A few years ago, a newspaper journalist friend was told by her boss that the section she edited would be ditched from the paper and moved 'online only'. It was the beginning of the end.
The small team that had worked on her section with her were made redundant or reassigned and she spent the next 12 months single-handedly writing stories about her beat for the paper’s website. A year on and the newspaper’s slowly declining advertising revenue from brands in her sector had stopped declining and pretty much disappeared.
Like all good specialist journalists, my friend knew many of the marketers whose brands used to advertise around her content. So she asked them why they weren’t spending with the newspaper any more; she was still writing about their industry, just for an online audience only.
It turned out that their media strategies weren’t finessed to contextually advertise around specialist content online; when the paper could no longer offer a compelling cross-platform audience, it simply dropped off their media schedules.
Also the marketers she spoke to said they had struggled to find any of my friend’s articles about their industry on her paper’s website and they no longer felt that her paper was a place quality readers would come for quality content about their sector.
And, damnit, they missed reading about themselves in print. They missed the stature and standout that had been conferred on their industry when it had been written about in a dedicated section of a carefully curated newspaper, where only the most important or interesting articles made it into the limited number of printed pages.
In the end, my friend was poached by a rival newspaper that wanted to enhance its coverage of her sector. There she edits a section in the printed paper, oversees a digital hub and has launched a quarterly supplement.
The company she works for believes that print still has a healthy role to play in driving its revenues and also in protecting the stature of the newspaper’s own brand; to publish content in print can be a valuable kitemark if few of your rivals do.
New figures just out from the Advertising Association suggest advertisers may be starting to agree again. For the first time in seven years, print display ad revenue grew in the first quarter of this year. Growth! And not just growth in national newspapers’ digital revenue, though that was up 20% last year, but growth in print.
It’s a small but significant boost for trusted, curated quality content when the narrative for so long has been decline and decay for traditional formats and established media brands. Radio (with adspend up 12.5% in the first quarter of 2018 versus 2017), out-of-home (up 5.3%) and TV (up 5%) also look strong.
Of course, online continues to outperform in terms of adspend, particularly in search and social media – but in the context of the recent tremors at Facebook and Twitter, the resurgence of established media is notable.
The frustrating thing is that while the news brands that have continued to invest in their print product are starting to benefit from the upswing in print ad revenues, creative agencies seem to have lost the craft skills required to maximise the opportunity.
At this year’s Cannes Lions festival, the UK only clocked up one – ONE! – shortlisted entry in the Print and Publishing category: Mother’s "Fck" apology ad for KFC. It was a dismal reminder that agencies have also bought the story about print’s demise and have forgotten how to create simple, powerful press ads, maybe even with some beautiful accompanying copywriting.
Print offers a quality environment and the impact that comes from a limited, curated number of pages. It’s time agencies committed to the craft of print advertising once again.
Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign.