Me­dia can learn from May’s fail­ings

Lec­tur­ing read­ers or tak­ing cus­tomers for granted has been shown to be a recipe for dis­as­ter, Hamish Nick­lin writes

Campaign UK - - NEWS - Hamish Nick­lin is the chief rev­enue of­fi­cer at Guardian News & Me­dia

The gen­eral elec­tions of 2015 and 2017 and the Brexit vote all pro­duced shocks. So what do the largest me­dia out­lets – “the bi­ased MSM”, as par­ti­sans some­times la­bel us – need to learn from these re­sults? First, hu­mil­ity. The me­dia has de­bated for at least 30 years the ex­tent of the in­flu­ence of news­pa­pers on elec­tions. Some stri­dent voices thought that they had swung the Brexit vote – and that their abil­ity to tell read­ers how to vote, and who to be­lieve, was ab­so­lute.

In to­day’s con­nected world, vot­ers get their news from a range of sources, so they don’t nec­es­sar­ily be­lieve the first thing they read. So­cial me­dia doesn’t re­duce the rel­e­vance of ma­jor news sources, but it means news and views are open to deeper ques­tions.

Un­der­stand­ing peo­ple as ac­tive read­ers, as ci­ti­zens, not just con­sumers of leader col­umns, has al­ways been the ap­proach taken by The Guardian. The Guardian editorial team cer­tainly give a view and en­dorsed Jeremy Cor­byn. But, ul­ti­mately, The Guardian tries to em­power peo­ple with facts, opin­ion and anal­y­sis to help them make up their own minds.

That’s why our jour­nal­ists spent so much time be­yond the London bub­ble, seek­ing out the voices of the young, the first-time vot­ers, the un­de­cided and the party stal­warts.

So the sec­ond les­son is: don’t just talk. To re­tain trust, it’s cru­cial to lis­ten to read­ers and non-read­ers. Lis­ten­ing does not sim­ply equate to min­ing data. Re­flect­ing on what the Tories got wrong, Theresa May’s for­mer aide Nick Ti­mothy lamented: “Mod­ern cam­paign­ing tech­niques re­quire ever-nar­rower tar­get­ing of spe­cific vot­ers, and we were not talk­ing to the peo­ple who de­cided to vote for Labour.”

There are lessons not only for po­lit­i­cal par­ties but also brands, ad­ver­tis­ers and agen­cies. As brands con­sider how best to reach the pub­lic and per­suade them to take ac­tion, we have to look at a mix of facts, data and con­text, of head and gut, and avoid se­lect­ing bits and pieces that cre­ate their own self-af­firm­ing nar­ra­tive.

Who in the ad world, when read­ing about po­lit­i­cal over-tar­get­ing, blind to lo­cal con­text and po­ten­tial vot­ers, didn’t pause for thought? This felt like an ex­am­ple of the worst of pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing. Brands, like po­lit­i­cal par­ties, must use a mix of chan­nels, broaden their au­di­ence and think of long-term gains, rather than driv­ing a short-term di­rect-re­sponse cam­paign with poor data and ex­e­cu­tion.

When we are promised job lots of con­sumers most likely to buy our prod­ucts, we should think about long-term goals and where our brands are be­ing shown to these cheap eye­balls.

A Thom­son Reuters sur­vey found where an ad is seen has a huge im­pact on how it is per­ceived: 87% think it’s dam­ag­ing for a brand to ad­ver­tise on a news site associated with fake news; more than 50% think they are more likely to no­tice a brand if it is on a trusted news site. The days of large-scale au­di­ence at the low­est cost, across any plat­form, should be over.

While trends in mar­ket­ing and pol­i­tics change, core prin­ci­ples don’t. If you want peo­ple to view your brand pos­i­tively, make sure they see it in a place you’re proud to be associated with, don’t lec­ture them, don’t treat them like they can’t think for them­selves, don’t take peo­ple for granted – and don’t lie.

False as­sump­tions and an over-em­pha­sis on mi­cro-tar­get­ing seem to have cost May. Re­liance on such meth­ods could prove costly for news­pa­pers and brands too.

The elec­tion was a timely re­minder to look up from our spread­sheets, be­yond the prom­ise of im­me­di­ate di­rect-re­sponse re­turns, lis­ten to the pub­lic and com­mu­ni­cate in ways that cap­ture the pub­lic mood. With a news agenda that has never felt more chaotic, trust, facts, re­spect and in­tegrity will win out.

May: gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign ‘felt like an ex­am­ple of the worst of pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing’

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