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Are You Selling: Space, Clicks, Trust?

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 9:51 PM

Two different perspectives, two different sources.

By William Dunkerley

Two recent headlines hint at the issue of what indeed it is that we as publishers are selling:

"Fake News Could Make Advertising More Believable" --Advertising Age

"Media Companies May No Longer Control Distribution, But They Do Control Trust" --Editor & Publisher

We live in an age where advertisers are intruding into publishers' space and publishers are horning in on business traditionally the territory of ad agencies. Our piece "Dog-Eat-Dog Competitive Picture Takes Shape" last month gives some examples.

But does the Ad Age headline mean that advertisers should move away from publishers and take their messages directly to their prospects? Would that make their ads more believable? Does the E&P head pinpoint "trust" as the supreme asset we publishers have in wardimg off competition from advertisers that set out to do that? And how does that translate into monetization?

Protecting Proprietorship in a Social Media World

The articles' content actually goes in different directions. The E&P item is written by Charles Palmer, deputy editor and head of digital strategy for The Conversation Australia. He elaborates:

"Media companies no longer control the distribution of their content, fewer people are visiting their home pages, ad blockers are destroying their business model, and clickbait is eroding trust in their brands. All this has created a culture of 'us and them' between traditional publishers and social media platform providers."

Palmer observes that many publishers are trying to compete with social media "at a content level." But, as he points out, proprietorship over content is hard to protect these days. He cites that the Internet is "the world's largest copy machine."

"Trust can't be copied," is the essence of Palmer's solution. But his narrative suggests that editors have veered away from that concept. "The voracious appetite for content from social media platforms has influenced editors in the same way that the drive for ever more clicks did."

The business solution The Conversation Australia has found is to eschew advertising and seek sponsorship from philanthropic, governmental, and institutional sources. That may work for this publication, but it would be an obviously problematic strategy for many others.

Competing with Questionable News

Unsurprisingly, the Ad Age piece favors an advertiser-driven model over one of goodwill contributions. But editor-in-chief Rance Crain sees a fly in the ointment. As his headline suggests, it is "fake news." He says:

"The current form it's taking is once more causing big problems for the whole media environment, including advertising and marketing. The combination of digital news feeds, based on algorithms and not journalistic accuracy, and a decimated news force is making fake news a very real rival for consumer's time and attention."

How does that impact advertising? Crain's thesis seems to be that the problem arises when advertisers are undiscriminating in their placement of advertisements and end up being associated with disreputable media offerings. He gives this example:

"The existence of a dossier detailing Trump's alleged interaction with Russia, compiled by a murky UK intelligence figure, was covered by CNN (without going into the actual details of the dossier). BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith defended his decision thusly: 'Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing.' Its criteria: 'explosive, but unverified.' One giant step further than the old newspaper adage 'If it bleeds, it leads'"

Crain advocates that advertisers gravitate to established media brands with demonstrated integrity. That's not a bad formula for advertising success, he says.

In conclusion Crain cites longtime colleague David Klein:

"You want a media brand with decades of experience in chasing stories to put their name behind the publication, and you want that company to believe in publishing the actual sources of their reporting, whether it's people, data, or documents. And you want that media company to be willing to defend and discuss them with readers, and to make whatever corrections are necessary if they do something wrong.

"This is completely not true of the many shadowy, or shall we say 'off-brand,' news distributors that overrun our digital and social Web space."

So, the bottom line for me here is that without "trust" the space and clicks that we sell will have greatly diminished value in the long run.

Build trust. Sell trust.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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