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Sir Martin Sorrell hails the strength of newspapers

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world's largest advertising group WPP, says newspapers are more effective than he has given them credit for.

Speaking at the Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast earlier this week, Sorrell urged clients and agencies to rethink their advertising budgets, saying: "There is an argument at the moment going on about the effectiveness of newspapers and magazines, even in their traditional form, and maybe they are more effective than people give them credit [for]."

Sorrell said his change of heart comes after seeing some "interesting data", which shows higher consumer engagement levels with newspapers and magazines, as well as their ability to garner more attention and focus, which means readers are more likely to retain information.

The research showed that "some of the traditional media are probably more retentive and engaging" than online and mobile in terms of both "advertising and content", he explained. "In a way it's logical, if the average reader spends 40 minutes with a newspaper, it's probable that the memory will retain things."

Sorrell's comments mark a major u-turn on previous speeches, where he has used US media analyst Mary Meeker's time spent versus media spend analysis as a basis to claim that press commands too much ad spend (20%) compared to the time consumers spend with the media (5%).

However, this week, Sorrell encouraged advertisers to look at measuring engagement rather than time spent - it's time for an "assessment of the statistics, the return on investment and whether it makes sense," he said.

Referring to Meeker's well-known presentations, he added: "A number of people find that analysis too superficial: time spent versus investment. What you should look at is engagement versus investment."

Speaking to MediaWeek, Newsworks CEO Rufus Olins said: "It is good to see Martin acknowledge that the quality of your engagement with media matters, not just the time spent. When you read a newspaper you are fully engaged. It is not something you can pay partial attention to."

Sorrell's comments are both important and timely, not least because his company represents $75 billion in annual billings. The current audience measurement for newspapers and magazines, the National Readership Survey (NRS), is under review, with an aim to move towards a more future-facing system, which accurately represents today's growing multi-platform readership. Current NRS data shows newsbrands reach 44 million people every month across print, PC, mobile phones and tablets (86% of the UK population).

Sorrell's recent comments come on the back of Advertising Week Europe, in which one of strongest themes was the importance of quality content, engaged audiences and trusted brands, with some of adland's senior execs suggesting that, as an industry, we've become too obsessed with the "shiny and new".

"I think in this industry we're naturally attracted to the shiny and the new while underutilising and undervaluing media like TV and newspapers," Abba Newbery, director of advertising strategy at News UK, said in a session about audiences, explaining that what is going to deliver back on clients' investments are the fundamentals that still sit at the heart of media like newspapers, magazines and TV. 

Ella Dolphin, group commercial director at Hearst Magazines, went on to talk about the value of the print experience: "It's about media mindfulness, you actually take some time to read and consume something that's for you." Dolphin said there are misconceptions around so-called traditional media, while the the value of print has increased as audiences are much more engaged and much more appreciative of something that's for them and them alone. 

For more on engagement with newsbrands, see Newsworks' Truly Madly Deeply research and News UK's Planning for print and tablet reading (via Warc) or

by Liz Jaques 27/03/15

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