Build on brands, not format: UM CEO

The newspaper industry needs to stop labelling itself as a format and focus instead on the news and information it has to offer if it is to remain relevant to consumers, UM agency chief executive Mat Baxter has said.

Ahead of his appearance at the Future Forum next week, Mr Baxter said a more channel agnostic approach was needed – and that extended to the way the industry described itself.

He said the most powerful thing newspapers had were masthead brands, with deep and trustworthy relationships with their readers built through the provision of strong news, information and opinion.

“The relationship wasn’t with the format, it was with the brand. The newspaper industry needs to reframe the business it is in.”

Many in the industry were still yet to understand that consumers do not care about the medium. “Consumers care about content,” Mr Baxter said.

“Whether that content exists on channel A, B or C, as long as it’s convenient, timely and good quality, consumers want it.

“They dip in and out of a brand experience. They don’t go ‘Ooh, I’m going to read the Daily Telegraph printed edition, and then I’m going to read the tablet edition’. They just go,’ I’m going to read the news with the Daily Telegraph’, and they’ll access that information on whatever is the most convenient and useful way.

“They won’t define it by the format in the same way we do. That’s a really big mindset shift for the industry to get around.”

As brands increasingly invest in their own channels, the bar has also been raised for media owners to offer the consumer better value through digital platforms.

“The advertiser funding model is still very important and capable of helping support and pay for great content, but I also think consumers will always need to come to the party to some extent and pay for what they see as valuable.

“If I want a magazine or newspaper, I’ve always had to pay for it. Trying to suddenly remove or replace those things with things online that used to always have no charge, that’s a really difficult consumer mindset to change.”

But it can be done, he says.

“Look at iTunes as an example. The music industry couldn’t sell digital music before it came along. It was being shared on Napster and torrented on peer to peer sites.

“A lot of commentators said ‘the boat has left the dock; nobody will ever pay for this content again; this is the end of the music industry’ – and suddenly, really good, user friendly paid offerings like iTunes, and now Google Play and others came onto the market. It was easy to use, a great library, fast download speeds.

“Everything has the potential, if it’s good enough, to be paid for. You just have to do it in a way that is supremely brilliant, beautifully designed, with great content delivered really well.”

Right now a lot of news sites and services are still quite clunky and don’t necessarily offer huge value, Mr Baxter said, but one promising example was News Corp Australia’s News Plus subscription service.

This offered added value with extras like a music streaming service and discount offers with retailers, “so that when you pay for that subscription every month, you’re not just getting the paper, you’re getting a whole suite of benefits.”

Above all newspaper publishers could no longer be islands, he said.

“Being a generalist, sitting out on your own in splendid isolation saying we’re all about newspapers, in an interconnected and fluid world where all media is linked and it’s an ecosystem that consumers travel through, you can’t create an island anymore,” Mr Baxter said.

“Consumers want to island hop. Just offering one thing doesn’t work anymore.”

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