Hewat: We Have Never Seen So Much Attention Around Our Journalism

Publishers have never seen so much attention paid to their journalism by the public who are seeking out news and information about the coronavirus pandemic in huge numbers, the Guardian’s commercial director Nick Hewat told an audience of advertisers and agencies today. 

Speaking at Mediatel’s Future of Media Trading on a panel at about Knowing Your Audience, Guardian commercial director Nick Hewat discussed how publishers and advertisers need to adapt to technology shifts and how premium publishers compete against the walled gardens in delivering a desirable audience to buyers.

Speaking earlier today, Mr Hewat said: “Like so many media owners you are seeing really big changes going on in terms of consumption. We have never seen so much human attention aggregated around our journalism. I think coronavirus is now numbers one through to 40 in our top traffic days of all time. That beats Trump, that beats Brexit, that beats the EU referendum. It is the world’s biggest search term ever and yet we have really been unsuccessful in monetising it.

“Why’s that? The advertisers who are active are nowhere near as big as the whole categories who have disappeared. There’s no cars, there’s no fashion, there’s no travel. On top of that demand issue you’ve got brand safety blocking of coronavirus content which has increased enormously.”

Asked whether premium publishers can compete against the tech platforms in delivering a desirable audience for buyers at scale, he said: “We treat everything online the same when it isn’t. The walled gardens are always going to have the best audience data and they have done a brilliant job in persuading advertisers that that is what digital marketing is all about. But it is more subtle than that, and there are very different players across the digital ecosystem.

“Take us as quality publishers. What do we have and what is unique to us online? Firstly, professionally curated quality content and secondly deep human engagement. That comes with practise and trust and publishers like us have nearly two hundred years of it.”

He continued: “If you want a share of consumers’ attention and if you want to try and build a brand and not just be online but understand where consumers are moving to – they are moving online – go to publishers. How do you build a brand? Publishers can help.”

In response to being asked what a technology partner could do to help publishers realise as much value from their audience as possible, Mr Hewat said: “I’d like the advertising industry to recognise the different role that everything online plays. We’re only going to spend more time online- the roll out of 5G will only accelerate that. There has never been a greater disparity of media consumption between older and younger audiences.

“That disparity is digital. Younger audiences, 73 per cent of their media time is spent on digital, older audiences it is 50 per cent. So, for me, the frustration is the advertising community boils everything online down to really simplistic, ‘it’s all performance advertising.’ That’s the mindset and I think that’s a huge mistake.

“Therefore, my single wish is for technology to help demonstrate the value of human attention to advertising to help people understand the role of a publisher online – how often the purchase journey starts with the journalism. I want to see measurement that actually values advertising online in the right way.”

In an earlier panel session on programmatic supply chains and transparency, Phil Smith, ISBA chief executive, discussed  their report on the programmatic ad market. The report found that publishers receive just half of advertiser spend in the programmatic supply chain with 15 per cent of spend disappearing into a black hole.   

Mr Smith said: “We know the industry can’t continue in this way. We’d like to see the industry come together and agree to the standardisation of formatting, of storage and transfer of data in a way that allows this kind of audit to become standard practice. It just seems to us completely unacceptable that large advertisers and publishers, buyers and sellers, can’t see through their own supply chains.”

When asked what publishers could expect to receive once the supply chain was cleaned up, Mr Smith said: “I don’t know what a fair figure would be. I’m not well qualified to give a number there. But it does seem to me that, firstly, it is difficult to generalise, not all publishers are the same. But secondly it is very hard to see how you sustain original journalism and premium publishers on the basis of 51p in the pound.

“And you certainly hope that as you look through the supply chain, as it is meant to operate, there is more that should be available for publishers based on the current contractual arrangements.”