News & Opinion

Newsbrands on the front foot

Tony Regan, consultant at Brand Performance, reviews Newsworks' first-ever conference Shift 2013. For him, Tony Gallagher delivered one of the standout performances with "a vivid account of his work at the Telegraph".

In the fast-paced industry we work in, we could all be forgiven for thinking that it’s been ages, perhaps years, since the newspaper industry’s standard-bearer took on new branding as Newsworks.  But yesterday’s Shift 2013 event was indeed the first conference staged under the leadership of chief executive Rufus Olins; and it demonstrated emphatically that the re-branding runs much more than skin-deep.

The British Library as a venue reminded us that as newspapers continue to evolve into newsbrands, they strike a skillful balance between preserving and championing the cherished skills and disciplines of the past, while embracing the new technologies of the future.

By the time we departed at lunchtime, the students (strangely absent from the piazza at our power-breakfast start-time of 8.30) had entirely populated the various landings and mezzanines of the building. With laptops perched on seat-tables, and smartphones and tablets resting on textbooks, it was as if they too were playing walk-on parts in Shift2013, acting out the ‘new normal’ of all our multimedia existences.


The agenda was full of promise, with rare outings for industry veteran Tony Gallagher (editor of The Daily Telegraph), DMGT chairman Lord Rothermere and QI founder, John Lloyd; along with conference stalwarts like Bruce Daisley and Justin Gibbons. No wonder the event had drawn a crowd of around 250.

It was Lloyd, a decades-long news addict, who kicked off proceedings by proudly presenting a film compilation of talking heads – newspaper editors and celebrity columnists – enthusing on the reasons to be cheerful about newsbrands in the life and culture of the nation. This smorgasboard of positives was a lot to take in after the pastries, but the audience seemed to allow our hosts this brief indulgence.

Into this warm glow stepped Rufus Olins to make sure we were getting the serious point of the day – a demonstration of six powerful newspaper groups working together on their future; buzzwords content, brands and audience; and who shared John Naughton’s memorable expression of the industry’s necessary move ‘from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg’.  

Next up: Trinity Mirror’s new (since September) CEO, Simon Fox – new to the news industry but an experienced CEO familiar (from HMV) with the challenge of taking a traditional business into the digital age.  Simon’s piece, billed as his ‘first reflections’ on the newspaper industry, was careful to emphasise that despite there being no one-size-fits-all strategy for all newspaper businesses, at Trinity Mirror he is willing to tackle big issues like the difficulties of booking across multiple titles; and the inconsistencies in data-reporting across print and digital readerships.  With innovation to report in the guise of new Saturday packages, digital and mobile editions and smartphone purchase apps, it was clear that he has made his first 200 days count.


Arena Media’s clever Justin Gibbons shared new academic research commissioned from Work Research and their academic partners at Bournemouth University. Dubbed Cultural Clout, it recognises that newsbrands really do seem to punch above their weight in the clout they bring to the invention and dissemination of popular culture; and that the power of context, long familiar to media planners, takes on a new potency when ‘context’ can now be built from a combination of newsbrand, content and platform.  This fertile ground presents even better opportunities for smart media planners to intertwine their clients’ brands into the stories being told in the news.  It was a topic that matured and clarified as subsequent speakers – in particular Lord Rothermere - built on the concept.

Tony Gallagher delivered one of the standout performances – a vivid account of his work at the Telegraph. Contrasting 20th-century with 21st-century journalism, he left us in no doubt that the future’s already here, and now - conversations with readers, Twitter for breaking news and news conferences where the first presentation is by a ‘data journalist’.  Along with an editor’s gut-feel and the traditional skills of journalism, the in-demand skills are increasingly in data, graphics and video.  75% of the Telegraph’s newsroom output is digital-only and never makes it onto the printed page; and they are figuring out how to curate and package a ‘substantial evening edition’ of Telegraph digital content for people’s evening commute.  Tony’s presentation provided abundant evidence of the new digital reality of journalism.

Twitter came centre-stage with the arrival of Bruce Daisley in a double-act with The Guardian’s Joanna Geary. Bruce highlighted Twitter’s dual role in complementing news media – helping to gather and distribute the news – but as master of the short-form his most memorable soundbites included the growing belief that ‘if a story’s big enough it will find me’ and that on Twitter, stories ‘break down into single atoms, particles of news to follow’.

With 1% of Twitter users creating half of all content, the authority of professional journalists doesn't look like weakening any time soon – but Twitter as a journalistic tool is only set to get more powerful, as evidenced by Austrian journalist Nadja Hahn’s recent report ‘What Good is Twitter?’.  Turning theory into practice, Joanna Geary shared several powerful examples of Twitter’s growing role in journalistic practice – before revealing the launch of Guardian Witness, their new, integrated platform for crowd-sourced citizen journalism powered by EE.


Jon O’Donnell of ESI Media chaired the panel session that brought onto the stage senior marketers from Boots, Tesco and Aviva as well as Newsworks’ own Vanessa Clifford and Goodstuff’s Simeon Adams. Challenged with the question "Print or screen: who cares?” the answer was typically that they do indeed care.  Though happy of course to see readership growth in digital to compensate for print decline, these senior clients were also interested in knowing how readers engage with content on different platforms.  Yes to better digital metrics; yes to more evidence of digital ad effectiveness and a very big yes to hearing how newsbrands’ multi-platform offerings can do better to complement these clients’ multi-channel businesses.

And finally to the morning’s headline act – DMGT’s Lord Rothermere – who could look back on enormous change during his tenure and to bigger and faster change in the years ahead.  Emphasising the importance of an entrepreneurial spirit – ‘try something and, if it works, back it’ – he highlighted his belief that ‘the public will lead you where they want to go’ as evidence that newsbrands need to provide content that’s acutely tailored to the technology that readers are using. 

The international success of the MailOnline was leading him to set his sights on global competitors like Yahoo! News. The next ten years will see accelerating transformation, with rapidly improving conditions for delivering multimedia news; and with big data providing richer potential for leveraging newsbrands’ relationships with readers - allowing ‘presumptive’ advertising with ‘prescient’ messaging to be served precisely to particular reader types.

Newsworks' new chairman David Pattison closed the event reflecting that we’d seen newsbrands ‘on the front foot’, an industry not frightened anymore and with an appetite to embrace new platforms.  For the assembled agencies, media owners and clients it was a fair assessment of a progressive and polished event.


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