News & Opinion

The Guardian Changing Media Summit 2015

Digital disruption, context, native advertising and programmatic set the agenda at the Guardian's Changing Media Summit this week.

On its 10th birthday the summit relocated from Kings Place to gather at a subterranean venue in Holborn, leading to compere Rory Cellan Jones quipping that it "feels like we're survivors of the digital revolution". With charismatic speakers, engaging discussions and some pretty delicious cookies, day one revolved around some interesting and relevant topics…

"We're poised to capitalise on digital disruption"

Opening the day, David Pemsel, deputy chief executive of Guardian News and Media, laid out the over-arching theme of the event, saying: "For hundreds of years newspapers largely remained the same… in the last 10 years everything has changed… 10 years ago in 2005 we were the ninth largest newspaper, out of nine, so we were also the smallest… Today we're one of two biggest news organisations in the world."

While Pemsel admits that the term 'digital disruption' has a scary ring to it, he feels that the Guardian stands "poised to capitalise on disruption", supported by the fact that half of its traffic comes from mobile, it is the most shared UK newsbrand on Twitter (other than the BBC) and it has global reach, with two out of three of its readers coming from outside the UK.

Later, in a panel discussion focusing on "seismic shifts across the media landscape" in the past decade, Pemsel said that as an organisation the Guardian is "dealing with the ambiguity" of digital disruption and articulated its aim to "create influence in every sphere, every platform and every social space". An example of this, Guardian Membership, Pemsel described as a 10 year plan - "We can make an investment and play it long."

Addressing what's been a challenge for the newsbrand, Pemsel said that getting the balance between editorial, commercial and product development has been a big cultural shift, but also emphasised that among the disruption the Guardian continues to be a trusted news organisation -"people feel warmth towards".

More generally, Pemsel's fellow panellist Ashley Highfield of Johnston Press, believes that despite the digital disruption of recent years print will continue to be around for many more to come as "it differentiates us from the noise".

"If content is king, context is god"

Continuing the focus on the past decade, CEO of VaynerMedia Gary Vaynerchuck opened his energetic and engaging talk by saying that "most of the things we talk and obsess about have only been around for ten years… we're in the dawn".

In our "very noisy world", Vaynerchuck believes that "we have to stop having a conversation about width" and instead focus on the context of ads and the depth of engagement people have with them.

His advice for brands to break-through the noise is to engage with technological developments very quickly and to "respect the room you're storytelling in… if content is king, context is god".

As a result, when it comes to programmatic advertising Vaynerchuck dissuades his clients from using it "because I can't control that context".

On the other side of the programmatic debate, Michael Rubbenstein from AppNexus later took to the stage to highlight why publishers and brands should embrace it, saying that in two to three years we won't be talking about programmatic because it'll just be the standard way of buying and selling ads.

In his view, programmatic will allow publishers to channel money into content creation and the technology will result in "more alliances between companies that would have seen each other as competitors"; demonstrated by Pemsel's announcement of the Pangaea Alliance earlier in the morning.

"The perfect confluence between publisher, advertiser and consumer"

If programmatic is the latest media buzzword, then native advertising is a close second and the subject was thoroughly explored by a panel including Guardian Labs' Anna Watkins and The Newsroom's Tiffanie Darke.

Watkins said that native advertising can be a "dirty word at the Guardian – at its best it's branded content that adds value, at its worst it's poor quality creative hoodwinking readers".

Darke added that it's "a piece of advertising which understands the platform it is on and the content it is around", while Maxus UK's Nick Baughan articulated it as "the perfect confluence between publisher, advertiser and consumer".

Measurement was a key point to emerge from the discussion, with Watkins, Darke and Baughan all drawing attention to the need for ROI data, which takes into account "the value of engagement".

Likewise, labelling was a dominant topic. Watkins outlined the difference between sponsored content and advertisement feature content at the Guardian, to which Darke replied that there are similar labels at News UK "but the wording isn't the same which is where confusion arises." For the clarity of the reader Darke said it would be "lovely" to have universal labels.

Maintaining a focus on the reader, Baughan believes that all native ads "should take into account the consumer" whether it is to entertain or inform, while Darke explained that an innate understanding of the News UK audience informs who The Times and The Sun do native advertising with.

Overall, the Guardian's Changing Media Summit was a thought-provoking day, which left me considering how different the first event must have been back in 2005 and wondering what on earth will be setting the agenda in 2025.

by Jessie Sampson 20/03/15

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