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.
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
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’.
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
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.
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
Ad blocking was labelled as an existential threat to ad-supported digital content by some (including us on occasion), but its anticipated growth has failed to materialise and digital publishers are breathing a sigh of relief.
According to the Internet Advertising Bureau UK, the proportion of British adults using ad blocking software online in February was 22.1%.
The figure is less than half-a-percent more than in the same month last year and shows growth almost grinding to a halt. In February 2016, year-on-year growth of those using ad blockers stood at around six percent.
The general tenor of the debate around the move of The Great British Bake Off from BBC to Channel 4 is that it is a travesty, equivalent to Love Productions selling the Crown Jewels. Bizarrely, even former Channel 4 CEO (and ex-BBC Chairman) Michael Grade has lambasted C4’s behaviour and warned that it was likely to hasten full privatisation.
As the prospect of C4’s privatisation has been on the cards for at least ten years, this seems a red herring. Surely, if it is going to be sold off, it needs to be commercially strong, and so the question should be: does buying Bake Off make commercial sense?
It’s only two weeks since the EU referendum and media businesses and their employees are still trying to get their heads around what Brexit might mean for the economy, and for the media industry in particular. The economic and political ramifications of the vote are likely to affect us all from years to come, and it’s too early to accurately say what might happen, but in our conversations with business leaders across the media sector a broad picture is starting to build up.
A colleague was recently sharing a cab with a senior sales director working for a traditional broadcaster and was amazed he had no idea of what affiliate marketing was.
It’s perhaps not as uncommon as my colleague might have thought, and many of our readers might be in a similar position. So, to spread a little light, here’s a simple explanation (those of you in the Affiliate Marketing world, turn away now!):
Little over a fortnight after Microsoft paid $26bn for the social network, LinkedIn has introduced a mechanism for advertisers to buy programmatic ads that will display across the site.
In an effort to draw fresh revenue from LinkedIn’s 433m users, the new system will display banners across the LinkedIn desktop and supplement the subscription fees paid by premium users and sponsored content as the main sources of earnings.
For the uninitiated, programmatic ads are administered by a system that relies on complex algorithms to trigger ad deployment to a set of specific criteria. The process is versatile and quick. It allows advertisers to save resources by automating media buying at pre-determined rates, and book and optimise campaigns via a web interface. Optimisation ensures ads are only shown to desired audiences and on relevant pages – and with LinkedIn’s wealth of business professional indexed by industry, job type, gender, nationality, interests, skills and much more, brands will be able to really drill down to find the most valuable audiences for their ads.
Last week, Martin wrote about how necessary content could make it simpler for B2B media firms to carve out a significant piece of the digital landscape for themselves.
The problem for a lot of content businesses, particularly consumer-facing ones, is that despite the merits of what they produce, it’s not essential for their readers.
The long-term viability of digital publications that rely on scaling audience has been called into question in the last few months. Digital advertising has continued to grow, but increasingly the idea of a business model focused on generating a massive readership or viewership is becoming outmoded by the fluctuating demands of advertisers.
There’s also a prevailing feeling in the media industry that there’s too much content chasing too little advertising cash. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cutting back on both content and audience size will be beneficial, just that a new way looking at the quality of content and its ‘appropriateness’ to the audience is taking hold.
With this new approach come a requirement for new skills, and increasingly digital media businesses are looking to hire heads of Audience Development to their senior management teams.
Sometimes the pace of change in publishing can be staggering. It seems not a month goes by without the arrival of a technology or platform that causes permanent disruption to how and where content is presented to end-users and forces executives to (again) fundamentally rethink their digital model.
The other week we met with a senior figure at a major international online publisher to discuss the changing nature of their business. He flagged up the biggest issue almost immediately:
‘The emphasis,’ he said, ‘has changed from driving traffic to our sites to taking our content out to where people are. That requires quite a change of mindset within the business.’
Barely a month seems to go by without us writing about ad-blocking – if we’re not discussing its rising popularity, or increased use on mobile phones, we’re examining the fear it engenders in digital publishers.
In fact, ad-blocking has been such a prevalent topic, I think Martin’s pretty bored of it! And I was prepared to leave the subject well alone, but then the issue was ratcheted up several notches last week when John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, used his speech at the Oxford Media Convention to wade into the debate.
2016 marks twenty years since I became a headhunter. While that makes me feel incredibly old, it has been a fascinating time to be an observer of the media landscape across the UK and beyond.
When I first started, the internet existed, but was a hard-to-use and limited resource with dial-up access. Email also existed, but not in my office (we relied on faxes). Things were changing, yes; but no-one had really grasped the magnitude of what was about to happen.
If you really want to know how much the media world has changed in the intervening years, imagine saying this back in 1996:
Brands, publishers and media owners are increasingly focused on tailoring content to meet the specific needs of individuals; and fuelling this rush to ever-greater personalisation has been a reliance on access to data – every last search term, web view, and geo-tagged movement helping firms to build a profile against which advertising can be sold.
So what does a consumer get in return for handing over all this information?
Other than being fed messages that advertisers think are relevant, they usually get nothing; but all that could be about to change…
With Christmas round the corner, some retail advertisers are raising fears about the effects the rise in ad-blocking could have on their digital operations. But where the focus was once solely on desk and laptop computing, experts are now asking what steps need to be taken to prevent mobile consumption suffering the same fate.
Earlier this month, my colleague Matt looked at the public appetite – or lack of it – for viewing ads online and suggested some of the creative ways publishers are attempting to combat that antipathy.
Web users find online advertising annoying, intrusive, often irrelevant, and a drag on browser speed. For those that go online using a mobile, there are also concerns over stealth data consumption and privacy.
It’s for these reasons, according to a recent YouGov survey, that 15% of internet users currently use ad-blocking software and 22% have at one time or another downloaded
In his 2011 AdWeek memoir on David Ogilvy, the advertising legend, Kenneth Roman tells the following story:
“At one board meeting, he [Ogilvy] gave directors sets of Russian nesting matryoshka dolls. Inside the largest doll a smaller one, then a smaller one, and so forth. Inside the smallest doll there was a slip of paper:
“If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are bigger than we are, we will become a company of giants.
“Hire people who are better than you are. And pay them more than you if necessary.”
It is a great guiding principle. The smart manager hires the best team and revels in its success – a success which reflects well on all of them; everybody wins. The less smart manager hires down, the team struggles to meet targets, and the manager ends up blaming team members; nobody wins.
As media headhunters it’s common for our conversations with senior editorial and commercial people – at old and new media businesses alike – to regularly address the challenges they face in offering new and compelling solutions to advertisers.
These conversations often revolve around how a publisher can use the editorial skills they have in-house, and a reputation for producing high-quality content, in commercial ways that won’t alienate the readership or damage a relationship that, in some cases, has been built on centuries of editorial rigour.
So how do they do that? Well, it isn’t easy.
A recent editorial candidate told me at their (established) news organisation, they have clear boundaries to maintain the traditional gap between editorial and commercial. But this ‘traditional’ gap is no longer the case everywhere, and some of the UK’s most distinguished media businesses are peering directly into it in the hope of finding new sources of revenue.
Increasingly, media organisations are becoming more relaxed around the separation of editorial and commercial activity and redefining how existing boundaries can work. Under the umbrella of ‘native advertising’, the old lines between editorial and commercial are changing.
Here’s a potentially concerning development all media owners would be advised to keep an eye on: this week, the Financial Times revealed ‘several’ mobile operators are proposing to lock advertising on their networks, with one European provider preparing to do so before the end of this year.
If you’re thinking of recruiting digital executives in the next 12-months, this could be a live issue with which they (and you) might have to deal.
Earlier this month my eye was drawn to an unexpected stat amid the latest crop of ABC figures; amongst the various lists of declining circulations was a rare piece of good news: the UK’s current affairs magazine market is, if not booming, at least outperforming the rest of the market by quite some distance.
A quick look at the figures suggests at least half the titles have grown circulation year-on-year, some quite substantially. When you consider the current climate for print media, that’s an astonishing achievement.
Big beasts like The Economist, The Week, and Private Eye, all continue to put in a strong showing. Two of those three are still growing and while Private Eye’s sales have dipped slightly, they retain the highest paid circulation figures in the sector. Our good friends at Prospect magazine are also on the up, as are Monocle, New Statesman, The Spectator and the possibly miscategorised BBC History magazine.
Picture the situation: your firm is an airline, a customer enraged by the delay in getting back to him about lost baggage pays to promote a tweet about the ‘horrendous’ customer service. It gets seen by 76,000 people, what do you do?
Well, if you’re British Airways, you take eight hours to reply, enrage him all the more with your excuse, and carve out your own little corner of Internet infamy.
Customer Services may once have been the preserve of call centres but now, thanks to social media, it has become a high-stakes game. Not only do firms have to deal with a new channel, they also have to deal with a new culture. Now, customer grievances and the responses they bring are aired in public. If your firm gets it wrong it could end up like BA – with a black mark that (despite all recent improvements to social customer service) remains shareable and searchable.
It seems like 2014 has shot by in a blur. The executive search industry moves fast, and for us this year seems to have moved particularly quickly. Yet, here we are with the calendar year drawing to a close. Well, what better time could there to pause and look back at some of the major trends and challenges that clients (and us headhunters) have witnessed and undergone in that time?
Here is my guide to the major themes of 2014 for headhunters and their clients:
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal summed it up succinctly: some brands, it said, are increasingly using programmatic systems to buy digital ads themselves, rather than paying third parties to do so for them. A survey from Forrester Research and the Association of National Advertisers suggests a reason: it says 46% of marketers are concerned about the transparency of agencies tasked to buy online ads. Put simply, if the agency doesn’t tell you how much of your money its live buying desk spending on ads, and how much it’s taking as a fee, fears can spread.
(If you’re unsure of what programmatic ads are – might be an idea to pause here and read this…)
If you’re a upstart brand looking to carve a sizeable place in your market and grow quickly, then a little controversy never really hurts. The theory goes that nothing stretches the money you have available for publicity like running edgy campaigns that risk censure.
Step forward online bookmaker Paddy Power and its roster of ads featuring the tranquillizing of chavs, tasering tea ladies, and refund offers if Oscar Pistorious was found not guilty – an ad eventually banned by the authorities.
Paddy Power has deliberately set out to drive business forward with an edgy and irreverent content marketing strategy that appeals to its target audience of young men, but the online bookmaker’s approach isn’t simply a matter of producing shocking ads time and time again, it’s more nuanced.
If you buy ad space on behalf of advertisers and a technology comes along that, almost overnight, undermines your business model and makes it staggeringly easy for clients to place ads themselves, you might well have a few sleepless nights, perhaps even considering what other ad sales jobs are available.
Well, say hello to ‘programmatic advertising’.
The term isn’t one familiar to many, but for those focused on the future of ad sales and marketing, programmatic advertising is rapidly becoming the thing that dominates their thinking.
Nearly a third of publishers in the UK have not heard of programmatic advertising, according to a recent survey by tech firm AppNexus. For a technology that has been widely touted as the future of the publishing industry, this is faintly astonishing.
So what is programmatic advertising?
In a nutshell, it’s a form of online display advertising that relies on complex algorithms to set a series of criteria that when met trigger the deployment of ads. Campaigns are booked and optimised via a simple web interface.
Running a small business in the digital age isn’t always easy. The inherent problems associated with battling a large rival offline have the unpleasant habit of transferring neatly to the online world.
Websites of firms with big marketing budgets are chocked with content; they command great authority from search engines; their inbound links are often of a high quality; and when search engines make big algorithmic changes, they respond quickly.
For small businesses that can’t compete on organic search, digital platforms offering flexible self-service ads and promotions can be a godsend.
Through its Adwords platform, Google allows creation of specific, targeted ‘pay per click’ (PPC) campaigns that can be tweaked easily through a self-service interface and provide smaller firms the exposure they need.
In fact, one small business owner told Tripp Associates his self-service Adwords had proved so easily manageable – and such a reliable source of revenue – he’d jettisoned his digital consultant and added £2 income to every £1 spent by closely managing campaigns himself.
And where Google has successfully enabled the small business owner, other digital platforms have followed.
Even the most superficial reader of newspaper websites can’t fail to notice the abundance of new technology that is now regularly incorporated into the storytelling process – and as the demand for new ways of telling stories evolves, the range of editorial skills required is evolving almost as quickly as the technology used to publish.
But it isn’t just in editorial that new digital skills are required. As publishers, both local and national, struggle to work out how to make money from digital, the roles of advertising salespeople are changing even more rapidly.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been immersed in the newspaper sector; talking to senior decision-makers about the kind of posts they find hardest to recruit. By some margin, the most common answer has been ‘good salespeople who really understand digital’.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last few weeks, it would be hard to avoid knowing the 2014 World Cup kicks off tonight in Brazil.
As with many other large sporting events, the build-up to the tournament has been littered with stories about institutional corruption, levels of preparedness, and disquiet in the host country about about staging the event. Yet, if the Brazilian World Cup follows the traditional pattern, all this noise should fade away once the football begins and fans will get down to the serious business of shouting at their televisions as they watch men run about in the searing heat.