Archive for February, 2014

Newspapers and prosperity

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

The business model for newspapers – newsbrands if you like – still troubles the industry.  It remains a subject for debate, despite the fact that the audience that they delivered in the good old days is easily obtained in other media.  Yet, and yet, a desire to see recovery in the sector still permeates the ad industry and beyond into the world of finance.


It occupied a good deal of the afternoon of the recent Enders Deloitte Beyond 2014 conference.  Ashley Highfield CEO of Johnston Press talked about recovery in the regional newsbrand field, through mass localisation and allowing readers to contribute directly to publications web pages on local events.  Mike Darcey, CEO of News International argued that the “relentless focus” on print sales alone is “misleading and myopic”, demanding an industry metric that aggregates and de-duplicates readership across all platforms – print, website, mobile and tablet.


“I want to explain how newspapers can do more than simply survive in the 21st century, they can thrive.”


Whilst there are attempts by several media owners to establish unilateral metrics across platforms, we seem to be a long way from a single metric which will satisfy all media planners, buyers and clients.  I have spoken to advertisers of global importance recently, who are appalled at the stultification of the industry in this respect.


At ABC’s conference this February, Rupert Howell, Trinity Mirror’s group transformation director and chairman of Sunday brands, said journalists “can’t just do words, you have to have video”.  Mark Wood, chief executive of Future, added media owners need quality content to attract and retain audiences.  Well of course.  Personally I don’t like to start the week without the Sunday Times take on business and culture and in fact the relative resilience of its print circulation often passes unnoticed and unremarked when the chronic spiral downwards of other titles circulation are discussed.


Newspapers have a long heritage. They were invented in the 17th century by Johan Carolus who proposed turning his weekly newsletters into print if his local council in Strasbourg would give him a monopoly.    There was a business proposition built into the birth of the medium.    A more robust one in fact than that which emerged in the late 20th Century when newspapers gave their product away online, yet still hoped to sell print copies too.


Early modern Europeans were famous for their appetite for news.  Most of it however they received for free, from neighbours, family or in town squares.  At the start the idea that a wide public would pay for a sophisticated news service seemed unlikely.  Early newspapers relied on the state to survive.  Two factors changed their fortune.  First, rising prosperity, which meant that people had money to spend on non-essential items.  We can hope that the recovery in the economic climate can help the medium, but it would be significantly better if there was clear and transparent industry cross platform, indeed cross media, data to feed our econometric models to prove the worth of the medium.  The second factor was social cachet. Andrew Pettegree comments that the eighteenth century Somerset squire might not know why the Duke of Brunswick was gathering troops, or even where Brunswick was, but to be offered this information was to be admitted into the previously closed world of the politically informed. “For the status it conveyed, rather like wearing a sword or riding in a carriage, the cost of the subscription was money well spent.”


Traditional newsbrands seem to have lost some of this social aspiration cachet to other media. To media that facilitate drinking games, and trolling.  This is a big mistake for newsbrands and as problematic to the business issue as the research issue is.  The status can and must be reclaimed – with wit, with quality relevant content and with strategic investment in the brands.





You are what you are adserved.

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

We all know that a postcode can seriously affect the price of property.  Proximity to a good state school means some postcodes have seriously inflated prices.


We know too about the various “postcode lotteries”, which can influence health and of course likelihood to be a crime victim.  If you live on the “wrong” side of the Finchley Road you can wipe a million quid off the value of a property that looks identical to one on the “right” side.


The visibility of the postcode makes a big difference to those with status anxiety which leads some to lobby furiously for change.  One group living in Windsor and Maidenhead are petitioning to swap the SL in their postcodes for WM in order to distance themselves from any association with Slough.


According to residents of Whitton, a town in the leafy and affluent borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames, are angry that their TW3 postcode classes them in the neighbouring, more deprived borough of Hounslow.


They say that this affects everything from house prices to insurance premiums and have petitioned the Royal Mail to change it.


Kim Tasso, 53, said: “My daughter goes to a Richmond school, we pay council tax to Richmond council, the police consider us a Richmond address, yet when I put ‘Whitton’ as my address my post arrives  two days late, with ‘Whitton’ crossed out by the Post Office and ‘Hounslow’ written in its place…..Either we should be called Hounslow and pay our rates to Hounslow borough council, or keep paying the higher Richmond rates and be able to call ourselves Richmond.”


Can you imagine the uproar in the area once those residents are shown different TV adverts to the people living in Richmond too?  New targeting systems will allow different copy to run in different households depending on their socio-economic data based on real purchase habits.  Should one share a postcode with people who buy a lot of samphire for instance, one can expect a different class of copy from those who share a postcode with people who sustain themselves with pop tarts and pot noodles.


We must applaud the potential for better targeting effectiveness, less wastage and the ability to encourage new brands onto TV that these targeting systems will provide.


This targeted approach on TV will concern people more, once it takes hold, than similar targeting that already exists in other media.  No-one takes the ads they get served online too seriously.  If we notice erectile dysfunction ads or the ladies equivalent of drastic cosmetic surgery we can laugh them off.


Outdoor doesn’t ghettoise you either as any local targeting is offset by travel catchment areas and commuter routes which means that quite downbeat areas are graced by huge posters targeted at commuters sweeping through in limousines.


Ads on TV are another thing again.  Which kinds of ads you see on TV will become a talking point, from stand up comedians to school gate chatter.


SL postcode deniers will have a new worry – what TV ads they see.  Could the presence of, or lack of an advert featuring Heston lead to swings in house prices?  In the future, you are what you are ad served.



Would you have sacked Kevin Pietersen?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

“I bet Kevin Pietersen can’t believe he’s been kicked out of Kevin Pietersen’s All Star XI.” @mattwhatsit on Twitter


The cricket pundits are nicely split over the career of KP this weekend.


Hugh “the voice of sport” McIlvanney writing in the Sunday Times says he “should have been permanently banished in 2012”. He goes on to say that whilst some will be of the opinion that talent should always be accommodated, KP’s “disruptive disloyalty” and “career-long indictment of offences against the team ethic” make him unusable for England’s finest.


On the other hand Emma John writing in The Observer says all true England fans will regret his departure explaining that “We’re infuriated that he’s gone, angry at another incomprehensible management decision, one which seems to make even less sense in the wake of Andy Flower’s departure and the ECB’s desperately clingy attitude towards Alastair Cook. We’re losing the England batsman whose presence in the side offered the promise of an explosive, match-changing innings in the most pessimistic of fans’ hearts, no matter the circumstances. No one ever regretted seeing Kevin Pietersen walk to the wicket.”


Anthony Andrew in the same organ regrets the fact that, in any national sport, England can’t deal with mavericks, citing Paul Gascoigne and Danny Cipriani as similar examples of troubled brilliance.


I know even less about cricket than football.  This week I’m more excited about snowboarding in Sochi than the glorious sound of willow on leather.  I do have some thoughts about strategy and teams though to offer.


It’s is true that a good team with great team spirit will prevail in a contest over a team with more talented individual stars who do not gel as a team.  For this reason alone you would be tempted to take the Sunday Times point of view.


There is another point of view which is that a winning strategy in a contest needs the element of surprise.  Let’s go back to the bible.  To the Old Testament.  To the first great strategic upset in battle.  Surprise was crucial when David defeated Goliath.  You may not remember that David’s King Saul offered him proper equipment for the fight when he volunteered to take Goliath’s challenge after the whole proper army (David was just an errand runner) had repeatedly turned done the Philistine’s challenge. A suit of armour and a sword to stand against the giant.  David turned this down and stepped out armed only with a sling shot.  David’s strategy relied on the element of surprise and Goliath not taking him seriously at first sight.  There’s a big lesson in this for us all.  If you can’t overpower the enemy with brute force, try the unexpected.


When team leaders sack the maverick and give priority to team spirit over genius they play into the hands of the competition.  They settle for the reassurance of conformity and perhaps the more predictable.  They insist that individualism is sublimated to the prevailing culture.  It is the erratic performance of the KPs of the world that can give your side the extra edge from a combination of greatness on a good day, but unpredictability even on an average day. A great team selector will ensure that the team spirit grows to embrace the maverick rather than shun brilliance.



“The strategy is delivery”

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

This is the mantra of the Government Digital Service, the team charged with digital transformation of government service provision.  If you’ve recently used any site and been pleasantly surprised at the ease and simplicity of the transaction then this is the team, led by Mike Bracken, under the auspices of Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude, that is responsible.  You can find out more about this very impressive transformation here .


Their task is a massive one and last week marked the half way point of the 400 day journey.  At Sprint 14, the big get together to mark the half way point, we saw many new improved sites.  Registering for PAYE, applying for Visas and booking prison visits all were demo’d by government representatives.


Martha Lane Fox, whose report in 2010, on the old status started the whole effort, made a rousing speech thanking everyone for their work. She explained that the ambition for the enterprise, to make government more open and accessible for, all matches Tim Berners Lee’s original vision for the www. She pointed out that the task has now reached a critical mass scale.  Which meant that, as with all such efforts, professionalism and hard work tend to overtake the chaotic frenzy of start ups.  She said : “people say to me, it’s just not the same anymore, you don’t stand on a desk shouting!…. No, it’s grown up, it’s really creating change at scale.”


As to the strategy, it is fair to say that the most crucial part of any strategy is execution, or delivery.  There’s really not much point otherwise, which means that the most important job of any strategist is delivery.  The strategist’s role does not, cannot, stop at design.  It’s crucial to maintain real progress.  Strategy means not just doing the next thing that demands your attention.  It means looking up from the “urgent” and considering the “important”.


The real heart of the Government Digital Strategy is to put users at the heart of design.  Francis Maude commented last week that “this seems obvious, but is easily forgotten”.  So the “strategy is delivery” means delivery against the user experience.


This is as true for media as it is for the GDS.  Delivery is everything, and the user journey is the heart.