Byline Festival Takeaway:  Keep an Open Mind

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Byline Festival Takeaway:  Keep an Open Mind

The best, and most successful people within advertising have always kept an open mind.  They recognize that ideas come from anyone and anywhere, and there is great merit in looking outside our own little circle both at the wider world and at those engaged in other creative endeavours.  Don’t just accept the status quo.  Understand how what you do within your area of expertise fits with everything around you.

I spent the holiday weekend at The Byline Festival listening to panel sessions and interviews.  The topics included the influence that dark money and misusing individuals’ social media data has had on recent elections and referendums, and the issues caused by a lack of regulation around political advertising and indeed social media in general.  Speakers ranged from high profile figures like Carole Cadwalladr, Misha Glenny, Kirsty Laing, Peter Jukes, Peter York, Luke Harding and Gina Miller through to U.K. correspondents from Die Welt, the Greek TV network Hellenic BC, and Le Monde.

There was nobody on stage from the commercial side of the media business (understandably perhaps), nor (shamefully) from management.

As I listened to various speakers I thought back to the days of The Sunday Times under Harry Evans and the support he received from his sales director when the Insight team ran investigative campaigns that upset some of the paper’s advertisers.  Would today’s sales heads behave in the same way (I doubt it)?

What, I wondered, would it take for the agencies today to think a little about issues other than the numbers?  I know the arguments that we should only be about reaching an audience (more ads on Pornhub then), and up to a point I support them, but should it not be part of our role to consider in the round the media that carry our advertisers’ messages?

I learned a lot at Byline.  I did not know that there are now more people employed in PR than there are journalists, nor was I aware that U.K. newspapers are the least trusted in Europe.  I was broadly aware of the pressure journalists are under -- but not to the extent that their lack of numbers means that many are reduced to recycling press releases, generating clicks or being monstered (or blackballed) for not swallowing whole the latest spin from whichever politician.

It was also clear that journalists simply don’t understand why it is that political advertising in this country is not subject to the same creative rules that apply to other forms of advertising.

They have a point.  We seem stuck in our own little bubble.  Within the media end of the ad business we’ve become so locked into the detail, the smaller issues, the gross numbers and the meaningless online metrics that we have lost sight of the bigger picture.

How do people use the media?  How does the media itself influence opinion and behaviours?  How important is editorial integrity, and if it is, what can or should the ad industry do about supporting and promoting it?  How should newspapers be funded in the era of Facebook, Google and the rest?  Can we truly have a free press when politicians and leaders simply bark “fake news” at anything that displeases them and be believed by their supporters?

These are complicated issues.  We should all want to be part of the debate and to discuss whether our industry can play any role in driving change.

Best done with an open mind.

Disclosure:  BJ&A works with Byline Times, sister to the Byline Festival mentioned in this post.

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