In publishing, we talk about audience all the time. And, quite right, as we are part of the creative media sector. People consume our content in great numbers.

In print, the model is well-established, albeit full of assumptions. But, we put a newspaper product together, print thousands, and distribute through pick-up points or directly to the reader. And then we make an assumption that the combined total is “our audience.”

Media companies need to be aware of how an audience is responding throughout an entire engagement period.
Media companies need to be aware of how an audience is responding throughout an entire engagement period.

We don’t know how many pages they read, if they read it all. They might even pass it on to someone else and so on. These are the assumptions. This is a perfectly valid assumption, but it is under some duress from other sources of audience at present.

We (print media publishers) take the same model online and talk about it a similar way, and it’s catching us out.

A collection of unique users is not an audience, but you already know that. (If you’re a media professional and don’t know exactly what a unique user is, please stop reading this now. It’s 2016; you’re reading the wrong article.) Yet, we continue to use it as such. It’s weird. Page impressions, sessions, and inventory are all cumulative, and, in isolation, rather useless at being representative of audience.

We look at the number of people who turn up and don’t work hard enough to check to see if they are watching.

Imagine this: You go to see an English Premier football match. It’s Southampton FC (proper team) versus Manchester United, the stadium is packed, the noise is electric, and the audience is involved in the match to the end. They even influence the content and therefore the outcome of the game – the audience.

In the publishing world, online, the ref blows the whistle, the match kicks off, and everyone leaves before the end of the first minute — WTF?

I want you to think about the advertising boards around the pitch. Not so long ago, these boards were static and painted/printed. Now they are electric and change the creative frequently during the match; half the pitch is even targeting the people not at the stadium but those watching on television. The content (the game) is able to engage its viewers long enough to distribute advertising messages to everyone watching — the audience.

Our news Web sites are incredibly similar. The ad slots are capable of message change. But the problem is our users aren’t there long enough for us to have an impact. I’m not sure that constitutes as an audience.

Our job in advertising is to distribute the message to all of the people our customer has requested — preferably targeting the right user to start with. It’s unlikely an advertiser can even afford to target our entire audience, so they and we need to compartmentalise accordingly and ensure we can engage with them.

The media landscape continues and will continue to fragment. National press has different challenges than regional press, and the same goes for opportunities.

If you haven’t started to look at your user base (please don’t call it an audience; at least you’re being “used” — sounds awful doesn’t it?), identified who they are and what their interests are to reach them on behalf of your advertiser, wherever they are, how can you possibly get to the final whistle?

Leicester City FC currently has the largest audience in its long history. Its content has recently been, and still is, wonderfully engaging. It is not a team of individual stars; it has pulled together and worked as a team with one plan to reach one goal.

Audience growth in publishing has to come from every part of a publisher’s business. It can’t be done by just one group, and it certainly isn’t just the job of editorial (says the ad guy).

The one thing that every player in Leicester City FC has in common is they all know how and in which direction to kick the bloody ball.