Newspapers, Conferences and Advertorials -- Brian Jacobs

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This blog comes to you from the WAN-IFRA Digital Media Latinoamerica conference in Bogota. For those that don’t know it, WAN-IFRA is the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. It’s genuinely been fascinating to hear from senior managers, journalists and editors how they see the future of their medium. It makes a refreshing change to hear a perspective different from ad buyers and sellers, to get back to hearing from those who create the medium.

I tend to steer clear of most advertising and media conferences these days. My blogging hero the Adcontrarian commented last week that: “Attending an advertising conference these days is like going to an insurance seminar. It is full of bland, head-nodding jargon-monkeys who are very keen on swallowing whole the conventional blather of smug ‘experts.’ Nobody seems inclined to challenge the wearisome assertions of modern-day wizards, no matter how many times they've been wrong.”

Furthermore there’s a worrying trend for many of these events (certainly in the ad tech world) towards becoming the equivalent of the sponsored advertorial; the people on the platform have bought their slot by agreeing to sponsor the event. This seems to me dishonest as far as the paying customer is concerned. He or she presumably has paid to attend because he or she thinks the organizers have hand-selected the best and most qualified speakers on the topic in question – not that those speaking have paid to speak, even if they are highly qualified.

There are some notable exceptions. Our business, Enreach is a sponsor of the WAN-IFRA event. Certainly we would have loved to blather on about what we do, but it was made clear to us right from the start that wasn’t a benefit of sponsorship. WAN-IFRA selects the speakers to make the conference as good as it can be for their constituents. Then they find sponsors who wish to associate themselves with a quality event attracting senior delegates. They rarely if ever invite supplier organizations to speak, preferring to share experiences from within their own editorial world.

The asi TV and Radio Symposium taking place next week in Venice is another shining exception. The organizers ask previous delegates for input into the program; then they approach the most qualified speakers. The sponsorship conversation is quite a different thing. Surely this is the right way ‘round. I’ll be at that one too; as an active participant, as a delegate keen to learn from those genuinely reshaping the broadcast audience research world, as a blogger, but not as a sponsor.

Meanwhile in Bogota the stand-out speech for me on day one came from Ken Doctor, a media analyst and author (and ex-journalist) who discussed the findings from a major tour he’s recently undertaken meeting with the heads of leading European publishers. He was clear, concise, pragmatic and very well-informed. One of his conclusions was that even those we might consider to be at the leading edge of digital developments, such as Axel Springer and The Guardian, consider themselves far from any answer to the dilemmas facing the industry. On a scale of 1 – 10, Springer marked themselves at 4; The Guardian at 3. Moving in the right direction, informed by experiences and experiments but still a way to go was the message.

The other comment I would make is how little has been said here about advertising. It’s not that the delegates in Bogota don’t consider what we do important (of course they do, as was made clear) but they see their key role as building (rebuilding) a strong newspaper industry through an evolution of their product by those creating it. As we’ve said here before there is still a line between church and state. And long may that be so.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director),Brian Jacobs Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at brian@bjanda.com.

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