The explosion in internet communication means that messages are created and spread faster than ever before. It also means that markets and trends are liable to change faster than at any previous time.
In addition, as marketing and PR functions edge ever closer together, brands are realising that simply ‘broadcasting’ - pushing out advertising messages - is not enough and that they need to develop more meaningful ties with its audience.
Yet in a world where 140 characters is, for many, the standard form of communication, it seems more important than ever that there are opportunities to stop, learn and reflect on the wider issues that affect business or society.
Raconteur, in case you are unfamiliar with us, is a premium content partner to some of the UK's leading media brands. Analysis and commentary on pertinent, often global, issues has never been more important so we source high-quality content from prominent journalists, academics and other opinion formers.
We then package it all using cutting-edge design with regular use of infographics and illustrations. We produce special reports covering business, finance, healthcare, sustainability, as well as a range of lifestyle subjects for The Times and The Sunday Times and The Week.
The question remains though. Why should brands prioritise branding and communication in what can be summarised as niche editorial paired with mass distribution? The answer, I believe, lies in a better and broader understanding of the term return on investment (ROI).
I firmly believe that ROI is about a lot more than just campaign KPI’s and metrics. These things are, of course, very important points for analysis when comparing, say, creative treatment X and creative treatment Y or even media choice A and media choice B for a specific goal.
This keenness to understand performance is heightened by both the belief that everything digital can be measured and the search for ever better metrics. I would suggest however that advertising - like sponsorship - provides a wider benefit: that of moving a business, and therefore its brand, forward in terms of how it is considered, assessed and understood.
For media owners but also media planners, in considering the needs of clients, it is about more than just an ability to sell or buy pages, impressions or clicks, but rather about understanding the specific brand needs.
A one size fits all approach to what constitutes a good media buy may seem efficient, but - as a model - it is more bust than robust, and can no longer be considered effective. As Einstein once noted: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
It has long been known that the purchase decision is much more than a single event: it’s not just a binary process, where one minute there seems to be no decision, and the next moment there is.
The reality is that brand-preference decision making is more of an evolving process, with brands developing their presence in the mind of the customer over time.
The evidence for this is overwhelming and there are a variety of frameworks that describe this, most prominently the concepts of AIDA - awareness, interest, desire, and action - and the marketing or sales-funnel.
For most categories, consumers develop a mental consideration list from which they will make their final purchase decision.
Yet many people still confuse direct response with ROI, even where their products and services clearly involve a complex decision-making process for its buyers.
Special reports cover focused subject areas, and each reader can of course choose whether or not to invest time delving inside. With each edition however we aim to bridge the any ‘interest gap’ and produce a product that will inform the inquisitive yet also satisfy the specialist.
Among newspaper and magazine readers there are many different types of stakeholders: investors and shareholders, customers and clients and their users, influencers and decision makers; business partners; policy makers; employees; other media; and so on.
This is the case of course with any mass medium such as a national newspaper. However, for all these audiences, special supplements provide them with more than just whatever happens to feature in the news pages.
Instead, they can provide a focused and dedicated state-of-the-nation or global profile on a particular issue, industry or challenge. The content, the totality, comes from the leading players, the most vital voices in that subject area, those with a contribution to make to what we believe is a special interest sweet-spot.
Of course, there are already the B2B and trade magazines, the digital forums and niche content which arrive on a particular day in the week or week in the month, or via digital as required. devices 24/7 - but aside from these often respected and expected sources, special supplements can provide what we believe is an irresistible content honey-pot that draws interest and earns attention from across an organisation’s or brand’s varied stakeholder estate.
Special reports work because they provide brands with the perfect solution - both branding and PR.
Advertisers and sponsors get unbiased discussion about their industry through the editorial content and their advertising or advertorial gives them the contextual branding alongside the editorial.
There is separation but a merge in the overall view of the readers: all contributing brands whether in terms of editorial or otherwise have been part of the whole.
Which leads us back to where we started: successful brands today can’t simply force messages down their audiences’ throat.
Quality content is valued more than ever, and of course if a respected news source communicates the key messages of an industry or topic - this is will be better received than when an organisation does this itself, or in isolation. Our more targeted approach to general newspaper advertising, better linking editorial content with branding messages ultimately delivers results. It’s why special interest reports deserve extra special interest.