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It’s OK to pay… sometimes


By Alistair Kellie, Managing Partner

When I started my career there was a very clear distinction between earned (editorial) and paid, advertorial as it was then.  This was almost a ‘church and state’ level distinction between the two and woe betide anyone who suggested that a client should pay for an opportunity.  The feeling was that it would undermine the sanctity of our work and risk overlapping with the advertising fraternity.  How times change.

The past five months has seen a plethora of changes in how we operate.  The relationship between Earned, Owned and Paid marketing and communication is no exception.  Whilst this convergence is nothing new, it has accelerated during this crisis.

First, the context.  As we know, and have written about extensively in this Newsletter, this unparalleled period has changed how we consume media.  Online and mobile usage has soared, with 27% of us checking these channels more regularly; we are each listening to on average 8% more radio per week and one-in-five UK homes signed up for a new video streaming subscription during COVID-19 lockdown.  Just ask Disney.  Digital entertainment media services such as video games and OTT video also seen a major pandemic bump.

The full implications are not yet clear, but there’s likely to be an acceleration of longer-term structural changes resulting from this shift to digital platforms at the expense of traditional, physical media and advertising models.

Already we’ve seen the stark reality of our new habits on the media sector.  Total media advertising spending across the UK is expected to be £21.03 billion this year, down 7.5% from 2019, and traditional media advertising spending is expected to fall an astonishing 22.6% in 2020 (Business Insider, 8 July 2020).

As with most industries, this has resulted in widespread furloughs, temporary cessation or moves to online-only models.  Sadly, hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs and some publications have had to close.  On a more positive note, the media industry has always proved highly agile through previous economic and technological cycles, pivoting towards new digital platforms, subscription models and data-led services.

But this decline in traditional media and the shift to digital has only amplified a trend that was already happening and is not an “extinction event” for the news industry at large, according to media analysts.  Indeed, a senior newspaper executive was quoted anonymously in the Financial Times last week as saying: “The complete print to digital migration was supposed to take two to three years for many…you might see it happen in two or three months”.  A digital-only model, as used by The Independent since 2016, saves significant sums with no need for presses or delivery. 

Already we’re seeing highly creative, compelling and immersive content from media and content producers looking to engage consumers and tailor communications to fit with the next normal.

Indeed, a recent survey of editorial executives revealed that half had launched new products as a result of the pandemic. Of these, more than half (55%) have launched newsletters (not on patch on this one of course!), followed by infographics (49%), and videos and live blogs (30%).   Some publishers have experimented with other initiatives such as dropping their paywall with the hope of converting some fly-by’s into subscribers.  

Interestingly, more publishers are turning to AI as a means to automate content, particularly stories dominated by facts and figures such as house price indices.  Associated Press says that this type of automation has helped it scale up company earnings reports from 300 to 3,700 articles per quarter. The theory being that journalists can focus on more high-value work such as writing deeper analysis and investigate articles…both of which have become more popular in the era of the soundbite and divisive politics.

At the same time some journalists have set up new platforms of their own or have sought opportunities to be content writers.  Meanwhile, brands themselves are increasingly turning to influencers – trusted online commentators with large social media followings – to help bypass the traditional media.

Whilst social media offers us the opportunity to enhance the reach of high quality content, digital targeting will ensure that as many as possible of your audience see the content.  Building your owned channels is part of the equation, and a vital one, but it’s only part of the picture.

Shrinking editorial (Earned) opportunities has increased the need to maximise and amplify hard-earned content.  So why not pay to boost that hard-earned article and ensure that clients, prospects and peers can read about your new widget?

Increasingly we’re seeing companies turn to microtargeting to reach the people whose opinions matter most to their business by delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. 

So whisper it quietly, but sometimes it’s ok to pay.