Back don't block news & opinion

Five reasons your brand’s plans need news now!

Following the launch of our “Back don’t Block” journalism campaign Nik Wheatley, co-founder at LOVE SUGAR SCIENCE has written a blog post in support of the newspaper industry. “News is a brilliant marketing platform at the best of times – in times like these it is priceless.”

I have to start this acknowledging that it’s hard to know what to do right now. There isn’t a single right way to do things.

Many of us are caught between the twin worries of what will become of our livelihoods and hoping vulnerable friends and relatives can remain safe. 

For some businesses, marketing will simply need to pause until their customers or supply chain are able to return. Many will fear commerciality could feel out of click with the wider mood music and most brands will want to tread carefully, lest they are called out for crass opportunism.

That’s said, there are a few things we can surely all agree on.

  • At the end of all this we want an economy ready to kick back into gear, that pulls people out of furloughs and finds a way to provide the confidence and direction that makes a sharp upturn a reality – brands and advertising will be vital to this.
  • Those able to invest and create future value for their businesses and employees do not need to apologise for being in a position for doing so.
  • Certainly brands do need to communicate with a little more thought and understanding of the current mood, but this needn’t be onerous.  

By any normal logic, this ought to provide an obvious advantage for news platforms; to whom people are flocking for reliable considered narrative on “WTF?!” is going on, as well as the usual depth and array of advice and guidance to get the best out of life practically and emotionally during these strange and anxious times.

So I was ‘surprised’ when I read Tracy DeGroose’s urgent call to the industry to ‘back, not block British journalism’, with the term ‘coronavirus’ spreading across advertiser blocklists and accelerating a general trend – said to have cost the UK published media sector c.£170m in ad revenue last year – and potentially adding a further £50m of losses for national news brands alone.

Left unchecked, this undermines both the journalism we rely on, as well as brands’ ability to deliver profitable marketing outcomes; from building strong meaningful relevance and customer value.

An industry that should be increasing focus on what matters to people, at a time when sensitive commercialisation demands we make this our priority, can not afford to make these mistakes.

Brands that are able to continue to invest now, should. We are not short of evidence in this space (if you are then ask Newsworks’ Denise Turner) so I will leave it for others to lay out the facts and the risks of ignoring those facts to lay out the case and consequences against inaction.

For those wanting to invest in their business, news brands will always provide, and remain, an excellent commercial opportunity. 

Below are just a few good reasons to make sure news is at the heart of your thinking as you plan to navigate the challenges of marketing against a uniquely challenging backdrop to a future that benefits all concerned. 

1.   Audience reach and attachment are extraordinarily high

This really ought not to be news, but misinformation is cutting against the facts.

The last round of PAMCo audience numbers put news brand daily readership figures up 3.2m at over 34 daily readers. Since the onset of the crisis most news brands are reporting significant increases in both readership (up to 50%) and time spent on each of their articles (1-3 minutes). This means multiple daily visits to multiple different news sources featuring significantly more engaged, high value reader sessions.

Even those titles typically reliant on handouts in city centres have gone to extraordinary lengths to continue to serve readers. London’s Evening Standard looks to be hitting circulation volumes of around 500,000 through a mix of targeted supermarket distribution and home deliveries.

The Times has delivered a near 60% increases in visitors and indeed News UK are reporting unprecedented interest through all of their brands, with extraordinarily high levels of active engagement - meaning they don't just have more people looking at their content, but they are spending more time, reading, clicking and scrolling through that content too.

The Telegraph, had their largest ever week for subscriptions and ‘the UK’s number 1 news publisher’ Reach, delivered growth in both sales and page views - Reuters/ Oxford University recently identified local news brands as the most trusted source in market.

In these challenging times, we cannot underestimate the value of the trust invested into these titles and the difference this has potential to make.

2.   They are experts in judging and managing public opinion

An obvious concern for many right now is how to make sure that commercial marketing doesn’t look out of place. As put by Craig Mawdsley of AMV/DDBO in Campaign, “pre-crisis ads are staggering around like visitors from another planet”. New material has risk of appearing opportunistic - which also comes with risk. 

The temptation to do nothing has an obvious, if harmful, appeal.

Much more constructive would be to ask advice from the experts.

The job of news brands is to help their readers navigate through this uncertainty

Setting the tone is part of their reason to exist in these challenging times and most commercial teams will make this available to help support advertisers concerned about how they might be perceived.

By example, Anne Shooter, Head of Commercial Partnerships at Mail Metro Media and a journalist for 20 years before taking the commercial role put it very simply: ‘We are lucky to have a high amount of insight at our disposal, along with a team of analysts and readers’ panels, who can tell us exactly what people are reading, listening to, concerned about and hopeful for. At a time like this, when brands need to demonstrate empathy and altruism above all else, while still driving their businesses, that insight combined with expertise, is absolutely key for future brand sentiment.’

If you are worried about how to hit the right note then why wouldn’t you speak to people paid to make those calls on a day to day basis?

3.   The value on offer is incredible!

Devaluing good media works for nobody’s benefit but grown up decisions are being made so that all parties can do business in these challenging times. Each conversation has its own potential but as a senior source put it “in the current market any serious revenue opportunity will receive significant attention and media value add”.

Previous research by Newsworks showed that under-utilising news brands in ad campaigns had seen brands missing out on £3bn of profit. Some like the Telegraph are so confident they will even “guarantee results”.

It has to be worth a conversation for new or existing advertisers alike.

4.   The big stories are still brand safe

I’m going to talk about the other side of this story shortly (because there very much is one) but it would be remiss to not address the ‘issue’ of brand safety head on.

Newsworks estimated the potential loss, to the national news brand industry, of keyword blocking at £50m in revenues as advertisers avoid content about the Coronavirus.

Most content is linked to Coronavirus because that’s what most of us are spending most of our time thinking about and having to adapt behaviour for. It’s a huge multifaceted, multilayered all encompassing issue so why, unlike in many other media, are we finding brands determined to avoid the thing most pressing to their audience and their lives right now?

Fear of hitting the wrong notes? That’s solvable - see above.

Fear of how people will perceive your advertising amongst ‘hard news’? 

Newsworks’ recent research with Neuro-Insight found consumers are more engaged and spend longer with ads next to content deemed to be ‘hard news’. Average ad dwell time is 1.4 times higher while pattern of response shows more and stronger peaks for ads in a hard news environment.

Hard news may also not be so hard as you assume when looking to avoid certain key words or types of coverage. There are powerful positive stories amongst this as news brands use their collective power to help readers come together and do something to help. The Sun launched their ‘Who Cares Wins Appeal’ looking to raise £1million to provide care packages and respite care for brave NHS staff and volunteers. 

Life must go on and many business are making it easier for people to buy their products or services - this is not unwelcome - indeed while most of us navigate 23-hour a day lockdowns and home schooling it’s a massive help!

Mail Metro Media’s inhouse research showed 70% of readers think that brands can play an important role and another 70% think they should be running messaging relevant to corona virus - we are all adults after all.

If you can add value in these environments why on earth wouldn’t you?

5.   There is another side of the story too

My Co-Founder at Love Sugar Science, Jessica Scott, recently wrote a Linkedin post that clearly rang true with a lot of people (the post).

Yes, being home so much has its challenges, whatever your circumstances, but we all adapt quickly and there are positives too - be that time with our children, time to invest in hobbies or novel ways to connect and have fun with friends.

News brands are very much there for these things too - over half of all content linked to coronavirus on the UK’s largest news site, Mail Online, is positive - a trend replicated across the market.

News brands have to respond to what people need as well as explaining what is happening.

Home and gardening was huge before we were all told to spend 23 hours a day at home so Reach offering to help brands create Home & Garden themed editorial opportunities (amongst other similarly pertinent themes) makes perfect sense. The Telegraph, who’s Food & Drink portal has been tracking up 50% year on year, are clear that they have a role to entertain and support the isolated - helping the nation adapt to life at home. The Evening Standard are devoting multiple pages to #StayHome content, covering key areas across fitness and wellness; fashion and beauty; food and drink and technology.

In every aspect of our lives news brands are looking to support inspire and add value as they always have done - right now that is probably more valuable than it ever has been.

Overall, times may be tough but the availability of credible, highly valuable environments to continue to build valuable commercial relationships with our consumers is a gift. 

The uncertainty won’t last forever, but while it does, it seems certain that news will continue to be THE go-to for both the facts as well as lifestyle ideas. In that time, they are also there to provide an extraordinary support infrastructure for commercial partners. We would all do well to make good use of it.

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Nik Wheatley 08/04/20

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