Guardian chief says it struggles to 'find communality' with Facebook

Guardian and Facebook's business models are "very difficult to align", David Pemsel says.

ISBA conference: David Pemsel and Joe Mayes
ISBA conference: David Pemsel and Joe Mayes

Advertisers have a responsibility to understand where the money they spend on digital advertising is ending up, David Pemsel, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, has said.

He pointed to recent figures suggesting that 9% of digital spend was lost to fraud, equivalent to $19bn (£14.5bn), blaming this on "the opaque trading mechanisms between the way in which clients buy digital inventory and how that money flows through to content creators like ourselves.

"There is the technical capability to be able to understand far more transparent receipting between the buying of an impression, what the client spends and what we receive."

Speaking at the ISBA conference in London yesterday he also criticised as "totally illogical" advertisers who take the attitude that "as long as the price is right and the person is targeted, why should it really matter about paying for context?

"In a world where brand trust is eroding over time, for brands, why are we surprised if we’re targeting people relentlessly at the bottom of the funnel and not really caring about long-term brand value?"

Asked about the influence of the digital duopoly, Pemsel said that while his relationship with Google was "strategic", and involved some "very productive" collaboration, Facebook was "somewhat more complicated".

The two businesses had struggled to "find commonality", he said: "The Guardian is very purposeful, has a high bar of values and monetises as best it can. Facebook has a business model that monetisies virality with no sense of ownership over what gets distributed across its platform. Those things are very difficult to align."

Pemsel said once again the company was on course to break even as it approaches the end of its three-year turnaround plan at the end of March but added: "We’re counting the days and the hours."

The Guardian now attracts 600,000 financial contributors a month, he said, across membership, print subscriptions and one-off donations – while almost a million people have contributed at some point over the past three years.

Pemsel was in conversation with Bloomberg media journalist Joe Mayes. 

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