A client's view from the floor: Shift 2014

Matt Stockbridge, analytics manager at Mondelēz Europe, gives his view of the sessions at Newsworks' Shift 2014 conference and shares his enduring thoughts of the day... 

Having headed straight into the British Library, actually getting into Newsworks' Shift 2014 proved a bit of challenge for me. Being a bit of a loose cannon that doesn't play by the rules I decided to wander around for a bit, sure in the knowledge that I would soon happen upon an army of media types heading somewhere purposefully.

After five minutes of fruitless searching I gave in and approached the Information Desk. They sent me straight back outside to the heavily branded and signposted conference centre, which I'd somehow missed.

Before I review the agenda, I must mention the doors. Surely only the British Library would have a sign saying "Touch handle gently and the door will open automatically".

Anyway, once inside I was badged up and well fed before heading into the auditorium. 

Kicking off proceedings was Newsworks' ever capable and reassuring CEO Rufus Olins, although his lack of hair and the strange red glow around him did rather give him the look of one of those James Bond villains that Jaguar are using at the moment.

He showed a beautifully crafted video which emphasised the positive strengths that newsbrands can have and, critically, their influence – which was what the day was all about.

Coming from an organisation which spends millions globally on advertising and being a person who has to try and work out whether the investment is working on not, it was refreshing to see this choice of theme. It's one which other media platforms that we use could also benefit from, to help us make more informed investment choices.

Next up was Jason Seiken, the new editor-in-chief and chief content officer from The Telegraph. The first thing to notice was, that yet again, another folically challenged potential James Bond villain was on stage – however the American accent would lose him that gig.

Initially I was concerned as Jason talked about being a digital 'native', 'disruption leading to better' and 'a culture of failure for success', however he soon very cleverly brought me on board by stressing that at the heart of what The Telegraph does is the brand, what it means and stands for.

Despite the Guardian being positioned very differently to The Telegraph, it was intriguing to hear similar themes continue - keeping true to the values of the brand while embracing new platforms and technologies.

Building from that point, The Telegraph's new model is not to command and control from the top down but to work across touch points to reach their audience more effectively. Basically, that's how brands are supposed to work these days.

Continuing on the Bond theme, he also showed off some incredible filming technology using small remote controlled helicopters or "drones". I'm sure these will live long in the memory of everyone who attended and I'm also sure all the gadget geeks in the audience were wishing they had one to play with.

Next in the hot seat was David Brennan, who has the grand title of insight consultant for Newsworks and has spent over three decades in media research. Having also spent many years working in insights of one sort or other, I was probably the most nervous about this session. However the good news is that according to its latest Truly Madly Deeply research, newsbrands are a hugely effective platform to advertise on.

A special mention should go to filmed respondent Veronica, age 56, who like others in the qual. group was deprived of her newsbrands "fix" for a week. Newsbrands would appear to be her life and there must be a role for her in someone's PR department.

Next up: Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief from Guardian News & Media, who spoke about the influence of investigative journalism. Despite the Guardian being positioned very differently to The Telegraph, it was intriguing to hear similar themes continue - keeping true to the values of the brand while embracing new platforms and technologies.

No one could argue about the risks the Guardian took around their engagement with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. What was interesting about this was that from a purely financial viewpoint, Rusbridger made clear that you wouldn't recommend pursuing these kinds of stories.

However, from the point of view of standing up for your brand values and reinforcing them, this work has been priceless. Why would advertisers not want to associate with brands that do that?

We headed off for coffee with excitement building that some media chap from the Wire and Plastic Products Company was to be interviewed next by Amol Rajan, the editor of the Independent. The session - titled The Other Side of Sir Martin Sorrell - didn't disappoint.

We were soon to discover that making shopping baskets for a living lacked a certain amount of excitement for Martin after he had acquired control of this business and so instead he begun a journey of acquiring media companies over 30 years to becoming on and off, the largest media group in the world. You do wonder back then what the original business plan was before Martin got involved.

Anyway, a clearly moved Amol asked some pertinent questions. He said it was because he had an eye infection but he might have been blinded by Martin's presence. This session covered loss, Jewishness, immigration, Simon Schama and overall provided a privileged and fascinating insight into one of the most influential people in our industry. And it was refreshing to hear that the person with the biggest influence on Sorrell was... his dad.

Newsbrands are genuinely influential and so if their values match your brand, you would be crazy not to work with them

We then had arguably the most useful session of the day where we learned from James Murphy of adam&eveDDB and Tim Pearson of Manning Gottlieb OMD how a serious brand, John Lewis, effectively and cleverly uses newsbrands to support and drive its business.

Here was a superb example of getting the channel mix right for the business objectives. I for one will share these learnings back at my HQ so we can start thinking about better ways of doing things.

The final session was a live pitch for Newsworks' Day of influence competition. The prize was £300,000 worth of space and the chance to reach 20 million people across all UK newsbrands on one day. Shortlisted ideas were presented by three young planners, assessed by a panel of client judges (aka "dragons") and the winner was selected by an audience vote.

It was a real roller coaster of emotions and engagement. On one hand we had the IPG Mediabrands International CEO Jim Hytner as the host, whose energy and use of humour really brought it together. We also had three young, smart and eloquent media agency stars pitching as hard as they could for that day of media support.

And last we had a fearsome panel of client dragons. In fairness the dragons sounded and looked far too friendly compared to their TV counterparts but I didn't envy their task given the quality and passion of the pitches.

The winner was Emma Callaghan of PHD with an uplifting entry that will see Expedia driving tourism to the Philippines.

And so Shift 2014 came to a close and I was left with these enduring thoughts:
1. I really must go to the library more often rather than Amazon
2. Newsbrands are genuinely influential and so if their values match your brand, you would be crazy not to work with them

by Matt Stockbridge 11/04/14

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