News & Opinion

Bubbles, brands & Brexit at Shift 2017

Opening this year’s Shift 2017, Newsworks' CEO Vanessa Clifford threw down a gauntlet - to challenge ourselves to go beyond our usual focus, explains d.fferento/ogy's Dan Brilot. 

The scope of the conference was to look outside of our standard assumptions (our own filter bubbles and echo chambers) and to re-think what we know, or at least what we think we know, about the role of newsbrands from a commercial and from a societal point of view.

There were some familiar yet important issues raised, such as trust in newsbrands, the unique societal relevance of news media and the depth and value of a truly engaged audience (plus a lifetime relationship with consumers), which was eloquently covered by Sam Wise from Saatchi & Saatchi.

I was most struck, however, by some really fresh thinking and a new style of political journalism from the Guardian's John Harris and John Domokos, political commentators who have created a video series, 'Anywhere but Westminster'.

Their assumption was simple: every political commentator, expert (so called or otherwise) and, let's face it, our own 'brothers in research' from the world of political polling have called a high variety of things wrong over the last couple of years.

The list rang out like a run-down of unpredicted seismic events in our political and societal landscape: UKIP, Scotland, the 2015 election, Corbyn, Brexit and finally…..Trump. All of our combined received wisdom, analysis and, most importantly, the data, failed to predict these outcomes. The key learnings from that talk (and indeed supported by others who touched on similar themes) were...

  • Firstly, challenge what you know or what you think you know, nicely illustrated by Isabel Oakeshott who quoted NRS/comScore, telling delegates that 96% of millennials engage with newsbrands on their mobile device every month.
  • Secondly, challenge your understanding of your audience. In the quiz session, lead by Rik Moore from Havas Media, we learned that the cohort most open to change among the UK population are actually the 55-64 year olds!
  • People are so inherently complex in what they think and how they behave, as demonstrated by the two Johns' interview clips, depicting people who vote for candidates they don't actually like.
  • Finally, perhaps the toughest and most challenging point for media researchers: "Data without real encounters is almost worthless". 

The Johns asserted that without the qualitative context and depth of investigation and understanding, quantitative data in a vacuum can have limited value. I personally think this is perhaps a little overstated - in terms of 'transparency', another leit motiv of the conference, it is worth declaring that I used to work for YouGov - however, what they did show was the quality and depth of insights that could be gained from video ethnography with a real exploratory style of open questions. They proved that this type of focused small scale qualitative analysis can be really prescient. Going beyond quantitative polling to get a feel of the context is so important – where people live, look like, their background, the depth and speed or verbal responses. In essence, the quality of the response.

I enjoyed this theme and I really took to heart the idea of going to places, looking where you wouldn't normally look, to have real encounters and connect with the audience. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, I found it refreshing to see so much of the assumptions and stories within the conference based on solid independently verified research.

I’ve really drawn inspiration from Shift 2017 and can clearly see my new mission as a media researcher to go beyond my own 'bubbled' thinking (certainly step away from my laptop, get out of London and do more video ethnography!) and welcome the learning and innovation on display from a vibrant, successful and diverse industry based on the joy of inquisitiveness, investigation and unending search for the truth.

See Shift 2017 photos, videos and reports here

by Dan Brilot 15/03/17

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