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The future for published media looks like this

24 Nov 2017  |  Ellen Hammett and David Pidgeon 
The future for published media looks like this

Publishers and agencies outline their plans for a more prosperous future in the face of unprecedented challenges and threats

It's rare that the choice of sponsors for a Mediatel conference should be part of the news, but when the marketing bodies representing both national news publishers and magazines decide it's time to partner, then we think that's worth commenting upon.

The fact that both Newsworks and Magnetic - alongside Rezonence - wanted to host a debate that would reframe key issues facing newsbrands, magazines, agencies and advertisers demonstrates a new and unified approach to countering some of the threats and challenges they all face.

And those challenges are pretty foreboding: at one end of the scale there are problems linked with media fragmentation, metrics and consumer attention, and at the other end there is the threat posed by Facebook and Google, the short-termist approach of modern CMOs, problems with the buying process, and the commoditisation of the market.

On Wednesday an impressive line-up of media and creative agency folk, alongside publishers, set out their plans for a prosperous future in the face of such challenges - and a better way for the whole market to function to ensure brands get the best advertising out of it.

This is what we learned.


In the pursuit of programmatic and all that it offers, the importance of context has, for many advertisers, been lost. The focus has moved to buying audience exposures - usually at the lowest cost - regardless of where they may be.

This might work for some brands, but the evidence - and there is plenty of it now - shows that the context in which the advertising is seen is more important than many people realise.

It’s not just about brand safety and ensuring an ad is not placed alongside something unsavoury - it’s about effective advertising and delivering tangible business outcomes for the investment. Context might just be the golden ticket published media needs.

"In a world where we’re focusing on hyper-personalised marketing, understanding context supersedes that," says Tom Laranjo, managing director, Total Media. "It's also more influential."

Hefty new evidence, compiled by Newsworks and Magnetic - which draws on the well-regarded IPA effectiveness studies produced by Peter Field and Les Binet - shows there is a close relationship between readers and the publications they read - and that this closeness influences how commercial messages are understood and received.

The crux of this evidence should make any marketer take notice: it creates a high level of openness to advertising.

The evidence also shows that the context offered by published media helps to facilitate better brand discovery and customer acquisition.

So is there a ‘context crisis’? Are brands completely overlooking what appears to be an essential component of the media mix in the pursuit of the shiny and new?

“From a planning perspective, context was always about environment and placing an ad at the right time and place,” says Clare Peters, head of planning, Manning Gottlieb OMD.

“It’s now completely different: environment is part of it, but it’s more about location and time of day, or week. And it’s about mindset. It’s far broader than it used to be.”

However, Peters does not believe this represents any kind of crisis, but rather a “context renaissance”. It’s about understanding the available evidence, knowing what works, and planning media accordingly.

To see how all this plays out in future, Newsworks and GroupM have launched a long-term project to explore the value of quality context and the part published media can play in the 'renaissance'.

Prior to rolling out the large-scale project, GroupM conducted a 'proof of concept' test analysing the engagement and brand scores of five campaigns and allying the results with quality of inventory.

The number of campaigns covered will now increase tenfold to more than 50, with the aim of proving that quality brand environments deliver better value for advertisers. The eventual goal of the project is to make the results an actionable factor in trading.


There is a refreshing shift in the narrative around Facebook.

It is well established that the social media platform poses a colossal problem for publishers: People spend so much time on Facebook that publishers need it to ensure scale - but Facebook is also hoovering up all the digital adspend while not having to cough up for the cost of producing publisher-quality content.

It's a tricky relationship that is subject to perpetual change, but the positioning from publishers is beginning to change.

"The reason we all feel so weird about these platforms is because our digital future is so bright because of them," says James Wildman, CEO of Hearst UK, the publisher of Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Elle.

"Hearst wouldn't have had 120 million video views last month if it wasn't for Facebook - but the way I see the platform is as a utility. They're the telephone wire, we're the conversation."

Wildman says that Facebook benefits by absorbing the positive associations from trusted publisher brands. "Those platforms increasingly need the reflective benefits of our brands. So rather than be on the back foot, we should feel pretty confident," he says.

It's what some are describing as a 'halo effect' - and something publishers should use to leverage a better deal.

Meanwhile, Prash Naidu, CEO of Rezonence - a tech company that helps publishers monetise their digital inventory - says he's surprised the publishing industry hasn't collectively done more to push back against Facebook.

"I think they've been caught off-guard by their rapid rise, and in particular the technology," he says.

"Facebook and Google, with their thousands of algorithms, have been optimising and finding patterns, often not even knowing what they're looking for. Meanwhile, publishers have a better product, but they're turning up to a fight with bows and arrows and Facebook and Google have artillery and tanks."

As a Cambridge physics graduate, Naidu previously spent 13 years as a banker building algorithmic trading strategies, so he knows what he's talking about.

Publishers need to match the tech, he argues. "That's going to be fundamental. There's much more they can do."


Publishers and their supporters have been arguing for a shift away from ‘crack cocaine-like’ short-term metrics - and short-term thinking - for a while now.

However, while it looks like the pendulum might be starting to swing back in favour of the mid- to long-term, it is clear that publishers still have a lot to do to remind agencies and their clients why they are “rubies in the dust”, as Hearst UK's James Wildman put it.

The trouble here, we learned, is that marketers are under pressure to deliver short-term results - and when Facebook can give them a report with 50 different media metrics for activity run on its platform, it's too tempting not use them as a barometer of performance at the expense of more robust metrics (i.e. behavioural), or actual business outcomes.

“The typical tenure of a marketing director is between 18 and 24 months and they have three things they really want to do in that role,” says Paul Rowlinson, managing director of GroupM Digital.

“To do something that looks smart on their CV, they want to make sure they deliver numbers and they want to grow their reputation, so quite often they can be quite risk averse.”

But with the explosion of metrics in the digital space, Rowlinson said it’s probably better to not measure anything at all than use something as crude as last-click attribution - “it distorts the view that you take on what you’re doing and it leads you down the path of making some of the wrong decisions.”

So what needs to be done?

For Manning Gottlieb OMD’s Clare Peters it’s about creating a framework that looks at how short term metrics “ladder up” to long term objectives of the brand - a framework that marries the two together rather than it being one versus the other.

Publicis’ chief strategy officer Dom Boyd agrees that there needs to be a combination of the two; however, Boyd said there is currently a huge disconnect between the boardroom and what the financial director needs to see and the metrics marketeers are using as evidence of success - and that it is an agency’s job to hold clients accountable to the value of longer-term thinking.

“Especially as marketing directors tend to churn,” Boyd says. “Incessant pitches, incessant short-termism, incessant intermediary totally worthless metrics…how long people have spent on our platform, how many people have shared something...who gives a shit?”

If Total Media’s MD Tom Loranjo could offer one piece of advice to clients, it would be this: Insist on the agency articulating a clear business goal and then translating that into a goal that they can measure over the short, medium and long term, and marry the proposition against that.


The first thing publishers need to do to help them combat current threats in the market, Rezonence’s Prash Naidu says, is get together to create a 'common platform' that will be big enough to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world. In a nutshell: simplify the entire buying process.

“When we speak to agencies, and we say ‘here are all the publishers we work with, you can book direct with them,’ they’ve tried it, but every publisher has a different buying process, they offer different things, different metrics,” Naidu says, adding that the agencies he works with are often put off by how complicated the current system is.

“You need to create a published media platform.”

And it looks like things are now heading in that direction.

While earlier attempts to create a joint newspaper sales house have failed (RIP Project Juno/Rio/Arena), news this week that The Guardian, Telegraph and News UK have joined forces to launch a video ad marketplace is surely a sign that they are willing to work together to help them square up to the competition.

However, if it's to work, Naidu says, the execution must be as good as Facebook or Google's ad products. There's a reason they are so popular, after all.


Not only is it imperative to simplify the buying process, but publishers also need to solve the pricing issue - as noted by Dan Coleman, strategic business development director at Time Inc UK.

"It's all very well talking about how we're going to work together better, but the problem we face is the market is commoditised and we're comparing apples with pears, we're comparing impressions on dodgy media against impressions on quality, edited content," he says.

"We need to sort out the pricing and make sure it's priced correctly so we can all benefit, including the client."

GroupM Digital's Paul Rowlinson says the answer to this problem links back to measurement.

"Through better measurement we can make sure we can put a true value on what's delivered," he says, adding that it's not in the agencies' interests to end up with a situation where quality publishers go out of business because of unfair pricing.


As a final note, Hearst UK's James Wildman says he is worried about the relationship publishers have with media agencies.

He argues that as they move to protect their margins, there's a good chance agencies will end up with fewer staff, and that will make it even harder for publishers to secure the visibility and engagement they crave.

"I think we're going to end up with more engagement with advertisers direct," he says, noting that - unsolicited - advertisers are now coming to publishers to see how they can work together in "more valuable ways".

"We've got to to find a way to better work with agencies," he says. "If we don't, I fear a little bit for the relationship."

Wildman says that means "burying any old hatchets" and moving forward to collaborate better.

It is clear - and was noted by some attendees - that publishers are strong brands in the eyes of their readers but less so amongst advertisers and agencies.

"There's certainly something to play for there," one seasoned ad man told us.

Mediatel believes that coming together in the way the industry did for the event is a sign that things will change for the better. However, one of the big challenges will be securing a fair share of voice with under-pressure agencies.

That might require both banging the drum harder - and smarter.

We'll be charting the progress along the way. / / @mediatelnews

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