News­pa­pers re­main tried and trusted amid the so­cial me­dia rev­o­lu­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - BUSINESS - martin sor­rell Sir Martin Sor­rell is founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of WPP

‘Anews­pa­per should have no friends,” wrote Joseph Pulitzer, ar­tic­u­lat­ing the spirit of edi­to­rial in­de­pen­dence that won him the ad­mi­ra­tion of his read­ers and an in­dict­ment from the US gov­ern­ment.

While any one news­pa­per should in­deed have no friends, the press as a whole needs as many as it can get.

The de­cline in news­pa­per sales is matched by fall­ing com­mer­cial rev­enues as ad­ver­tis­ers look to dig­i­tal chan­nels for greater reach, pre­cise tar­get­ing and the abil­ity to trig­ger an im­me­di­ate pur­chase.

Most pub­lish­ers’ dig­i­tal dreams have yet to be re­alised as Google and Face­book gob­ble up the large ma­jor­ity of in­cre­men­tal dig­i­tal ad spend. Mean­while, ef­forts to lever­age news­pa­pers’ col­lec­tive strength through col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proaches to ad­ver­tis­ing sales have strug­gled to get off the ground.

And yet op­por­tu­ni­ties re­main. In­deed, the New York Times added more than a quar­ter of a mil­lion new sub­scribers in the last three months of 2016, while the Wall Street Jour­nal has re­ported that it had swelled its paid sub­scriber base to more than 2.1m.

Ad­ver­tis­ers and their agen­cies have raised con­cerns about vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in the dig­i­tal me­dia sup­ply chain. Last year, for in­stance, Face­book was forced to ad­mit that it had re­peat­edly over­stated im­por­tant met­rics for ad­ver­tis­ers – show­ing what hap­pens when dig­i­tal me­dia giants are left to mark their own homework.

Viewa­bil­ity, the ex­tent to which dig­i­tal ads can ac­tu­ally be seen by con­sumers, has been the subject of much de­bate. Keith Weed, of Unilever, has long ar­gued that “100pc viewa­bil­ity of ads… is the only ac­cept­able met­ric”. Fraud (for ex­am­ple when ad­ver­tis­ers end up pay­ing for “views” by bots rather than hu­mans) is an­other issue on clients’ radar.

There is also a risk that ad­ver­tis­ing ap­pears next to con­tex­tu­ally ir­rel­e­vant, in­ap­pro­pri­ate or of­fen­sive ma­te­rial. Com­pa­nies like ours have fought hard to en­sure safe en­vi­ron­ments for dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing, while recog­nis­ing that ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for prop­erly iden­ti­fy­ing and polic­ing con­tent lies with the dig­i­tal me­dia own­ers them­selves.

News brands (the term used to de­scribe both the print and dig­i­tal man­i­fes­ta­tions of news­pa­pers) are seek­ing to use all of this to their ad­van­tage, po­si­tion­ing them­selves as trust­wor­thy sources amidst a sea of dig­i­tal mis­in­for­ma­tion, and as re­spon­si­ble gate­keep­ers for ad­ver­tis­ers.

Our me­dia in­vest­ment busi­ness, GroupM, which buys ad­ver­tis­ing space on be­half of clients, is plat­for­mag­nos­tic, of­fer­ing neu­tral ad­vice to help com­pa­nies meet their goals. Part of that role is to make sure clients fully un­der­stand the par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fits of news­pa­per ad­ver­tis­ing.

In­de­pen­dent re­search com­mis­sioned by News­works, the mar­ket­ing body for UK na­tional news­pa­pers, re­vealed that news­pa­pers can in­crease the over­all ef­fec­tive­ness of an ad cam­paign by 300 per cent. Stud­ies world­wide show that peo­ple are more en­gaged when read­ing a news­pa­per than they are when us­ing so­cial me­dia, an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for ad­ver­tis­ers seek­ing con­sumers’ at­ten­tion – and ac­cess to their wal­lets.

There are few peo­ple on earth who know more about that than Jeff Be­zos, founder and CEO of Ama­zon, whose ac­qui­si­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Post in 2013 was an act of faith in the fu­ture of jour­nal­ism and news­pa­per pub­lish­ing.

By pair­ing the dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion and iron dis­ci­pline that built Ama­zon into an e-com­merce jug­ger­naut with an old-fash­ioned com­mit­ment to news­gath­er­ing, he ap­pears to have turned the Post around.

For all their fail­ings, news­pa­pers are an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of pub­lic life, with a value that goes far be­yond the com­mer­cial. Few chief ex­ec­u­tives – even those who have been on the wrong end of a head­line from time to time – would ar­gue with that.

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