I wrote a marketing letter today. Not surprising, I grant you. Except that I mentioned – without irony – that non-media brands require “media skills” to create trust. Given the current crises in the media sector, this may have seemed chutzpah of the highest order.
The Leveson enquiry, and all that it encompasses, shows that (in the UK, at least) trust in traditional media is collapsing. The newspaper watchdog, the PCC, has failed. The industry has been accused of the most heinous crimes – phone-hacking, bugging, payment to police officers – and has mostly offered a “mea culpa” in defence.
At the same time, last week’s ABCs showed another dramatic decline for consumer magazines –pretty much across the board: according to Press Gazette “only around one in three of the 500 consumer magazines audited by ABC put on print sales year on year in the second half of 2011.” Newspaper circulations are similarly falling hard.
So, given this carnage, what can the media sector offer the rest of industry? Is it just media recruitment?
Here’s the rub. As much as they would like to think it is so, the media industry is no longer measured in magazines and newspapers sold, nor in viewing figures. Even if it were, you would have to say that the media industry remains amazingly resilient. Between them, the top ten selling magazines – out of hundreds – sold around eight million copies for their average edition last year: UK national newspapers between them sell more than that every day.
So why are these figures important? Simply because – with rare exceptions – these businesses are asking people to pay for nothing more than trusted content. Despite the media business’s own public meltdown, millions of people every day are ignoring the white noise and going to voices that they trust.
The relative decline in circulation does not indicate a failure of the media to provide a voice that consumers will listen to. It illustrates a changing demographic, away from the printed press; towards a reliance on social media, shared experience, and valued content. But the users of these alternative media are also looking for the same thing: a trusted voice. That’s why you get bloggers and tweeters with a bigger readership than most newspapers. 96% of the UK population watched TV last week. Around 90% of UK houses have access to the internet. Between them, Facebook, Wikipedia and Google (including YouTube) have more than 900m unique users in Western countries alone. Despite the gloom, more people are using media properties than ever before.
This is why it is necessary for businesses to adopt media skills. Consumers are getting increasingly media-savvy; a sales pitch is not going to cut any ice any more – users will find their own way. Forget all the bad stuff that ‘media’ is accused of, and concentrate on finding a voice for your brand that will win confidence. Content marketing relies on that knowledge.