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Managing expectations in an age of overblown media valuations

You could argue that the most important skill of any media leader is the ability to temper expectations. Everyone’s constantly looking for the next unicorn, and as soon as some hot new thing appears suddenly everyone’s on the accelerator and nobody’s on the brakes. The next step is typically a sky-high valuation and successive rounds of VC investment – followed by a tepid or downright chilly response when the property takes longer than expected to find its feet or fails to deliver a return.

Look at what happened with Mashable, which sold for a fifth of its Spring 2016 valuation of $250m at the end of last year, and which had staked its fortune on the ability to reach a generalist audience at huge scale. When it sold to Ziff Davis in a “fire sale” price in December, much of the analysis

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How Brexit uncertainty threatens the future of UK creative industries

Last week, it was reported that there are more unfilled job vacancies than ever before in the British economy. As of November 2017, there were  810,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK – an increase of 60,000 on the previous year.

For all employers, that deserves a moment of reflection. But for employers of highly skilled workers, such as programmers, the current situation threatens to become a crisis as uncertainty over the direction of Brexit creeps in.

Global Talent Competitiveness Index.

The challenge of attracting talent to the UK is underlined by the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), which shows the UK has dropped from 3rd place in 2017, to 8th place this year.  The rumours and uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the European union are evidently making the UK a less attractive place to work.

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The Guardian relaunch underlines insignificance of print

The lack of noise – positive or negative – about the relaunch of the tabloid Guardian last week underlines just how irrelevant print is becoming to the newspaper market.

Tabloid, but not a tabloid.

Of course, it is also true that The Guardian is the last of the broadsheets – other than the Telegraph, which it seems will go to its grave in the larger format – to go tabloid or abandon print altogether. And given the perilous finances of the newspaper’s owners, GMG, this shift has been seen as inevitable after 13 years of the paper’s ruinously costly Berliner format (GMG made losses before exceptional items of £45m on turnover of £214m last year).

But the figures speak for themselves. Only 20% of the

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Journalism: young writers are being denied a proving ground

Every other week brings a new closure of some beloved digital publisher. This week, it was The Awl and its sister site The Hairpin, which announced their closure with a muted sort of triumph. In its final post, ‘Awl Ends’, The Awl made the case that it had for years delivered upon its promise of making people ‘less stupid’, and that the internet and digital publishing in general would be worse because of its absence:

“For nearly a decade we followed a dream of building a better Internet, and though we did not manage to do that every day we tried very hard and we hope you don’t blame us for how things ultimately turned out.”

Nobody could possibly blame The Awl or the many great writers who got their first real exposure on the platform for its closure, or for the growing dearth of a proving ground for young journalists online. It was an idiosyncratic site that defied definition, equal parts blogging platform, battlement for avante-garde satire, and petri dish for a form of New Journalism. Writing of its closure for NPR, Glen Weldon argues that The Awl and The Hairpin were the successors to a long line of renowned titles:

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Nintendo Labo: Innovation and sustainability in the gaming industry

Nintendo Switch has just become America’s fastest selling home games console selling 4.8m units in 10 months since launch.  This exceeded the previous record of 4m units, also held by Nintendo for its Wii.  (To blow our own trumpet for a moment, we had predicted in a previous blog at its launch that the Switch “could set the gaming world alight.”)

Nintendo Labo: DIY at its finest

Not content with that, though, Nintendo announced its innovative new IP ‘Labo’ about which the press are already writing “this latest idea is so crazy it might just work” and “how small our imaginations were, and how glorious it is to be blindsided by Nintendo again.”

So, what is Nintendo doing that other companies aren’t, and what can we all learn from them?

In short, Nintendo has

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Holding platforms to account in 2018: Part Two

Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men…

Only one week since we mooted the possibility that 2018 would be the year Facebook and Google would be held to account as publishers, Mark Zuckerberg stymies our plans for a part two by announcing that Facebook would no longer be a platform for quality news. It’s hard to imagine a neater sidestepping of an issue.

In the latest Monday note, Frederic Filloux points out that publishers in Europe have a tendency

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Holding platforms to account in 2018: Part One

Late last year a taxi drivers’ organisation in Barcelona successfully challenged Uber’s assertion that it is not primarily a transport company. The European Court of Justice ruled in the taxi drivers’ favour, throwing out Uber’s argument that it was first and foremost a digital service, noting that since Uber was central to the operation of the taxi-like service, it was more than simply an intermediary.

The ruling comes at a particularly interesting time for media companies in the UK. As Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, said:

“Today’s judgment made clear, as a matter of law, what everyone already knew as a matter of common sense: Uber provides transportation services, not technology services.”

Part of the problem media companies have with platforms like Google and Facebook is a clash of definitions. It’s well publicised that neither of the Duopoly consider themselves

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The most important skill for journalists in 2018

Scan any job site for journalism roles and you’ll notice the same required skills and qualifications pop up more often than not. NCTJ certified degree or equivalent. Shorthand. Self-starter with a keen news sense.

Those are all useful skills, and in the ever more competitive world of journalism successful applicants will need to tick every single box. The issue is that many of the jobs advertised that way are for generalist news reporter positions, and there’s no position more vulnerable in an age where many publishers are cutting back on editorial staff than the generalist news reporter. It’s still possible to find yourself a niche, particularly if you’re lucky enough to work for a specialist publication, but those positions are becoming rarer, especially for journalists new to the industry.

The reality is that as a result of the erosion of beat journalism in favour of creating mass-appeal general content, often journalists are distinguished less by the topics on which they are an expert and more on the way they can tell stories, whether that’s through creating video, data visualisations, social campaigns or a news game. Establishing yourself as a master of one of those disciplines is a great way to ameliorate the risk of redundancy.

But there’s an even more vital skill for journalists in 2018, one that’s related to the reasons why the generalist journalist is at risk…

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The age of ‘audience-first’ publishing needs a fresh set of metrics

At the tail end of 2017 many round-ups and prediction pieces (including my own) confidently asserted that 2018 will be the age of ‘audience-first’ publishing. It sounds an unnecessary description – surely publishing has always put audiences at the heart of their strategies – but it means something very tangible, and something that will hugely impact the media landscape over the next few months.

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2018 will see the ‘quality revolution’ for digital advertising

There are any number of predictions for media priorities in 2018 floating around. As with last year’s predictions some will be on point, some will miss the mark, and some will appear laughably naive by the time January 2019 arrives.

Almost certainly, all the predictions will be subject to Amara’s Law – that we overestimate the effect of a technology in the short-term and underestimate it in the long-term. As an example, we saw disappointment with early implementations of A.I. chatbots this year because of early hype around the technology, but the bots have been ubiquitous – and delivering significant revenue – since the middle of this year.

This year has also been the year of the ‘pivot to video’, a term that was used so widely and so often that it became

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The Fox / Disney deal a boon for Rupert Murdoch’s influence

Rupert Murdoch, like most media moguls, craves two things: money and influence.

Sweet…

What is so fascinating about last week’s proposed sale of Fox to Disney is that it demonstrates how much he values one over the other. Of course, this is not a deal that will make him any poorer – the Disney offer is strong, and Murdoch and other Fox shareholders will end up with an estimated 25% of one of the world’s largest media organisations – but this is a deal which sees him giving up a lot of control over profitable businesses, whilst retaining almost all his political influence.

As part of the deal, he is selling the Fox stakes in Sky and Sky News, despite fighting so hard to gain full control of the business. Even if Sky News is a loss-leader, Sky itself is extremely lucrative for Murdoch, earning him and his fellow Fox shareholders around £500m each year. But the deal

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Can Amazon re-kindle magazine sales?

GamesTM recently celebrated its anniversary of 15 years in print. This achievement would have completely passed me by, were it not for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, as would the 12 month magazine subscription I signed up for once I’d finished reading my ‘borrowed’ issue.

A fillip for magazine publishers?

It was then that I found myself wondering whether I was looking at one possible answer to the dwindling fortunes of the magazine industry.

As one might expect, Kindle Unlimited offers users access to a large selection of books for a monthly fee – Netflix for bookworms if you will.  The number of available titles

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Lessons for media businesses from competitive platforms

As early as 2015, media companies had a sneaking suspicion that third-party platforms might not have their best interests at heart. The term that got bandied around to describe Facebook and Google was ‘frenemy’. Not even a handful of years later, the rhetoric is less ambiguous – the platforms are the feudal lords, and publishers are the serfs allowed to till their land.

App screen

Choose your platform with care

The pushback against that situation is now underway – through campaigns organised by the industry, through lawsuits designed to level the playing field, through dialogue with the platforms – but the truth is that the power balance is still skewed against publishers.

And it was a situation that the publishers should have (and probably did to some extent) see coming. Journalism trainer Adam Tinworth points out that Facebook had already done exactly the same rug-pull with marketers, but unfortunately, the promises of revenue from the tech giants ultimately proved too alluring for publishers.

Regardless of how the attempts to redress the issues with Google and Facebook go, hopefully media companies have finally learned that every other entity in the media landscape, at every step of the value chain, is a competitor. And if not, lessons can be learned from the following examples of the rug being pulled out from players in the media industry…

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How Twitter can damage your career

Of all the things 2017 can claim to be the year of, it has also been the year of the Twitter faux pas. Or at least, the year prominent media types started to be held accountable for their previous social media activity.

Josh Rivers, disgraced former Editor of Gay Times

Two of the more recent prominent career-altering social media incidents have been provided by Josh Rivers, the now-fired Editor of Gay Times, and Jack Maynard, the YouTuber-turned-I’m A Celebrity (not quite) star, who made their offensive tweets between 2010 and 2012. Whilst many deleted tweets resurface after being saved by fellow users, Maynard and River’s tweets remained active and undeleted until news broke.

The important lesson for users of social media is one that has been absorbed by media businesses over the years: that by uploading something to the internet, you effectively surrender control over how that content is used, circulated and interpreted.

As media headhunters, we know that employers do check the social footprint of their current and potential employees. A 2017 YouGov survey found

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Video-on-demand: ITV must win the UX campaign

ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent terrestrial television channels, is looking to translate its expertise in making programmes for the box in the corner to more modern screens. Following its hiring of Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull as the new digital chief in March, ITV has announced the launch of three new digital-only news shows, presumably with the intention of broadening the reach of its international news brand as its non-National Advertising Revenue (NAR) shows healthy growthAn old CRT television

The three shows – ‘Now What?’, ‘Ask A Woman’, and ‘Young, British and Muslim’ – use existing talent from ITV’s news section, which, combined with Hull’s track record at Huffington Post UK and metro.co.uk, and ITV’s traditionally high production values, should serve to allay fears that this is ITV doing digital video for the sake of it. Instead, in an interview with The Drum, Hull noted that the shows have the mandate to “show that digital media and publishing can be grown-up, articulate and thoughtful”.

The quality of the programming is all but guaranteed to be extremely high, then – though ITV’s decision to focus on building a product before it sells sponsorship might raise some eyebrows, even if, as Hull notes: “There are loads of carcasses on the digital publishing motorway of businesses who tried to sell something before they built it.”

Presumably ITV believes the shows will add to its digital proposition, which currently includes the ITV Hub and its premium subscription option, which removes the ads for those who choose to pay it. But

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Is the structure of your business holding you back?

Spot where the buck stops….

Not long ago I spoke to the CEO of a magazine publishing business, one which has been doing pretty well by the standards of the wider market. Its advertising and subscription revenues are holding up reasonably well, but growth has stalled. One reason for this is that the business is siloed by discipline, rather than by product range – so that the editors, salespeople and marketers all sit in different reporting lines, with minimal communication between them. The publishers, the people who might be expected to come up with new revenue streams – from events to online content marketing solutions – have responsibility for their revenue numbers but no direct control over their sales teams. As a result, they have fewer levers to pull and no way to put their plans into action. The result is a dearth of new ideas in the business, while the reporting lines make it difficult to attract the kind of talent who might be able to take the business forward.

Another example is a B2B publishing company with decades of success behind it. The organisation was, for many years, organised as a set of business units whose managers were incentivised purely on profit, rather than on revenue or other KPIs. For a long time, this worked. But it also disincentivised

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The Time Inc sale threatens the primacy of brands

The dust won’t truly settle on the news that Time Inc. has been sold to Meredith Corp. for $1.85 billion in cash for some time yet, at least until we know what the owner of allrecipes and other lifestyle brands intends to do with Time Inc’s brands. The facts, as we know them, are that the deal will combine two radically different portfolios into a media giant capable of reaching, according to Meredith, a readership of 135 million with a paid circulation of nearly 60 million, as the culmination of a long-held desire from Meredith that saw failed bids earlier this year and in 2013.

In the meantime, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the acquisition, from what Meredith plans to leverage its expanded portfolio of brands to do to what it says about the state of the magazine industry.

For instance, can the Koch Brothers, who backed the deal to the tune of $650 million, really refrain from influencing the editorial and commercial direction of the new look Meredith Corp? The pair are known for their backwards views on climate change and workers’ rights, and some are worried that brands like Time, People and Fortune will be coloured by those beliefs. With just a hint of cynicism, tech reporter for the NYT Mike Isaac said:

 

koch brothers definitely bought in for a fifth of time inc in order to have no editorial control or input, i super believe this https://t.co/VEHnjA6tMr pic.twitter.com/2xcp8gcvpU

@MikeIsaac November 27, 2017

Given all the talk lately about the power of media moguls – even if, as the speculation around 21st Century Fox suggests, that power is waning, it’s likely to be a concern for some time yet.

Another question is what Meredith intends to do with the brands

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The Time Inc sale threatens the primacy of brands

The dust won’t truly settle on the news that Time Inc. has been sold to Meredith Corp. for $1.85 billion in cash for some time yet, at least until we know what the owner of allrecipes and other lifestyle brands intends to do with Time Inc’s brands. The facts, as we know them, are that the deal will combine two radically different portfolios into a media giant capable of reaching, according to Meredith, a readership of 135 million with a paid circulation of nearly 60 million, as the culmination of a long-held desire from Meredith that saw failed bids earlier this year and in 2013.

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How publishers can wake from the digital dream

Is the digital dream over for publishers? This week news out of BuzzFeed, VICE and Mashable indicated that might be so, and the rhetoric from media analysts suggested a mass awakening for those who hoped digital advertising alone could be the basis for a media business.

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How media businesses can fight the spread of fake news

It’s hard to believe that ‘fake news’ didn’t really exist as a term until a year ago. The accelerated pace of controversies and outrages that has driven the conversation around media bias has had such an impact that the term has now entered the Chambers dictionary.

In fact, it was only when politicians seized upon the term in November of last year that the term entered public consciousness with its current, woolly definition of ‘news that I don’t believe’. Prior to that, it was a specific if vague industry term referring to emotive misinformation created by scammers to game the algorithms that powered Facebook and Google to generate ad revenue.

Now though, the term is out there, for good or ill. A recent Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report found that most people surveyed were at least aware of the term ‘fake news’ and its negative connotations. It also suggested that the term was able to enter the public lexicon so easily due to the ongoing trust issue people have in the mainstream media – and might in fact exacerbate it.

Speaking at The Truth Spectrum, an industry summit based solely around the ‘fake news’ problem, Quartz’s Global Finance and Economics Editor Jason Karaian said

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Facebook Explore Feed: the opportunity for publishers

The race between Google and Facebook to see which can make itself least popular among content publishers has taken another turn, with Mark Zuckerberg’s company taking a decisive lead. Over the past week publishers in six countries – Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia – have seen their traffic from Facebook fall by up to two thirds as a result of an ongoing test in how publisher content appears within the social network.

Publishers should Explore other platforms.

In an excellent Medium post flagging up the extent of the change Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager for Slovakian publisher Dennik N, notes that (emphasis mine):

“In main newsfeeds are now just friend and sponsored posts. Yes, you log into Facebook and you can see only posts from your friends and ads. You have to click on Explore Feed to see posts from pages you follow. If you want your Facebook page posts to be seen in old newsfeed, you have to pay.”

A Facebook spokesperson has indicated

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How chasing “hits” has failed publishers

Most digital media businesses are slaves to the ‘hit’ – the number of clicks on or views of a particular page.  And that’s a real shame, because the hit was never a great measure of success for an individual piece of content, and has only become less so as social distribution skews publishing priorities towards creating content designed to go ‘viral’.

How Idiots Track Success?

Worse still, as a result of a focus on the hit that has been around since the birth of the banner ad back in 1994, ads are  mostly sold on a CPM (click per thousand) basis. When you sell in thousands of impressions, all you care about is how many thousands you have. As a result, in some quarters, ‘hits’ has become a damning acronym for ‘How Idiots Track Success.’

The truth is, the hit is a blunt instrument for attracting advertisers. It’s like having a thousand people come to your wedding, but you don’t know any of them, they are unlikely to

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Print magazines: a blueprint for success

Different products…

What do Slimming World magazine and Heavy Lift & Project Forwarding International have in common?

On the surface, not much: one is a lifestyle magazine packed full of mouth-watering recipes and inspirational stories about weight loss; the other is a niche B2B title serving the global heavy logistics industry. One is sold on the newsstand and sells 640,000 per edition; the other is a controlled circulation title with a distribution of 19,000.

But there are several key similarities which may surprise people. First, they are predominantly print-based products. Second, they are growing and profitable businesses. And third, yes, they are both clients of ours.

…same philosophy

The fourth – and main – thing they have in common, though, is that they are both central to their communities, and invest heavily in content to ensure that this remains the case. Both titles have an acute sense of what works for their audience – what they want, and how it should be delivered – and are prepared to do what it takes to deliver that mission. They serve their readers. As a result, the publications are an absolute must for advertisers in their sector.

While much of the media landscape looks like

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Staff retention in nine steps

Celebrate colleagues’ success…

As headhunters, we love recruitment. But we also spend a lot of time advising our clients on retention strategies. After all, if you can retain good staff, it saves you recruitment time and expense, builds your reputation as an employer, and will lead to more ‘virtuous’ recruitment – unsolicited approaches from candidates who have heard great things about you.

Here are a few of the key areas which help drive retention. Most can be achieved at minimal cost, but may require some serious attitude changes from within the business.

Recruit ‘stayers’

Your retention strategy starts with who you recruit.

In more experienced staff, it is easy to see who has a tendency to hop around: if someone has had eight jobs in ten years, the chances are that they will get itchy feet soon enough. This can be challenged in interview, but, all things being equal, a candidate with a number of three-to-five year stints might be preferable.

In first or second-jobbers though, this is trickier. When interviewing them, look for

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Lies, damned lies and statistics

Following our blog earlier in the week about the declining influence of print in elections, two sets of figures have come to light which emphasise the trend. But they also lead to some profound questions.

It was widely reported this week that Labour won the social media war, as we had suggested on Monday. The bald numbers look poor for the Tories. Over the course of the six week election period, Jeremy Corbyn posted 925 messages on his official social media channels, gaining a combined 2.8m shares. Theresa May posted 159 messages, and they were shared a mere 130,000 times – less than 5% of Corbyn’s total.

Corbyn increased his followers on Twitter and Facebook to a combined 2.4m (there is no figure on the overlap between the two audiences, though it is likely to be significant): May manages

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How the media misjudged the 2017 election

Sun front page following the 1992 general election

Sun front page following the 1992 general election

We have written before about the problem the mainstream media has faced in various plebiscites (the last election, Brexit, Trump, etc), but the UK 2017 election results do feel era-defining. It feels like confirmation of the beginning of the end of newspaper influence.

The success of the Brexit campaign, and the national newspapers’ prominent role in driving it, led many commentators – and newspapers themselves – to think “it was [insert name of paper here] wot won it”. In fact, we argued at the time, social media and the legislative restrictions around broadcast media were equally important.

The results from last Thursday, and the lead Labour now has in the polls, more resemble the Trump election than the Brexit campaign. Like Trump, Corbyn was in the ascendancy despite universal hostility in the mainstream press (even the Mirror was negative about him, right up till May announced the snap election). Corbyn’s success came from

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After the Manchester attack – assessing trust, bias, and media responsibility

This time the US media is in trouble for real news. Following the dreadful events in Manchester on Monday evening, the New York Times has published sensitive photographs and documents which, it is feared, might compromise the ongoing investigations into the bombing. The source is said to be from within the US security services – but the question of media responsibility again raises its head.

The NYT has been widely condemned in the British media: yet, as Hacked Off’s Brian Cathcart pointed out in a column last week, mainstream US journalists have in recent times been standard-bearers for the profession, in the face of a lot of pressure from government and commentators.

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How Improbable’s SpatialOS may revolutionise your business

By now, you have probably heard about Improbable, the virtual simulation start-up that raised $502m from Japan’s SoftBank – but what you might not have considered is how its technology could be of interest to your business.

Founded in 2012 by a pair of Cambridge University computer science graduates, Improbable is now valued at more than $1bn thanks to the investment by SoftBank, which represents the largest-ever venture financing round for a private British company.

The business employs 170 computer scientists, engineers and designers who are all attempting to recreate the most detailed version possible of the real world in digital form.

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Wikipedia founder to combat fake news with new website

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has launched a new website to help combat fake news.

The crowd-funded Wikitribune aims to be a “new kind of news platform” that will take the fight to the producers and facilitators of fake news by “bringing journalists and a community of volunteers together”.

Ten journalists will be hired to produce “professional, standards-based journalism that incorporates the radical idea from the world of Wiki – that a community of volunteers can, and will, reliably protect and improve articles”.

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