January 21, 2016

Creating Value For Content Brands

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Paul Rossi, President of The Economist Group, was a recent guest on the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series. In this episode, we discuss the current state of the magazine, the growth of content platforms, and the importance of brand collaboration.

Below are Paul’s biggest insights from the conversation.

  1. I don’t think we’re seeing a resurgence in print per se.

The challenge is people consuming digitally on mobile devices are increasingly watching video and increasingly sharing and receiving content. Those trends are continuing. They won’t go backwards. I don’t think we’re seeing what everyone wants to believe is a resurgence is print. What we are seeing is the value in magazine brands and content brands. Basically consumers are still turning to brands that give value and brands that they can trust.

If you were an Economist reader in print today, you could listen to us, watch us, read us on your phone, your Facebook, follow us on Twitter, all of those things just increase the opportunity for people to engage with us. It’s taken engagement deeper. We find a lot of people who used to read us weekly now read us daily. It’s allowed us to reach a lot of our audiences we wouldn’t able have been to reach with a weekly magazine and paid product you’d have to go and find.

  1. There’s a sense that magazine brands are at an all time high in terms of strength.

That will continue as consumers turn to brands they value. What technology has allowed is them to find content, brands, have deep relationships with brands in an easier way than may have been true a few years ago. There’s a lot of pure play online businesses that recognize in order to build engagement and loyalty and add value to their customers, they need something besides the website, an app, or tweet. That’s why you’re seeing print magazines becoming part of the media mix.

There are lots of examples of online businesses looking at print as a way to distribute content and build relationships. You get a slight maturing of online businesses when you think how they reach their audiences. Print plays a part in that. A lot of online businesses recognize that being a pure play in an online business is challenging. There’s a couple of fantastic examples, Amazon has opened a real physical bookstore. That’s an example of you’ve got to move just beyond being a pure power business. Look in the retail space, Warby Parker is online but also has shops. There’s a realization that you need some other element in the mix if you want to build a meaningful brand beyond just an online product.

  1. We should be talking about rebellion instead of technology and disruption.

You’re starting to see consumers rebel against advertising. They’re fed up with ads that add no value to the media they’re consuming. The rise of ad blocking is only going in one direction. That’s because ad blockers work, they create a better experience, be that on your phone or desktop.

There’s a rebellion against advertising that’s driving this ad blocking trend. There’s also somewhat of a rebellion against choice. Look at people cutting the cord on cable. They’re saying they don’t want all this other stuff, they want the stuff they want when they want it. Those trends will just continue over time. What that does is it shakes out a lot of the startups that are ad dependent online media startups that basically have aggregated audience on mass with average content in many cases with the goal of selling advertising to that audience.

  1. In the next few years you’ll see a consolidation around the adtech industry.

There will also be the consolidation and/or disappearance around a number of ad supported websites that have basically sprung up over the past few years that have capitalized on the transition to digital.

I think the magazine landscape will look slightly different. There will be some that disappear over time because the model won’t sustain them. I do generally believe the big magazine media brands will be around in 5 years time. You will probably see a bigger role in terms of platforms like the Snapchats and Facebook in terms of distribution of content but the brands will be at the core of that.

  1. Snapchat is experiencing the “tragedy of the commons.”

The tragedy of the commons says that if you have a shared resource that everyone uses it has less utility and I think there’s a real possibility that some of these platforms are overwhelmed because basically now you’ve got 500 brands all competing and the utility and value the consumer likes initially is somewhat lost.

  1. As these things explode, does the value for a reader actually change?

In terms of reaching people, it will actually get more difficult but in reality what that means is it will get more expensive. The thought that there’s actually viral video is a lovely thought but if you look at all the big trending bits of video that are “viral,” they’re all largely supported by advertising spend. This idea of reaching audiences, there is much more opportunity and many more channels and more interesting ways of doing it. At the end of the day it just gets more and more expensive. That’s the thing marketers are waking up to.

  1. Partnership involves two brands working together for a greater purpose.

We did a fantastic project with Chevron where we built a simulation of a city you could power with various sources of energy. It was designed to help people better understand various new sources of energy as the conversation around climate change was developing. That’s an example of a great partnership. It was something they wanted to do, something we wanted to do, and in terms of the user, there was a clear utility and value. We were helping them understand something complicated. That’s what The Economist does on a daily basis. 


Paul Rossi is a member of the jury panel for 4A’s esteemed Partner Awards, which recognize brand partnerships that demonstrate “creative excellence achieved through meaningful collaboration.” The 2016 winners will be announced at 4A’s Transformation Conference in March. Click here to learn more about the 4A’s Partner Awards or register for the conference.