Newspapers need to give ad buyers what they want

Newspapers need to give ad buyers what they want

What's frustrating for those of us who love newspapers and news brands is that the industry is so bad at collaborating.

Whiners are not winners, Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, says.

But the UK newspaper industry looks more like a whiner in a market that shows no sign of improvement on a year ago.

Print ad revenues keep falling at a double-digit rate and digital growth has slowed as money continues to shift to Google and Facebook.

Times must be tough because the Daily Mail won’t be renting a yacht at next month’s Cannes Lions, after three years of having one of the biggest boats.

What’s frustrating – even maddening – for those of us who love newspapers and news brands is that the industry is so bad at collaborating.

It is 12 months since Campaign revealed that Britain’s national newspaper groups were in talks about setting up a joint ad sales house to gain scale and simplify their offering for media agencies. 

Alas, negotiations have gone nowhere fast. DMGT and Trinity Mirror dropped out of the project, known first as Juno and then Rio, at the start of this year. At least the three remaining players – News UK, Telegraph Media Group and Guardian Media Group – haven’t given up and have recruited McKinsey to try to breathe fresh life into the initiative and tackle regulatory concerns.

Pooling ad sales, audience data and even the production of branded content would all be logical. As Philippa Brown, chief executive of Omnicom Media Group UK and chair of Media360, says: "Make yourself relevant, make sure you’re offering what clients want."

There are slivers of good news. Some sales directors say they have seen an increase in agencies buying digital directly from publishers, rather than through open exchanges, in the wake of the YouTube brand-safety row. Tesco has lifted its print spend a little – a tacit sign that cutting its budget back to practically zero last year may have been too drastic.

But most of the causes for optimism have little to do with advertising. The Guardian’s voluntary membership scheme appears to be getting some traction. TMG’s push into ecommerce – selling events, financial services and travel to readers – is said to be driving significant revenues. Over in the US, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have enjoyed booming subscriber numbers thanks to Donald Trump.

All of these offer hope that newspapers can become smarter, data-driven businesses that know their readers better. But when it comes to winning at advertising, there’s no substitute for scale and simplicity. Publishers must try harder at collaboration.

Gideon Spanier is the head of media at Campaign.

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