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The students are(n’t) revolting

I was invited to talk to some students from the Advertising Society at Oxford’s Wadham College recently. Students have had a bad press ever since the Young Ones (a show I doubt any of today’s crop have ever seen) and occasionally compound this by protesting, rioting and generally getting in the way while the rest of us are trying to do actual jobs.

But the financial crisis and subsequent changes to the higher education system mean going to university is fast becoming a privilege rather than a right, so it is good to meet some seriously bright students.

In a nod to this, I thought it only fair to let some of these bright young minds do the talking this week.

Charlotte Cupit was one of these, and she seized on one of my favourite topics – the rumours surrounding the death of newspapers.  “We look to digital media for every other need; so why not news?” she asked. “On the face of it, this is a critical moment of newspapers. Their headlines repeat what the majority of the population heard yesterday on TV – or on Twitter seconds after it actually happened. They are out of date and they consume vast quantities of paper in a world where natural resources become more precious by the hour.”

She got me back on side by advocating more depth, more detail, more commentary and citing the successes enjoyed by titles like The Economist .

“Newspapers will survive if they focus on what they do best: editorials, comments and investigation,” she said.

Someone else who picked up on the fact The Economist circulates around 1.4 million copies per issue was Alex Harris. Rather than a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ in the battle between the new and the old, between digital and print media, Alex pointed out the ‘experience’ of reading a magazine or newspaper is still deemed by many consumers to be preferable to gazing at a screen – especially in cultures where papers and magazines still confer a certain status on the reader.

“The rise of digital media does not mean printing presses must suddenly grind to a halt,” said Alex. “Where the content is strong, consumers will continue to buy both printed copies and online subscriptions – at least for now.”

So far so good, but how, I asked them, can newspapers who haven’t gone down the subscription route make any money online?

They can, but not through banners and popups, said Ivan Ryzkov, who added, “it’s about time somebody reinvented digital advertising.”

Ivan had read a recent report from YouGov which found two thirds of people in the US and UK feel they are “bombarded” with too many ads when surfing online.

The problem, said the knowledgeable Ivan, is that digital advertising is becoming more ineffective, with average response rates plummeting from 7 per cent in 1997 to about 0.1 per cent today.

“Digital marketing needs to change from the current ‘spray-and-pray’ approach to become more efficient,” he argued. “Ads should be more personal and contextually relevant, and they should make use of the internet’s inherent potential for interactivity to invent new formats that actively engage a user. This could drastically increase the response rates and improve the efficiency of ads.”

Not everyone in the industry will agree with these thoughts (and I’d be interested to hear whether they do). But you ignore the next generation of consumers at your peril – especially those who are probably going to end up in charge.

The primary reason for spreading advertising around

Once again, I find myself drawn to the US presidential primaries, watching with amazement as the US shows its determination to do things on a much larger scale than anywhere else. The battle to see who will take on Obama is simply staggering.

Whoever ends up being Obama’s Republican challenger will need to have a hefty war chest, as the whole US Presidential race is estimated to cost at least $6bn. That’s the equivalent of the GDP of Nicaragua, and during one of the worst global recessions ever witnessed, it could be considered just a little excessive.

Even now, obscene amounts of money are being spent on television advertising. Some reports have Mitt Romney down as spending $15m in just 10 days in order to flood Florida with 13,000 aggressive TV and cinema advertisement spots ahead of this week’s primary.

I can’t help questioning the strategies behind such “carpet bombing”. All the candidates are competing for air time, and such a huge concentration on one medium can only lead to advert fatigue from voters. Romney will probably win the nomination, but I am sure the millions he spent on TV advertising could have been spent in a much smarter way.

For a start, he could have spread the activity across different platforms. The Obama election campaign taught us the power of using digital media as well as traditional broadcast channels. By siding so heavily with TV, Romney looks dated by comparison.

For years we have been encouraging companies to think smarter when placing their ads – a point also made by our new ‘Bigger’, ‘Faster’ and ‘Smarter’ campaign.

FT’s research shows that using both print and online ad spots improves brand effectiveness by an average of 38%. With budgets tight, media owners have a duty to demonstrate how advertisers can steal a march on competitors and get the best return on their investments. In my experience, that usually means encouraging them to take their eggs out of the single basket and advertise across multiple platforms.

While Romney’s conservative approach to advertising may not matter when it comes to wooing Republicans, it certainly will if (or when) he takes his message to the wider US public.

The future is mobile

After 29 years at the FT, I feel lucky to be part of such a strong media company. I’ve seen several economic crises – some so severe that we thought everything might collapse around us. But as we head into a year that undoubtedly will be tough, I could not be more confident in the brand.

The FT’s lifeblood – its readership – is more loyal than ever. In the age of the blogger, the news aggregator and the social network, our readers still value what we say and rely on us to help them make the best decisions for their businesses.

What has changed is the way our readers consume the content we produce. More than a million people have accessed FT content through our new web app – which shows how important it is to keep innovating even in an age of austerity.

As readers have altered the way they interact with our editorial content, so has our advertising offer. Advertising has gone mobile in a big way and becomes more diverse and targeted as it adapts to the small screen.

But there’s still much more we can do with this, so look out for another growth spurt from mobile advertising in 2012 as more advertisers take advantage of the opportunities presented by increasingly sophisticated smartphones and tablets, not to mention the soft- and hardware that powers them.

Until then, have a great Christmas break, a Happy New Year and I’ll see you all in January.

Marketing overload

Last week I headed to Shanghai for our Women at the Top Summit and found myself sitting next to Imelda Marcos at the gala dinner. She is one punchy and energetic 82-year-old. I managed to get a signed copy of her book ‘The Marcos Truth’, which has photos of her with every head of state you can imagine before she headed off to another engagement.

I then had a punishing 14-hour flight to NYC to host an FT Media Forum breakfast with some of the leading lights of the US advertising world and our wonderful media editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.  On my way  to the airport I heard more than one Michael Bublé song – which got me wondering, is there such thing as marketing overkill?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Michael Bublé is a good and well-known singer (you can invite me to your private concert if you like, Michael). But I’m baffled as to why his marketing folk are flogging him to death on the radio. Marketing should be subtle and subliminal and not rammed down one’s throat.

Which brings me to my other current pet hate: promotional recorded messages telling me that if I want to stop being harassed by them, I have to ring a particular number.

This tacky tactic has no place in the modern marketing industry and I can’t believe the hit rate makes it even slightly worthwhile. Given the plethora of channels to engage audiences available today, it shows poverty of imagination too. Can we please make an agreement as an industry to cease and desist from this 20th century ploy?

Blow gently on the whistle Mr Joubert

I’m in New Zealand with my son this week – Auckland to be precise – counting down to the Rugby World Cup Final at Eden Park on Saturday. Very, very exciting to be here after a gap of *gulp* nearly 40 years, even if we’re not going to get the final we were after.

As we took off we had our fingers crossed for Wales battling Australia; watching Warren Gatland’s boys grow in confidence and nearly beating the Boks in their first game made me come over all Welsh. My son on the other hand is going to University of Queensland to read sports management next February and already thinks he’s an Aussie.

At least we now get to see the All Blacks perform the Haka in a World Cup final, but if they ‘choke’ – as they have in previous World Cups – this beautiful country will go into mourning once more.
Of course, they could suffer the same fate as the Welsh: the decision about their destiny ripped out of their hands by over-zealous refereeing. But with Craig Joubert replacing Alain Rolland for the final, hopefully the latter’s dismissal of Sam Warburton will remain the tournament’s most controversial refereeing decision.

Even before last Saturday’s semi-final, I was thinking that, as we get towards the ‘business end’ of the competition, the officials really start to earn their money. As demonstrated by the whistle-happy ‘Monsieur’ Rolland, the best refs don’t take centre stage and draw attention to themselves by constantly blowing up.

Much like a good manager who gives people the space to do their job, referees need to let players play. That’s what they are on the pitch for.

Joubert, who in my opinion is the best whistler in world rugby is unobtrusive, calm and decisive. He blew about 14 times in the Ireland/Wales quarter final and that’s pure class.

The parallels between rugby and business don’t stop with referees.

If the England rugby team had been a company, its employees would be looking for new jobs right now. No structure, no spirit, no leadership, no game plan. And no manners off the field.

Maybe the team and its management should be made to take that formula into a commercial marketplace and see how they get on? In the meantime, if they want an advisor I’m happy to help out.

Does Google+ add up?

According to a report by eMarketer social networking now reaches most internet users in the US and has become an integrated part of our lives. Led by Facebook, which now has over 750m users, updating our status and sharing links with friends has become completely routine.

However, the report also suggests that the days of double-digit growth in users are over as social networking reaches a saturation point. This led me to think about the prospects of Google+ and my own reaction to being asked to join yet another social network. Read More

Manners, please!

The beginning of the football season this year has reminded me that we should all be watching our manners. Most of the top players don’t have a clue how to do that.  These finely tuned, highly skilled athletes, earning telephone number salaries (per week), consequently appear to be above the usual conventions of good behaviour. Thank goodness some football managers are starting to ban their players’ insane tweeting! Talk about shooting a hole in your own metatarsal.  And, thinking as a former teacher, wouldn’t it be better to spend some of that money on teaching them to spell? Read More

New York is the greatest

I was in NYC a couple weeks back visiting clients and agencies with our fantastic US commercial team. We watched in fascination the ‘hackgate’ scandal unfolding from the other side of the Atlantic; it was interesting to view the British press through the eyes of the US media. I was glued to the coverage, not least because the temperature was over 90 degrees and air-conditioned office haven was far more preferable than venturing outside.

The stifling heat aside, I absolutely LOVE New York. It’s not just the places to hang out – one of which is Michael’s where the media world eats – but there is something magical about landing in the city late on a Sunday evening just in time to watch a baseball game, one of the great American spectacles. Read More

Luxury guessing games


Take a guess at the size, in euro, of the luxury industry. Ballpark will do and I’ll give you a clue: think in billions. Read More

When does a social network become too successful?


If someone had told me two years ago I would be using Twitter as my personal daily newswire, I doubt I would have believed them. Read More