Future Forum CEO Panel

The CEO panel discussion has become a mainstay of the Future Forum, with topics this year raging from native advertising to whether front pages go too far.

The panel members were News Corp Australia’s Julian Clarke, Fairfax Media’s Greg Hywood, West Australian Newspapers’ Chris Wharton and APN News and Media’s Michael Miller.

Host Russel Howcroft, executive general manager of Network Ten, kicked off the discussion with the theme of optimism, quizzing Mr Clarke, who is also chairman of The Newspaper Works, on what made him feel optimistic about the newspaper industry.

“The great irony,” Mr Clarke said, “is that the thing that has disrupted us more than anything else has turned out to be our saviour.

“The thing the newspaper business suffered from most of all over the last 20 years has been the loss of immediacy. You’ve now got the intersection of immediacy and the five or six of the best communication techniques mankind has devised: text, graphics, photography, audio, video and now, transaction.

“All of a sudden the world we live in, which used to be very two dimensional and very, very limited, is now…the world is your oyster. The limits will not be technology – in fact, technology has released us.”

The panel also canvassed the role of print in an increasingly digital world. Mr Wharton recounted a conversation with Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder in which Mr Goyder said despite plans to leave print behind, “he said, ‘We can’t get out of it – we’ve tried to put catalogues on the web…it just doesn’t work for us.’ We’re great [for] retailers.”

Mr Miller urged a rethink in the way publishers viewed themselves in competition with other media.

“I think the way that we have marketed – it’s evident from the results we’re getting – is that we’ve been wrong,” Mr Miller said. “Often we say ‘Here’s the reach of our newspapers compared to the reach of a TV station’. That’s not the way agencies or clients think.

“They think about, ‘how does the print full-page ad work with the digital aspect of the campaign [and] other media?’

“The old approach of ‘we’re better than others’ isn’t working. In conjunction with others, I think we’re going to open up a whole range of opportunities.”

Mr Hywood agreed a cultural shift was needed.

“You’ve got people sitting up here who represent business which 20 years ago were monopolies or oligopolies. That builds a certain level of arrogance into the system,” Mr Hywood said.

“The big cultural change in this industry is for everyone to know that everybody is our competitor, not just the people up here, and that is the market we’re working for and we’ve got to be damn good at it.”

Mr Howcroft agreed: “We’re pretty much all in the screen business now.”

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