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Sam Tidmarsh 

Defining the future of publishing

Defining the future of publishing

Sam Tidmarsh summarises the first morning of The Future of Media, which focused on the future of publishing. From non-advertising revenue growth and cookies, to diverse media representation and cultural relevance, all sessions are now available on demand

Media professionals congregated from around the world on November 25 to reach one destination - a link on the Mediatel Events website. A fitting end to 2020, with a future-facing conference attended by a decentralised audience, separate physically, yet descending upon one fixed spot to discuss the future of publishing.

That said, as we saw throughout the course of the morning, ‘one fixed spot’ is perhaps not the best way to describe the future of publishing. 

From debating the cookie and questioning the importance of non-advertising revenue to publisher growth, to the cross-generational divide in media representation and retaining cultural relevance, the future of publishing is not so decisively clear.

First on the bill, a panel discussing privacy, identity and audience addressability; chaired by Babs Kehinde, senior director, publisher development EMEA, PubMatic. While a lot may happen between now and Chrome’s stated cookie cull deadline of January 2022, advertisers and publishers must act sooner rather than later in order to be prepared for the post-cookie world.

Is there an alternative future for the industry to killing off cookies? Inventor of the retweet button Nick Halstead, now CEO, Infosum, shared his perspective that there is nothing inherently wrong with third-party cookies, but rather that the browser technology used allows anyone between the advertiser and the publisher to be a bad actor - and that’s the trouble. 

Helen Mussard, marketing and industry strategy director, IAB Europe explained that going forward in 2021, we already know there is going to be a huge influx of ID solutions that are going to be out there, and that finding a solution is highly important to the industry, yet at the same time, there is very little preparation for an alternative future.

Further views from Network N and Criteo were shared, before Kehinde’s closing remarks that the industry must now take time to reflect, looking at how it can approach new technologies and move the conversation forward, while focusing both on the importance of privacy and commercial viability. 

Moving on to the power of news, Denise Turner, insight director, Newsworks pondered why advertisers hoping to target younger audiences should take note: “77% of under 35's appreciate and value journalism more since the pandemic. This is 10% more than the over 35's' who say they 'feel less anxious when they read a news brand compared to social media.'”

Newsbrands, Turner argued, present advertisers with a trusted environment that can capture the hearts and minds of consumers and fuels their curiosities, ambitions and relationships with others.

“In fact, when people under 35 read newsbrands, they are four times more likely to say that it ‘made me change my behaviour’, than those who are over 35,” she said.

But perhaps one of the most interesting debates of the day arose during Mail Metro Media’s discussion around the cross-generational divide in media representation.

Discussing how brands can tap into public perceptions of "Britishness", Luke Hand, head of insight at Mail Metro Media, commented that for publishers and brands wishing to understand how different generations view Britishness, it is important to realise that the notion is up for debate and is constantly redefined. 

It’s quite dangerous for brands to align themselves with whatever their notion of Britishness is" - Belinda Beeftink, IPA

Elliot Millard, head of planning at Wavemaker, explained further that "Britishness" is quite hard to define, but with the added lens that different generations will interpret it slightly differently, the danger of getting it wrong is high.

Referring to the sense of pride surrounding the Olympics, Millard continued, “in 2012, if you put a union jack on things, you’d make yourself feel pretty good about stuff. Right now, if I saw a product with a union jack on it, I wouldn’t buy that thing, because it feels like a politicized statement rather than a collective statement.”

Agreeing, Belinda Beeftink, research director, IPA, added: “I think it’s quite dangerous for brands to align themselves with whatever their notion of Britishness is, because across generations, we can see from the research that Mail Metro Media have done that people’s ideas of Britishness are very different according to their generation.”

For Beeftink, it is okay to work with Gen Z on redefining Britishness, but only if it is authentic. However, “if a brand is playing lip service to Gen Z, then [the generation is] smart and they will see through it. It's a dangerous thing to do.”

“Those are your future consumers,” added Dorcas Matomby, account executive, Mother. Continuing, Matomby added that consumer backlashes and boycotts will not simply be a blip on a brand’s reputation anymore and will cause long term negative impact on sales.

As the morning continued, we heard EMPIRE’s editor-in-chief Terri White in conversation with PHD Media’s head of response Lauren Ogúndèkó, where she discussed how the magazine brand has evolved in recent months in response to industry forces and changing consumer behaviour. 

Later, for those publishers looking to add flexibility into their revenue strategy, Marie Claire’s Emily Ferguson, director of ecommerce, and PHD’s business director Demi Abiola discussed how publishers can launch new revenue streams to set them ahead of their competition in a world where advertising revenues are less certain.

Indeed, Covid-19 has undeniably had a massive impact on advertising revenue, and for publishers who have been facing an uphill battle to drive revenue and increase profitability for some time, the response to this global pandemic has accelerated the shift in revenue models. 

In the final session, Reid Holland, chief consumer revenue officer, Hearst and Carola York, VP publishing, Jellyfish looked at the impact of Covid-19 on magazine sales and subscriptions across the wider market, as well as specifically on Hearst. Aiming to speed up their non-advertising revenue, Hearst are reviewing subscription models to drive their businesses forward. 

Closing, Holland explained that for Hearst the key focus will be “a push to really power the business with data. Clustering, dynamic journeys, personalisation. All this needs to be automated, orchestrated. Starting to walk into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence. A scary note, perhaps, to end on.”

And with that, the first morning of The Future of Media came to a particularly future-facing close.


The Future of Media streamed online across two days in November. You can catch up on all the content mentioned above, plus all other sessions, on the event website by clicking through the agenda.

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