A prevailing theme at this year’s Guardian Changing Media Summit — an annual conference sponsored by The Guardian which brings together a unique blend of CEO and director level executives responsible for commercial, creative and digital strategies – was monetization. The current mood, and indeed associated moves, for communications professionals means two things: firstly that earned media is more important than ever, and secondly, that ‘non-traditional’ influencers will keep increasing their importance, as more paywalls thud into the cyber-ground all around us.
Newspapers are struggling to generate digital revenue on par with that achieved during the print heyday. It was noticeable to me that UK spokespeople and commentators are certainly far more lucid on the subject than they were a few years ago when Eric Schmidt wrote of the “terminal decline of print.”
As communications professionals, we need to bear in mind the pressure organizations formerly known as newspapers are under to cut costs and find revenue streams. Increasingly, such media are turning to sponsored content, for example, The Partner Zones on the Guardian’s Professional Networks:
However Google has just issued a warning on ‘sponsored content’ showing up in Google news results, stating in no uncertain terms: “If we learn of promotional content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News.”
The earned, owned and paid marketing mix is not going away. But sites now need to be more careful than ever to run sponsored content transparently and structure it in a way that avoids the wrath of Google. Brands and organisations who sponsor content, for their part, must monitor its value, and any likely drop in SEO value, as publications make changes to abide by Google’s stance.
So while news media is pressed by financial priorities on one side, and Google on the other, earned media coverage is more important than ever. In this vein paywalls and subscriptions, the other key routes newspapers are exploring to make up the difference from print sales and advertising revenues, are worth mentioning. Although The Guardian and Metro were clear during #CMS2013 that they will retain an open access model, following in the footsteps of the Sunday Times of London and the successful NYT experience, The Telegraph and The Sun in the UK now look set to experiment with paywalls.
Given this, professional communicators will need to consider how such moves cut down / cordon off who sees what online when conducting media outreach. If maximum audience reach is desired, open access media (e.g. bloggers) and social media influencers will be an increasingly crucial part of any mainstream public engagement.