Newsworks’ third Shift conference last week was shrouded in paranoia and uncertainty. Peter Oborne’s resignation from The Daily Telegraph and the ensuing industry rows made for a guarded and muted affair.
Sitting in the British Library amid hushed tones, the Telegraph’s predicament was the elephant in the room. Opening the event, Olins attempted to diffuse the situation, noting "there has always been a tension between advertising and editorial".
But, away from the stage, far stronger opinions were being expressed among delegates. The consensus was that the previous week’s antics had been terrible for business, and the allegations of advertiser influence and tit-for-tat press attacks had only undermined the sector.
An unseasonably tanned Dave King, the commercial director of the Telegraph, quietly joined Newsworks’ record crowd of 300 delegates by mid-morning. He had been on holiday the previous week and missed the whole affair. He had no comment to make on the story so simply stood, radiating warmer climes and awkwardness. What he thought of receiving advice from The Sun’s editor, David Dinsmore, at the podium that you "don’t mislead the readers or you’ll be found out", we will have to guess.
'These are difficult times. Divergent business models being pursued by publishers feel increasingly at odds'
Fresh memories of the Telegraph’s story linking the death of two News UK executives to commercial pressures clashed when Olins said: "Most of us gravitate to brands that bring a set of values, levels of familiarity and a professionalism that we feel like we can rely on."
Outside the venue, a visiting Rupert Murdoch was said to be putting executives through their paces in News UK’s Baby Shard office. He wanted the full lowdown on the Telegraph’s allegations and reassurance, among other things, about Tiffanie Darke’s new creative content remit serving commercial partnerships across the group.
These are difficult times and Olins’ struggles look set to continue. The divergent business models being pursued by publishers feel increasingly at odds. For example, while the Daily Mail, The Guardian and Trinity Mirror post record global online audiences, was a talk by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland on why print ads are more valuable than digital ones really a key message for them?
News UK, meanwhile, remains predominantly a print business with digital paywalls and, as such, much of the programmatic debate would have held little interest. More than one executive in the room wondered whether it’s even possible for these jarring interests to be served by a single, unifying body like Newsworks going forward.