News & events

Mediatel Publishers Conference: "Context is everything"

The importance of context was prevalent at Mediatel's Publishers Conference on Tuesday, running through all three sessions, which spanned brand safety, creativity and commercial opportunities.

Brand safety

The trick to overcoming brand safety issues is a magic trio of context, content and a human touch, according to Laricea Ioana Roman-Halliday, head of digital media at The Specialist Works. All three need to work together, she told delegates.

For Zoe Harris, chief marketing officer at GoCompare, context is often ignored in the brand safety debate: "There is an agency obsession with tech tools... it comes down to context and the relationship that readers have with newsbrands; when you rely on tech tools, you're saying that all eyeballs are equal."

Harris told a packed room at the Charlotte Street Hotel that the argument should also extend to include the proven effectiveness of premium contexts. "There is so much evidence that environments can deliver, not only for direct response activity but also for what you're trying to say about your brand," she said.

Brand safety is firmly on the agenda at a board level, largely heightened by reports such as The Times' YouTube investigation, but are we being too cautious and taking a sledgehammer approach?

John Cole, CCO at Ezoic, listed examples such as prostate cancer and relationship advice to demonstrate where some ads could be banned on a keyword basis because systems deem editorial as inappropriate. "These are nuances that you can't put in a tick box," he said.

"Perfectly safe websites can be wiped out because of a keyword - it's not fair on publishers or the audience and creates problems for everyone," Roman-Halliday agreed, arguing that brand profiles or hygiene factors are vital because different environments and content are relevant and appropriate for each client.

For Mark Field, director of News UK's The Bridge Studio, "context is everything", but it hasn't always been considred so in recent years. He believes it all comes down to the human touch, explaining that at News UK a lot of time is spent with advertisers "to check what we're delivering for them across all platforms... ultimately it's about suitability, context, environment and what the client wants to achieve - all of this has to be taken into consideration."

To alleviate brand safety issues, more communication and transparency is key; technology solutions need to be better and more refined; and publishers need to shout loudly about the value of their premium content and context, the panel said.


Mark Elwood, executive creative director at Mullen Lowe, used campaigns including Kettle Chips and Baileys to show off the potential of great print creative: "When you get to a good idea, it's the brutal simplicity of it that makes it jump off the page."

Speaking to Dominic Mills, Elwood cited KFC's 'FCK' campaign as a "brilliant example of putting your hands up", while Facebook's recent attempt looked more like "fear".

A long copy ad could have worked well for Facebook, he said, although he added that long copy ads need to find their pulse again, particularly in a world where people pay less attention. The tactile nature of print really allows you to communicate, he said.

The co-founder of 101 urged the industry not to forget "how good and impactful [the print] medium is... it can inform, entertain, or tell you something different".

Commercial opportunities

There is instability in the industry with issues around viewability, transparency and brand safety - and of course even more uncertainty in politics with Brexit and Trump, which means consumers are turning to newsbrands as their "trusted editorial advisors", said Simon Jenkins, joint chief strategy officer at VCCP Media. "Newsbrands have remained those beacon brands," he said.

Jenkins believes agencies are "looking to buy context", while Vanessa Clifford, CEO of Newsworks, said there has been a clear shift in the industry in the last 18 months towards valuing context as people have "realised that grabbing eyeballs wherever you can doesn't work".

Chris Taylor, chief information officer at The Telegraph, added that publishers are optimistic, with renewed confidence in established newsbrands and a vote for trusted context. He said there is a "definite change in sentiment", which you can see from publishers' recent performance.

"Our planners are talking to clients about newsbrands in a different way to last year," agreed Clare Chapman, head of media planning at Essence. For Chapman, the new audience measurement for publishers, PAMCo, is a game-changer: "PAMCo is going to revolutionise the way we plan newsbrands… it's an ease thing as the media landscape is so much more complicated."

Taylor believes that there has been a return to more of a three-way relationship between publishers, agencies and clients recently, resulting in broader activity rather than a single buy. The industry is moving away from a click-based model and understanding the benefit of partnerships, where measures such as engagement and effectiveness are much more useful.

This comes back to the reader and their habits, says Chapman. "Recently it's all been about audience data and chasing that audience around the internet... we need to get back to really understanding humans," she said.

"[Consumer] needs states are really interesting," Clifford agreed. "It's about suitability of content and messages on different platforms, at different times of the day." Newsworks has research on this here.

Moving on to subscription models, Taylor described why registered users are five times more valuable to The Telegraph: "The quality of engagement goes up markedly, which means we're able to go to market with a much more detailed proposition."

Subscriptions and registrations enable newsbrands to collect useful user data, ensuring better targeting and potential commerce. Publishers also have engaged audiences at scale, both of which are attractive propositions to advertisers. "Ozone [a single sales point for newspapers' digital ad inventory] will help us deliver these trusted, premium environments at scale," Taylor said. "It also includes some bespoke adtech executions, which are designed to ensure that safety, reliability and transparency. That's the big difference."

The panel were confident about the next 12 months, with predictions of an explosion in digital subscriptions, more commercial flexibility, using data more effectively and more spend in newsbrands to come.

You can read Mediatel's write up here.

by Liz Jaques 28/11/18

Want the latest news, opinion and insight on news brands?
Sign up and we'll send you a weekly update.

Sign up here

Get in touch

3rd Floor
3 Marshalsea Road

0203 949 7470


Keep up to date

Please take a minute to answer a few questions on our new website. The feedback you provide will help us make the website easier for you to navigate and ensure you can find the content you’re after. In addition, we’ll enter you in to a prize draw for a £100 Amazon voucher*.

Take Survey Not now Never