There are plenty of questions swirling around GLabs, not least whether the branded content division represents an emerging new business model or rather a rebadge of something already well-established.
I’d suggest the scale of The Guardian’s open journalism platform – which attracts more than 85 million browsers a month – and rising social currency have breathed new life into the title’s partnerships activity. GLabs has set its stall out as a multimedia agency-type operation, with the focus firmly on creative and strategic initiatives. The unit will be a welcome addition at the publisher.
Don’t be blindsided when Guardian leaders talk of £56 million from digital revenues in its last financial year – once you strip out recruitment classifieds and subscriptions, the publisher’s digital display ads still only accounted for £25 million. Meanwhile, print ads and revenue from copy sales continue to fall.
With Watkins at the helm, you wouldn’t bet against GLabs landing more seven-figure tie-ups like its one with Unilever. Creative solutions is a major growth area for publishers, with most agencies expanding their sponsorship and partnerships divisions, while planners are starting to generate their own briefs too.
The Guardian's open journalism and rising social currency have breathed new life into its partnerships activity
Seizing the initiative, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, and chief executive, Andrew Miller, were among those extolling the values of its open journalism to agencies in Fitzroy Square last week.
The presentation, in a house where each room represented a different editorial section, was well-received and further underlined the publisher’s point of difference among those responsible for media budgets.
It all smacks of smart, joined-up thinking over at Kings Place, and reflects the move away from traditional media – something Havas Media’s chief executive, Paul Frampton, touched on in a City AM article last week. "No longer will we invest in staff for old-school traditional media channels. Everything is now more focused on two strands: data and content," he said.
I would have loved to have seen the face of Havas’ seasoned trading leader, Alan Brydon, when he read that line. At Havas, display’s share of total client spend (19 per cent) is set to overtake press this year and close the gap on TV (38 per cent).
The direction of travel for the progressive media agency is set, and with traditional spend notably larger at many of Havas’ rivals – at Carat TV still represents 46 per cent of all spend, at OMD 48 per cent – being fleet of foot in the transition is one thing Frampton has over his larger, consolidating rivals.
"I’m not saying ditch the old," Frampton tells me, "but there’s no point in looking back."