Jun 302016

Two years ago Buzzfeed’s head of global operations visited Sydney and laid out the company’s vision of being the New York Times.

As Scott Lamb explained, an important part of the Buzzfeed model was generating traffic through social media shares — at that time a tactic which Iwas working well.

Since then the gloss has gone off Buzzfeed as the company misses financial targets and traffic plateaus.

Now Facebook has announced further changes to its newsfeed which sees more emphasis on users’ family and friends’ posts than news and brands.

Sites like Buzzfeed are left in a bind as one of their key sources for traffic dries up and, once again, Facebook’s cahnges show how risky it is for publishers and marketers to rely on individual online platforms.

In truth all of the major online services are predators with Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, being at the top of the food chain, just like tigers.

For those riding the internet tigers, the risk of being mauled is real. As Buzzfeed and others are finding.

Jun 232016

It seems the Arab Spring has come to the US Congress where Democrat representatives protesting the house’s refusal to vote on gun control legislation have occupied the house.

House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, ordered the chamber’s TV cameras to be shut off but the occupying members responded by streaming their own media feeds through Facebook and Periscope.

Once again we’re seeing how new media channels are opening up with the internet. While they aren’t perfect, they do challenge the existing power structures and allow the old rules to be subverted.

Jun 022016

As usual Mary Meeker’s internet trends report lays out the current state of the online world.

Two things that stand out in the mass of statistics are how the smartphone market is now commoditised and that the advertising funded media model is redundant on mobile with adblockers proliferating in China, India and Indonesia – the world’s three biggest emerging markets.

While Mary Meeker flags those changes, she also continues to point out how broadcasting still gets a disproportionate spend of advertising revenue, something she’s been flagging for five years.

For advertisers sticking with the media they know is understandable but it does open some opportunities for a great disruptions.

The design of Meeker’s slides leave some people unimpressed though.

Mar 172016
walking the shop floor is important to business management

Last week Australia’s Fairfax Media announced the company will cut another 120 editorial jobs at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. What strategies beyond cuts can save old media companies as traditional advertising revenues dry up?

For decades, the print and broadcast media was incredibly profitable as they provided an advertising platform for businesses and individuals. While television revenues have held up, the rest of the media industry has seen their income collapse.

In the early days of the web the hope was display advertising would provide revenues for online publishers, however it turns out  readers are blind to the ads and, should the messages become too intrusive or resource heavy, people will install ad-blockers.

One revenue channel for publishers is ‘content marketing’ or ‘branded content’ where advertisers sponsor specific stories. At the Sydney Ad:Tech conference earlier this week Asia-Pacific Regional Advertising Director for the New York Times, Julia Whiting, described what the iconic masthead finds works in this medium.

Whiting says there are five key factors in making branded content work for advertisers.

  • Give something of value. Be entertaining, informative, educative or provide some utility.
  • Tell an authentic story. Make the link between the brand and story as subtle as possible.
  • Produce high quality content. Consider how a newsroom cover the story and what would hook the reader.
  • Choose the right environment. Advertisers have to align with publishers that have the right brand values and audience.
  • Targeted campaigns. Use data to define and find target audiences then use that information to deliver relevant content.

The question with the branded content is how explicit the advertiser’s message or sponsorship can be before readers start losing trust.

Becoming creepy

Another aspect is creepiness. One of the campaigns Whiting showcased was The Creekmores, the story of a young family who travelled the world as the mother was dying of breast cancer that was sponsored by Holiday Inn.

On a personal level, this writer is uncomfortable with such a personal story being associated with a multinational brand and wonders if the family would have been happy for their tale to be part of a branded content campaign for a hotel chain.

For branded content to really work, that ‘alignment’ between the publisher, audience and advertiser is essential and in turn ultimately relies upon the credibility of the outlet.

In the case of the New York Times, that credibility rests upon good writing and strong editorial values, although the paper hasn’t been immune from scandal itself.

Good, well edited writing may turn out to be the greatest asset for today’s media outlets as smaller publications such as The Economist, Punch and The Spectator see readership and revenues increase.

The Guardian, ironically an outlet that itself is cutting 250 staff, reports these publications are succeeding due to well written articles. “If you produce journalism that is not just better but significantly better than what’s free on the web, people will pay for it,” says Spectator editor Fraser Nelson.

Which brings us back to Australia’s Fairfax where a succession of clueless managements have eroded editorial standards. Three years ago former editor Eric Beecher wrote a scathing account of his time at the company where an incompetent and unqualified board flailed in the face of market changes it could barely comprehend.

One of the villains of that tale, board chairman Roger Corbett, was a successful Chief Executive of the Woolworths supermarket chain. That he was so obsessed with a failed business model and protecting margins by slashing costs indicates much about the nature of Australia’s insular corporate world.

A consequence of Fairfax’s cost cutting obsession has been foreign outlets have stepped into the market with The Guardian, Daily Mail, Buzz Feed and a range of other sites setting up in the country – something that further squeezes the incumbent’s market position.

In opening her Ad:Tech presentation, the NY Times’ Julia Whiting noted Australia was the outlet’s fifth largest global market, something undoubtedly driven by the decline in the SMH’s and Age’s output.

The travails of Fairfax and the successes of smaller outlets show what might be an encouraging trend in the media – that a quality product actually attracts an audience and advertisers.

If that’s true, the managements that mindlessly cut costs that hurt the quality of their core product may be accelerating the demise of their businesses.

Mar 152016
what is the future of journalism

For years I resisted attending the Tech Leaders conference, formerly Kickstart, as I felt a bit of an imposter being invited to attend as a journalist.  As a consequence I missed the peak days of the event.

In the ‘good old days’ dozens of journalists, most in the employ of profitable media companies, would fly to a Queensland resort to wine, dine and debauch themselves as PR agencies who were picking up the tab would try to introduce their clients and pitch to the group of hungover scribes.

Funding these events was relatively straightforward, public relations agencies and their clients were happy to pay substantial sums for access to journalists. In the golden days of technology journalism, large IT supplements were full of lucrative advertising for jobs and products.

That river of advertising gold has long dried up and in the technology industry that shift has been exacerbated by the collapse in IT industry margins which has further hurt advertising budgets.

As the industry has faded so too have the numbers of media professionals, many journalists have either moved into PR roles themselves or are now desperate freelancers.

The industry shift to freelancers has been problematic for the organisers as the remaining staff journalists are chronically time poor so can’t lightly take a day away from the desk and the independent reporters don’t offer direct access into trade journals and general news outlets.

Events like Tech Leaders are giving the PR industry a glimpse of the journalist free media landscape of the near future where the traditional pitching to outlets in the hope of being published is effectively obsolete. Looking at the numbers at Tech Leaders, it’s clear that world is not far off.

The question everyone in the industry has to ask is ‘how do people perceive I add value?’ For many, including myself, the answer is ‘we don’t’.

In an age where there is an almost unlimited supply of information and commentary, journalists and PR people have to find a new way to convince the market they add value.

Mar 072016
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

What happens to journalists when no one wants to print their words anymore?

The Bill Moyers website has striking accounts of sexism, ageism and exploitation of younger journalists as the industry deals with its Twentieth Century business model collapsing.

Much of the dislocation Dale Maharidge describes could have been written about factory workers twenty years ago and will be probably written about a whole range of white collar occupations over the next two decades. The disruption being felt by journalists is not unique to the media industry.

While the media industry struggles to find the 21st Century’s David Sarnoff, the human cost is real. The price workers pay when an industry is disrupted shouldn’t be understated.