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‘We’ve been selling the wrong thing,’ marketing boss tells editors

TracyThe boss of the newspaper industry marketing body has told editors that digital advertising is “broken” and that selling advertising space instead of journalism has cost it £1bn.

In a hard-hitting speech entitled The Missing Billion, Newsworks executive chairman Tracy De Groose told the Society of Editors conference that the industry has been “selling the wrong thing for too long.”

“We’ve been selling our advertising space and not our journalism. It has lost us about one billion pounds of ad revenue over the last decade,” Tracy, left, told the conference in London.

She said that the word “content” had been hijacked by “bullshitters and propagandists” and then sold to advertisers as a an “amorphous mass,” thereby devaluing genuine trusted journalism.

Said Tracy: “On all the metrics that matter to advertisers – growth, trust and demand – we are in great shape. But – and it’s that big one billion pound but – for all this growth the money still isn’t coming our way.

“According to the forecasts online ad revenue is set to rise by 5pc this year. Mildly encouraging, but far from enough.

“Why isn’t the money coming faster? The simple answer. Digital advertising is broken.

“It is dominated by an open marketplace in which content has been sold as one amorphous mass. There is little attention to the quality of the content. Or the attention of the audience.

“In fact, the word “content” has been hijacked by the bullshitters, the propogandists, the fakers, and the like. This means quality journalism is being lumped together with this “content” and sold to advertisers.

“Those advertisers now find themselves in this bonkers situation where they are no longer sure where their advertising is being shown. Nor are they sure if it is being seen by a human.

“Thankfully the advertisers, the regulators and the politicians are beginning to wake up to all of this. But it is slow. And the stranglehold the tech platforms have on the advertising market is tight.

“However, the digital world is shifting on its axis and the next phase of digital advertising is looking significantly brighter for publishers. We have to take advantage of this shift.”

The speech in full can be read below.


Good afternoon.

I’m going to dive straight in and start with the C-word and talk to you about commercial.

Why?

Because we need to talk about the money. We have been selling the wrong thing and for too long. We need to change that. Fast. And, I can only do that with your help

and support.

So, why have we have we been selling the wrong thing?

Because as an industry we’ve been selling our advertising space and not our journalism. It has lost us about one billion pounds of ad revenue over the last decade. One billion pounds less at a time when we really need it. But now we have a perfect window to change that. A perfect window to start getting the investment back into journalism.

Why?

Because we are at a critical crossroads for the news industry. News readership is at record levels. 44 million people read news journalism across newspapers and digital devices every week. 44 million is about 4 to 5 million more readers than a decade ago. That’s 10% growth. And more importantly 44 million is the same weekly reach as Google.

That surprises many people.

Why?

Because no one in our industry ever talks about total readership. The story that has dominated over the last 10 years has been the one about declining newspaper circulations.

Newspapers are important. 11 million people read a national newspaper every day. But 19 million people are reading our journalism online. That’s around two-thirds of our audience. It’s where our growth in readership is coming from. And that’s where it will continue to come from. Two million more people every day are reading news journalism online compared to a year ago.

So, record numbers are reading the news. And readers are following us and our journalism as we transition online.

In any other sector that kind of growth would be celebrated, packaged up and sold, and told repeatedly, to advertisers who play a huge part in funding our industry.

Why do we have a window of opportunity right now?

Because public trust in news brands and demand for trusted sources of news and information is soaring.

The perception of the news industry is changing – trust is on the rise. According to our research 69% of people say they trust their chosen news brand.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows that people’s trust in established news brands grew from 48% in 2017 to 60% this year.

Compare that to social media where trust languishes at 29%.

Six out of 10 people say they rely more heavily on established news brands since the rise of fake news.

Hardly surprising when you consider the alleged meddling by Russia into our democratic processes, the proliferation of fake news and the spread of misinformation.

And let’s not forget Google’s dodgy track record on brand safety and the ad revenue they mistakenly generated from jihadi videos.

With the General Election exactly a month away Facebook’s stance on political ads brings all these problems back into stark focus.

Recently I heard three senior journalists explain why it’s both a great time to be a journalist and a critical time for journalism.

Why?

Because people are looking for depth. They are demanding more analysis, news and information from the experts they can trust.

Journalism matters. Now more than ever.

So, where does that leave us?

On all the metrics that matter to advertisers – growth, trust and demand – we are in great shape.

But – and it’s that big one billion pound but – for all this growth the money still isn’t coming our way.

According to the forecasts online ad revenue is set to rise by 5% this year. Mildly encouraging, but far from enough.

Why isn’t the money coming faster?

The simple answer. Digital advertising is broken.

It is dominated by an open marketplace in which content has been sold as one amorphous mass. There is little attention to the quality of the content. Or the attention of the audience.

In fact, the word “content” has been hijacked by the bullshitters, the propogandists, the fakers, and the like.

This means quality journalism is being lumped together with this “content” and sold to advertisers.

Those advertisers now find themselves in this bonkers situation where they are no longer sure where their advertising is being shown. Nor are they sure if it is being seen by a human.

Unsurprisingly trust in advertising has slumped to an all-time low. From 50% to 25% according to the Advertising Association.

So, why aren’t things changing?

They are. Thankfully the advertisers, the regulators and the politicians are beginning to wake up to all of this. But it is slow. And the stranglehold the tech platforms have on the advertising market is tight.

However, the digital world is shifting on its axis and the next phase of digital advertising is looking significantly brighter for publishers.

Every piece of evidence shows that concentrating digital spend into quality journalistic environments delivers.

And more and more advertisers are ready to listen.

Why do I need your help?

Because we have to take advantage of this shift. We can’t sit here and expect everything to fall into our laps. We can’t let the opportunity pass us by.

We are the greatest storytellers. But we haven’t always been great at telling our own story.

We need to change this and fast. We must learn to tell one unified industry story, more powerfully, more consistently and more frequently.

I am committing to be a figurehead for this. Next week I am off to the United Nations to talk about the digital ad market and the many challenges that I have outlined here today. I am going to make more noise in more places to help turn the tide in our direction.

So, if I could ask one thing from you all it would be to give our industry the oxygen of publicity it deserves, to get our side of the story out there.

In the coming weeks I’ll be in touch to talk about how you can help build this movement.

Why?

Because journalism matters. And we want that billion back.

Thank you.

7 comments

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  • November 13, 2019 at 10:23 am
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    Here here
    I agree the focus of commercial attention has always been on selling the inventory and boxes on the page rather than the content itself and agree that:
    “…There is little attention to the quality of the content or the attention of the audience..”
    However until the quality and relevance of the content improves significantly away from text speak, hyperbole, inaccuracies,grammatical errors, repetition and the proliferation of old ‘news’ lifted from public FB posts, attracting paying subscribers and advertisers to monetise the news will still be nigh on impossible to achieve. Likewise the potential audience in terms of eyes on the page and business advertisers prepared to pay will not be realised.

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  • November 13, 2019 at 10:47 am
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    Hard to know if she’s talking about local or national news here. They are two different things. The shift to digital has been a disaster for local news. Small town newspapers covered parochial events and were successful because they exploited a geographically limited monopoly – going online means they are now faced with an almost infinite number of competitors whereas, as local businesses, they once dominated their markets. The attempt to turn local journalism into a commodity – ‘content’ – has driven readers away. Hated the snobbery and ultimately financially harmful attitude behind ‘we don’t do cheque presentations now because they are boring – we need to focus on lifestyle etc’. Totally agree with Annon that the quality, and relevance, of ‘content’ both in print and online is dire.

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  • November 13, 2019 at 11:07 am
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    I couldn’t agree more with Tracy; some of us have been saying the same thing for years and years and years: but sadly, she’s firing up the pumps on a ship that’s already lying at the bottom of the sea, scuppered by purblind, penny-pinching management with no understanding of the market and the neophiliac circle-jerk of the digital zealots who patronisingly thought readers would pay through the nose for any old cr*p if it was on a shiny screen.

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  • November 13, 2019 at 2:40 pm
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    Poorly written irrelevant and non local content will never attract a paying audience be they site visitors, subscribers or local advertisers,no surprises there then when so many have pointed this out constantly over the past couple of decades.

    We are told the major players have grown their online audiences significantly ,despite losing their paid for print ones, so now is the time to drastically improve the online offering to give sales people the chance to focus on quality content and to monetise it.

    Unless the amateurish nature of majority of online content, social media as well as branded websites,is greatly improved nothing will change and sustainable digital revenues will still prove to be elusive.
    It’s fundamental and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

    Perhaps now these editors have heard it from a speaker at a conference they might be persuaded to do something about it.

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  • November 13, 2019 at 4:52 pm
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    “…people are looking for depth. They are demanding more analysis, news and information from the experts they can trust.”

    Absolutely. So what happens in the regional press? Well, all too often, experienced, older staff are let go because they are deemed too expensive by the bean counters. My local paper is increasingly staffed by twentysomethings who don’t know the area, not trained properly or just aren’t aware enough of the real world. Anyone over 30 who might be able to comment with authority on subjects, have widespread contacts and general nous is long gone. And these are exactly the sort of people who can provide the previously-mentioned “depth”. And this “depth” does not include such current headline stories as ‘hidden gem where you can get a huge Sunday roast and a pint for just over £10′.

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  • November 14, 2019 at 12:35 pm
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    Good points One Time Sub…
    Nor does “in-depth news” include digital offerings such as:
    “See inside the £950,000 mansion on Unthank Road”, and the profusion of other articles of that ilk

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