Shift 2018 reports & presentations

Views from the floor at Shift 2018

Read what British Heart Foundation's Rosemary Brown, m/SIX's Yang Bo, Nationwide's Will Booth, Starcom's Amy Kean, GroupM's Adam Smith and PHD's Demi Abiola took away from Newsworks' sixth annual conference.

On Tuesday 27 February, marketers, publishers and planners gathered at the British Museum for Newsworks' 2018 Shift conference. Sessions covered the role of behavioural science in marketing, the City's view on short-termism and whether we as an industry are neglecting the importance of context.

Here's what delegates took away from the morning:

Rosemary Brown


Rosemary Brown

senior marketing manager
British Heart Foundation

It was worth going to Shift 2018 just for the chance to visit the British Museum AND be able to say that you are working. On the way to the loos (in Africa) I discovered that the ancient Chinese were amazingly adept at carving jade in Neolithic times...

My highlights of an info-packed morning include:

  • Manning Gottlieb OMD’s Richard Shotton’s fab application of behavioural psychology to advertising. He gave an insight into how unconscious consumer biases work and how you can use them to bend innocent consumers to your will. AND we got a free copy of his book, which looks very good

  • The panel session, which covered putting the 'where' back into planning. It got more interesting when they discussed short-termism v long-term strategy

  • RIGHT Thinking’s Dave Birss who told us that our brains are smaller than they used to be - we are outsourcing our thinking to technology and need to use it or we'll lose it. What else? Alcohol fuelled idea sessions have been scientifically proven to create more and better ideas. Brainstorms suck. We need time to think deeply. And never, ever lend him your mobile phone!

  • The four examples of a new generation of journalists were impressive, as was the *ahem* slightly older John Crace, who talked us through the rich vein of material that Brexit and the Conservatives have afforded him over the last four years

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Amy Kean

global head of strategic innovation

Amy Kean

In this current climate of grey and stormy digital backlash, Newsworks’ Shift 2018 conference was a breath of fresh air. Across a morning of (60% female!) panels and speeches we learned that creativity is alive and kicking, newsbrands are getting serious on Snapchat and Theresa May may not be a real robot, but it’s very funny to call her one. 

The focus of the day – for me – was how we can make planning the industry art it once was. The term ‘strategy’ can be subjective. Sometimes when people talk about ‘strategy’ what they really mean is ‘planning’, and sometimes when they talk about ‘planning’, what they really mean is ‘putting some things in some spaces’ or at its worst: ‘pressing a button.’ Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but the general consensus is that over the last few years as an industry we’ve been somewhat reliant on programmatic as an effective, audience-first approach, while thoughtful planning has taken a back seat. Favouring bid models over beautiful hand-picked spaces. 

Starcom’s Eva Grimmett suggested in an excellent panel on the ‘where’ of media planning that marketers have become so obsessed with the right time that they’ve forgotten that the right place can elicit a far more positive response in the audience. Now is the time for change, she believes, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the industry concurs. 

Hotelplan UK’s Louise Newton had a further positive perspective for the wider industry. As spend in digital has been slightly scaled back over the last 12 months, she’s noted a resurgence in news brand-building, especially within the supplements. And Wavemaker’s David Graham, former digital lead both client-side at Coca-Cola and agency-side for the Havas Group, said that until recently planners have been almost apologetic about proposing print and TV on a plan. However the tide is turning, Graham says, and we’re starting to see genuinely confident, multi-channel, integrated plans on the horizon.

Perhaps the problem is that in the last 10 or 20 years we’ve been planning medium-first, not behaviour first? Richard Shotton’s excellent presentation on behavioural science reminded us that no matter how complicated technology becomes, people will always behave in patterns, they cling to social groups, they develop uniform psychosocial rationalisation techniques and you know what? Clever people have been studying all this for centuries! People are more addicted to mobile phones these days, sure, but the fundamentals of human behavior have not changed. So, as long as planning remains focused on human patterns and not cost or speed as a primary consideration, the media industry has a very bright future indeed, and I hope to see the shift very soon.

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Yang Bo


Yang Bo

strategy director

Another fantastic event hosted by Newsworks, bringing together different opinions in the national news industry. The focus on what short-termism means for our industry hugely resonated, along with the challenges we face currently.

It was particularly interesting to hear the view of Catherine O’Neill from Citi on why marketing is increasingly focused on driving short-term results and how it could have detrimental effects in the future. The need to start reframing what we measure and agreeing those measurements with ultimate stakeholders is clearly key for brands to survive in the long term. Great to hear that even the numbers guys in the City have agreed that it pays back more to support bigger brands. Perhaps the start of a turning point for what and how advertising is deployed.

Another highlight for me was Richard Shotton’s very engaging talk on the science and psychology behind consumer choice. As a strategist, I love a story that gets to the heart of why we humans behave as we do and how there are often no rational reasons for our behaviours! In an increasingly automated world, it was refreshing to be reminded that sometimes the act of going back to fundamental human behaviours can make a real change.

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Adam Smith

futures director

Adam Smith

We are agents, but not ciphers. We are, as Wavemaker’s David Graham remarked, strategists whose job is to help our clients manage risk. Manage means right size, not minimise. Starcom’s Eva Grimmett prefers ‘appropriate’ to ‘safe’. ‘Manage’ and ‘appropriate’ reveal a world not of black-and-white, but shades of grey. Not binary, but analogue. I took a similar message from Richard Shotton: amid human caprice, we seek in vain for immutable truths, so let us not waste time so doing. 

Catherine O’Neill argued inconveniently that short-termism shows every sign of prevailing long-term: a variant of the cliché than change is the only constant. Resistance is futile. It is just one more thing to add to our risk register.

The panel in the first session aimed to put the ‘where’ back into planning: a call to restore ‘neutrality’ or ‘agnosticism’ or whatever the present label is. Vanessa Clifford, Newsworks’ CEO, rightly urged us to abandon fixating on whether the ‘where’ is paper or screen. Another ‘where’ is the mind of the consumer: it is here brands assume shape and meaning. Everything else is therefore proxies in service to this, which we prioritise on circumstantial evidence that will never be complete. We could and should make it as complete as we can, though it will always remain an aid to thought, not a substitute for.

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Will Booth


William Booth

assistant manager, media team

Newsworks’ 2018 Shift event was focused on putting the ‘where’ back into media planning. In her introduction, CEO Vanessa Clifford raised a thought provoking scenario: she said that if she'd read a good book, the first question wouldn’t be to ask what format the book was in. This essentially distilled the whole offline/online argument down to the quality of the content. This sounds simple but I think that it is a key point, which is often overlooked in the hubbub of the media planning stage.

The first speaker, Catherine O’Neill from Citi, highlighted the effects of focusing on short-term financial results and operating a zero-based budget. Where brand spend is seen as an additional cost on product sales, companies are not as profitable in the long-term compared to long-term orientated firms. She also said that investors are now starting to be more concerned about online marketing as its effectiveness is at times hard to substantiate.

The common theme of the event was that there is a growing need to appreciate where your brand is being seen online. Ensuring that our advertising is seen in the right context is vital and it is clear that brands must strive towards purchasing ‘premium quality’ digital media space in the same way that we would with traditional print.

It might be more ‘efficient’ and cheaper to purchase the recommended online media space, however, besides being lazy, this approach does not take context into account and potentially places a brand’s advert in an unsafe, low quality environment. In other words, not all digital media is the same, thus making like for like cost comparisons between media owners even harder.

Newsworks and GroupM are currently researching the impact of context on the effectiveness of display advertising and early results show that there is a strong correlation between advert engagement and recall when a display advert is shown in a ‘quality’ context as opposed to a normal context.

The problem is that the growing fragmentation of media channels makes due diligence harder for brands to achieve. Every growth of advertising opportunities also present new threats that we may not have anticipated. This is how newsbrands can help advertisers, by providing them with access to trusted media owners, regardless of format.

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Demi Abiola

publishing director

Demi Abiola

Shift 6.0 has once again reinforced the importance of newsbrands in curating and disseminating information for society’s benefit, while providing unrivalled commentary and setting the cultural agenda.

Newsbrands’ key virtues of effectiveness, engagement, influence and trust continue to show that they remain a powerful medium in a multi-channel world, in which we are increasingly shifting towards understanding the importance of context.

The serendipitous timing of Shift is apt as there continues to be discussion about brand safety, metrics and fraud within the digital sphere and the implications this has for brands – most recently highlighted by Unilever’s Keith Weed.

The “where” is resonating and gaining importance with brands. Louise Newton from Hotelplan UK demonstrated this in regard to the travel business, which she believes is seeing a shift away from digital and towards more contextual based advertising.

In addition, newsbrands continue to play a vital part in Britain’s cultural zeitgeist. Vanessa Clifford, Newsworks’ CEO, touched on this in her opening remark’s with reference to the Daily Mirror’s campaign on changing organ law donation.

Meanwhile, short-termism was addressed by two of the speakers - Catherine O Neill and Richard Shotton.

Catherine summarised empirical evidence (particularly since 2014) that shows that cuts to brand investment actually damage market share and further exacerbate business declines - whereas continuing spend on brand support helps continued growth. However short-termism is not going away and marrying the short and long-term is important.

Richard illustrated the affect anchoring can have on human behaviour by showing us the greatest trick a brand has ever pulled, citing De Beers’ example of a suggested month’s salary for an engagement ring and associating the durability of love on that basis.

We are setting ourselves short-term targets and delivering against them, however are we feeding it using the metrics on offer? It may not be helping with the underlying issue of long-term growth. We certainly don’t want to start releasing more Cobra’s into the wild…

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