Hamish Nicklin: the chief revenue officer at the Guardian
Hamish Nicklin: the chief revenue officer at the Guardian
A view from Hamish Nicklin

It is not down to brands to make moral decisions about editorial policy

The Guardian's Hamish Nicklin asks whether the ad industry places enough significance on the influence of news on readers.

Few of us will experience many news stories as big as the ones 2016 has thrown at us, from the shock of Brexit to the election of Donald Trump. These are the events that punctuate and define our lifetimes.

In a world of fragmented media consumption, the moments where the entire world is looking in the same direction have become increasingly rare. But be in no doubt, this is one of those moments.

There will be few news organisations who haven’t experienced a significant uplift in traffic or newsstand sales around these big events.

At the Guardian we saw our biggest day ever last Wednesday with over 23 million unique browsers accessing our journalism as Donald Trump emerged as president elect.

Our second highest ever day was 24 June, the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union. There’s no doubt people are using newsbrands more than ever to help them make sense of the world at a time when we are seeing seismic changes.

Binary decisions such as Brexit and the US Election are also leading to huge tension. It’s no surprise to see some of that frustration directed at the way in which news brands report these changes.

Perhaps the most visible sign of this has been the #stopfundinghate campaign, which is trying to exert pressure on advertisers to pull spend from The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

The only notable reaction to this so far has come from Lego, although it is far from clear whether or not there was any spend to pull or indeed any activity planned.

There is a huge alarm bell over whether advertisers should seek to influence editorial policy – when does hate become "opinions I don’t like"?

I wouldn’t relish the prospect of a small pressure group deciding our scrutiny of the government’s Brexit policy as unpatriotic and urging advertisers to withdraw spend from us.

What’s interesting here is an acknowledgement and reinforcement of the influence of news brands on consumer behaviour. The very fact that people are so exercised about how news brands reported Brexit or had an influence on the outcome is very telling.

The #stopfundinghate campaign exists out of concern over the influence of news brands on the general public. This should be of enormous interest to brands.

For the large part, it is not down to brands to make moral decisions about editorial policy and by extension the readers of any particularly title, although they should of course consider the company they keep.

There are some brands who probably wouldn’t wish to align themselves with the Daily Mail, just as there are others who wouldn’t want to associate with the Guardian.

Brands, and the people who plan and buy their media, should focus on spending money where it will be most effective and drive the best results for their clients. That’s what really matters.

The last year has demonstrated, more than ever, why news brands are so important and so valued by the people who read them in ever greater numbers.

Come January when the new president takes office, you’d be unwise to bet that the news agenda in 2017 (and beyond) will be any less monumental.

Our choice of newspaper is perhaps still one of the few brands that we consciously use to signal the sort of person that we are. That’s a level of identification and influence that’s been built up over hundreds of years and which most brands would be desperate to try to achieve.

In that context, and in the light of declining advertising revenue for news brands, you have to ask whether the advertising industry places enough store in the ability of news to influence their readers and how we might best turn that influence into commercial advantage, regardless of which side of the political divide we fall on.

That’s why at the Guardian we talk about being a Platform for Action – our readers trust us, believe in us and that translates into influence – both at a profound level (donating to charity or thinking about their ethical footprint) and at a more every-day level (trying a new recipe or booking a flight).

News brands look set to become more and more influential in the coming years – instead of seeking to influence editorial policy, marketers should consider instead whether they are doing enough to leverage the unique relationship we have with our readers.

Hamish Nicklin is the chief revenue officer at the Guardian.