the things that intrigues me about the change in mood between 2014 and now is that, while measurement has always been important, the value of third-party verified metrics has taken on an even greater significance.
And while I wouldn't say the lack of such data for the platforms is exactly their biggest problem, it is certainly a weakness few foresaw.
At last it gives news and magazine brands something to fight back with and a chink of weakness to exploit.
For the first time, publishers can substantiate – rather than simply assert – their multi-platform reach, making it harder for planners – many of whom only consume this medium digitally – to dismiss them on either reach or frequency grounds.
For premium publishers...well, at last they have provable scale. I would say I am pleasantly surprised by the reach they offer, for example, among 15+ adults.
First, at 38m combined reach print is far from dead. Combined (and de-duped), newsbrands reach 46m across all platforms, and magazines 36m.
The mobile offering is sizeable too, at 28m for newsbrands and 17.3m for magazines. The latter, one assumes, will grow as PAMCo expands beyond the 99 magazine brands it currently measures.
There's also a real sense that readers value what they get: 88% of magazine readers agree their time is well spent, and 79% trust the content. Newsbrands do marginally better on time well spent (91%), but less well on trust (65.5%). Reading time figures for newsbrands are good too, between 45 minutes for paid-for dailies and 60 minutes for Sundays, with roughly comparable figures for magazines.
Theoretically, therefore, they can at last maximise the value offered by the different platforms they appear on, even to the point of offering advertisers a simpler audience-led, as opposed to a demographic-led, buy.
And then you come to the elephant in the room – which PAMCo may have inadvertently ushered in.
It is this: group or unified sales. Newsbrands have so far flirted and then shied away from this.
Magazines, despite the urging of one or two industry figures have, so far as I know, refused to entertain the idea. While they recognise that PAMCo has, in effect, opened up a new spirit of partnership both among publishers and with clients, the mood is more about using PAMCo data to circle the wagons more effectively.
But I don't see this as sustainable and, while PAMCo ostensibly boosts the stats for individual titles or publishers, it may turn out to be the catalyst for a radical re-think.
Since the key is to leverage the scale now made clear by PAMCo, one possibility is a centralised deal unit or cross-publisher partnership focused on delivering deals with major clients.
Another is more consolidation.
WPP: the pressure is all on the board
As the WPP saga rumbles on, and the spotlight shifts away (for now) from the 'why-the-hell-did-he-go-without-a-fight' question, one thing is absolutely clear: the pressure is all on the board.
This plays out in two ways: one, the search for a successor; and two, is the plan to keep the empire as it is, or break it up?
Chatting to senior WPP executives last week, it's obvious that they have little or no confidence in the board.
Whether the board was deliberately disempowered, or allowed itself to be so – 'supine' was Luke Johnson's description in the Sunday Times – is hard to tell. One may have led to the other.
Take WPP strategy meetings involving senior opco (operations company) staff, but at which no members of the board were present other than executive directors. So...how the hell will they understand the market dynamics? Sure, they can read the board packs, but how good a picture do the numbers tell?
Or take one of the regular presentations by senior staff to the board, where one director didn't look up from their iPad the whole time, was reportedly booking a holiday during the meeting, and whose sole contribution was: "Can we hurry this up. We've got a dinner to go to."
And has any board member toured the empire to get both the lie of the land and a feeling for the individual opcos and their senior executives? Not from what I hear.
Last, but perhaps most important, where is the succession strategy? Well, you might say, the reactive appointment of Mark Read and Andrew Scott as joint chief operating officers suggests they weren't entirely asleep at the wheel.
But human nature being what it is, it is entirely possible that they will see themselves as competing for the top job – hardly what WPP needs now.
As for the potential break up of WPP – which both Read and Scott have set their face against, telling staff that they believed WPP was better together. "We don't believe this makes sense. In a world where clients need faster, more agile, integrated solutions, we need to get closer together, not further apart."
Of course you can understand the need to reassure the troops, but this cannot be their call to make as investor unrest mounts. Ultimately, it is the big investors who will call the shots and sentiment amongst the analysts is firmly in favour of some sort of dismantling.
Just how fast things will run will depend, I think, on the latest results due to be presented at the end of this month. If they're not too bad – one exec I spoke to thought they would be ok(ish) – and the pressure will ease but only temporarily; if they're bad, all bets are off.
Facebook and the art of double-speak
We'll leave Mark Zuckerberg, Cambridge Analytica and Congress alone for now, but there's something of the double-speaking monster about Facebook's actions of the past week.
First, it runs holier-than-thou ads in the press extolling the benefits of GDPR (cursing all the while under its breath, you feel).
"New data law means better protection for you" runs the headline, before explaining how we can delete our data at any time.
There's a strong sense, however, that while it plays nicey nicey with the spirit of GDPR, it is making the process of opting out as complex as it can.
Next, a couple of days later news slides out that it's adding a new default facial recognition feature (opt-in required, natch) in the EU. This comes six years after it withdrew an earlier facial recognition feature on fears that it would transgress then-existing data rules in the EU and Canada.
Contentious, huh? So what's going on? It's simple really. Facebook is facing the prospect of losing users – whether in a post-Cambridge Analytica scenario or simply from generalised user fatigue or ennui – and their associated data. That's a serious potential hit on its advertiser proposition.
Its answer then is simply to try to hoover up more data on those who are left on the platform, giving it even more leverage over advertisers.
Just think about what facial recognition tagging of photos can tell us – mood, location, the company we're in, activity and so on – and you can see why it would be like catnip to advertisers.
But so intrusive too – and even former Google/Alphabet chair Eric Schmidt shied away, saying: "I’m personally very concerned about the union of mobile tracking and facial recognition".