Jerry Wright: the chief executive of ABC
Jerry Wright: the chief executive of ABC
A view from Jerry Wright

Why publishers' brand strategy must be fluid and flexible

Jerry Wright, the chief executive of ABC, warns not to place too much faith in false dawns or recent sunsets in the publishing sector.

Back in 2007 the pioneering and much missed publisher Felix Dennis remarked, "It's a long, slow sunset for ink-on-paper magazines, but sunsets can produce vast sums of money."

Eight years later the sun is still shining for many publishers, with print remaining the preferred platform for large numbers of consumers as demonstrated by the recent ABC DAY results.

In fact, a recent study from analysts Ovum predicts that even in 2020 print will be the format of choice for many consumers and has prompted Ovum to ask whether some publishers have been too quick to kill off their legacy businesses.

In fact in some sectors, print continues to grow and successful new launches are still far from uncommon.

But there have been some pretty high-profile sunsets for print in the last few years – Newsweek and Company are just two that spring to mind – and nobody could try to deny that print revenues have dipped as digital’s star has risen.

Most publishers today have a multi-platform strategy. One that takes in digital, video, events, social media as well as print. It’s a brand strategy that needs to be fluid and flexible because the publishing environment and audience behaviour are changing all the time.

Just think how the media business has changed even in the past few years. It’s now commonplace, even expected, for publishers to run conferences, seminars, supper clubs and the like as extensions to their core brands.

Sometimes the conference is the core brand. A conference like TED has grown from a one-off event focused on technology entertainment and design to a global online phenomenon which attracts world leaders and whose talks have been watched online by over a billion people.

We keep being told that mobile is a massive opportunity for publishers. But we're still getting to grips with mobile audience behaviour.

I've just read that Google's director of performance Matt Bush told delegates at a marketing conference a few weeks ago that he thought the impact of mobile advertising is underestimated by about 10 fold, because its ability to drive offline sales is not generally recognised.

Video is another area which is growing at a striking rate; it was recently reported that the number of the top 100 advertisers investing in on-line video has risen by 40 per cent year on year.

Remember that after the "we're going digital-only" hoop-la in 2012 from Newsweek. 12 months later the publication’s management announced that they would re-introduce a print edition on a subscription basis.

And we’ve recently learned that Apple is retiring Newsstand and replacing it with an app in iOS 9. In today’s ever-changing multiplatform world, even Apple sometimes gets it wrong.

If nothing else these anecdotes demonstrate the necessity of rapid evolution in industry standards for comparability and transparency when working in an uncertain environment where innovation and a willingness to change direction are fundamental.

As any management consultant will attest, the ability to independently demonstrate brand and platform reach must lie at the heart of any publishers’ multi-platform brand strategy.

Audiences interact with media brands in different ways on different platforms, so media owners have to be able to measure and demonstrate their reach and performance across all the platforms they are present on, whether this is print, digital, social, event-based or whatever.

This measurement can be used to monetise the brand to its maximum potential.

As our UK-owned industry body for media brand measurement, ABC has been developing standards for census-based measurement, and listening to the needs of its members for the best part of 90 years.

In the 1970s we started to certify business to business publishing. In the 1980s we recognised the importance of free newspapers and exhibitions and in the 1990s we brought websites into the fold.

Since then we’ve adapted our verification techniques to speedily encompass – amongst others –digital editions, digital publications, ad trading systems and mobile.

We look forward to working with our members on how media brand measurement should continue to evolve across different platforms during the coming months and years.

Jerry Wright is the chief executive of ABC