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PPA Festival 2018: Key Takeaways

Facing unprecedented disruption and fierce headwinds, it was refreshing to see that the publishing industry hasn’t lost its sense of humour.

A panelist at the PPA Festival 2018 in London’s Tobacco Dock, Hearst UK’s CEO James Wildman was asked, “Given that publishers don’t have bags of money to throw around, what would be the one thing you’d invest in right now?”

Looking squarely at the moderator, Campaign’s Global Editor Claire Beale, Wildman replied, “Well, Hearst does have bags of money to throw around, that’s one of the pleasures of working there!”

The laughter that echoed around the stark cavernous halls of Tobacco Dock captured perfectly the impish humour and overriding sense of optimism prevalent at yesterday’s PPA Festival, the fifth and by far the largest to date.

If the presentations were any guide, the optimism isn’t misplaced either. Last year there were 400 media launches and whilst print sales are falling, there are signs that they are finding their floor. Indeed, Immediate Media’s CEO Tom Bureau stated that print was a “growing platform for our company”.

In a deeply informative morning session, Sue Todd of Magnetic (the marketing agency for magazine media), stated that traditional media is undervalued and presented a slew of stats to show how ad agency media buyers and planners are unwittingly biased towards tech platforms, following fads and fashions rather than looking at what the ROI and hard data is showing. On that level, traditional media is more than holding its own.

Here are some of the other key ‘at a glance’ takeaways from the PPA Festival 2018:

  1. In the opening lecture, Centaur Media’s CEO Andria Vidler described how tech is changing quicker than organisations, so agility and flexibility are now paramount. She used the example of Blackberry as a company that didn’t disrupt quickly enough, with the end result that it became disrupted itself. Her session could be summed up by the line, “disrupt or be disrupted“.
  2. Giving the media agency’s view, Chief Strategy Officer for PHD Media, Mike Florence, said, “Our job as a media planner is to connect a person with a brand for the best possible price, but we’ve replaced ‘connection’ with ‘eyeballs’…….that’s not connection.” He added that at PHD Media “everyone’s a planner now” and that the old siloes of buyers and planning had disappeared.
  3. The subject of connection was taken further by Richard Shotton, author of best-seller The Choice Factory, who when discussing how agency buyers were biased towards new tech said, “hard data will not be enough by itself to convince media buyers to choose legacy media” and made an impassioned call for legacy media owners to build more than a “logical case” and instead try to reach them “emotionally, like the best advertising does”. In short, use the advertising industry’s own tactics. Over to you Magnetic.
  4. The relentless search for hard data also came under Shotton’s microscope. He remarked that only looking at hard data makes it harder for companies to innovate because “innovation doesn’t come from hard numbers” and actually restricts ‘out of the box’ thinking.
  5. Speaking at the “All Together Now” panel session, Immediate Media’s CEO Tom Bureau spoke about his desire to take his company from 3-4% growth to 8-9% growth. Bureau said that he focused on reader value and, whichever publishing vertical they were in, they strived to “get to the heart of where the value is in that sector” by leveraging their platforms and connections.
  6. Bureau added that Immediate Media only makes 15% revenue from advertising and whilst that was on “the low side”, it offered hugely valuable data and insights which they use “across the company”.
  7. Bureau also stated that, “we’re going through a digital industrial revolution and we’re facing huge forces” before adding, “you can only judge the publishing landscape in real time and not in hindsight.”
  8. On the same panel, Hearst UK’s CEO James Wildman was asked how “Hearst see themselves?” His reply made an impact on the assembled publishers by stating, “We are a content and experience business that helps people to get the most out of life…..we bring positivity to people’s lives.” Wildman added that “things are changing for the better” and “it’s an amazing moment in time”. In his view, publishers were a beacon of positivity in a deeply disrupted world saying, “IT IS OUR TIME”.
  9. Bauer Media’s Rob Munro-Hall agreed with the panel’s optimistic assessment, stating that all the focus groups he’s attended have underlined how much desire there is for print as well as digital. In his view it was all about “getting the product right“. He used the example of a new title Bauer are launching called ‘Simply You’, a magazine aimed at older women’s real lives.
  10. Head of Amazon Alexa UK, Meryem Tom, urged publishers not to ignore the voice revolution and stated that Amazon was collaborating with publishers as much as it could. She added that there would be 200 bn voice searches by 2020 (currently 12 bn per year), and Amazon estimates this will generate $11 bn in ecommerce by 2021.
  11. Whilst imploring publishers to get involved in voice, citing Alexa podcasts as a particularly powerful channel suited to the medium, Meryem Tom served warning that publishers should only get involved with voice if the experience was a step up, “if voice isn’t better, don’t do it”. She also stated that to do voice properly, publishers needed to work backwards from the “customer first” and “not bring a product to market that is looking for a customer”.

  1. The next gen of voice devices will be like Echo Spot where users “can glance at visual content as they move around their house”.
  2. Whilst print sales have sagged in recent years, print is still selling. WNIP sat beside Sharon Thompson, Production Director of Immediate Media, who produces the UK’s largest selling title by subscription, the Radio Times. She prints 800,000 copies weekly and stated that her biggest problem was the challenge of soaring paper costs and the closure of paper mills. Of particular concern was that the industry capacity for wood-free papers was being “taken out”. And as she remarked, “people still want printed product”.

Overall, the PPA Festival 2018 was a notable success and superbly organised in a venue that allowed for plenty of networking and discussion. The general consensus was cautious optimism and the view that if publishers could embrace disruption, they could also take advantage of it.

The last word, perhaps, should go to Bauer Media’s Rob Munro-Hall who simply said, “this is the most exciting time we’ve ever lived through in modern media.”



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