News publishers must learn from the past to map their advertising future

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


The only constant in advertising is change, and that has never been more evident than in today’s ever-evolving environment.  During this week’s Webinar, Professor Tony Hines, CEO of the consultancy group Consuming Future, took INMA members on a tour of where the industry has been and where it’s headed.

His presentation, Advertising transformation: Learning from the past and creating our media future provided insights into some of the trends that have changed the nature of advertising and what news publishers must do to adjust.

According to the World Advertising Research Center, global advertising spending continues to rise, reaching US$865 billion in 2022 — up from US$641 billion in 2016. But to capitalise on that ad spend, publishers must understand the environment in which they are operating.

“Advertising is now supporting much more than it was ever intended to when it first started. It supports all kinds of media funds, online content, and various services,” he said.

Advertising has changed dramatically in recent years, which means news media publishers have had to change as well.
Advertising has changed dramatically in recent years, which means news media publishers have had to change as well.

Sharing information from the House of Lords’ report, UK advertising in a digital age, Hines showed how advertising has transformed in recent years. Advertising dollars that once supported traditional media are now diluted by online content and services, while news media publishers struggle to overcome the losses of print advertising revenue. Digital advertising is increasingly being delivered through programmatic advertising, and the digital environment has created new ways for advertising fraud to abound through the use of malware, infringed content, and more.

Despite the challenges, Hines maintained there is great promise for the industry in this digital advertising world. Navigating it, however, requires understanding how it’s changing, what we can learn from the past, what today’s priorities are, and what the future offers.  

The changing nature of advertising

To embrace the future of advertising, publishers must accept how much it is transforming. The advertising ecosystem has changed, and the big players have changed, too, with Big Tech companies taking an enormous share of the market. In the U.K., for example, Facebook commands 50% of digital ad spend and Google claims 10%.

Advertiser priorities have also changed, with the goal now being to increase engagement online, understand which channels or platforms their audience spends time on, and diversify income streams to generate more profit.

Despite this attention to digital, Hines urged INMA members not to throw the baby out with the bathwater:

“Don’t overlook traditional advertising because that could still work, too,” he said, pointing to the broad reach and brand recognition traditional advertising offers. While less targeted and more difficult to measure than programmatic, publishers can create new ways to present traditional advertising: “Sometimes it gets overlooked in the digital age that the traditional route still has a place.”

Programmatic has created a new supply chain and has affected where money has spent. Several factors have created this environment, and Hines noted it is a constantly changing world: “It’s always about change in this industry, but you’ve got to manage the change process and you have to react and reengage and take account to minimise risk,” he advised.

Learn from the past

Technology has spurred an 18-year decline in print income, and that has changed how publishers think.

“When this sort of thing happens in any industry, it forces people to rethink their business model and how they can actually generate new income streams,” Hines said. Advertising has always had challenges, and while the form of those challenges may change, the bottom line remains the same: It’s about reaching the right audience and measuring its impact. That’s where data comes in, he said.

To succeed in the new digital advertising environment, publishers must learn from the past.
To succeed in the new digital advertising environment, publishers must learn from the past.

“If we can get the data and measure it, we can measure the impact and stay ahead of the competition,” he said.

Growth on social media channels has been dramatic, and publishers can watch how that is changing — and who it is reaching — to determine where they should be reaching out.

Understand today’s priorities

In addition to knowing where to reach people, news publishers must understand what they’re looking for.

“When we think about the contemporary challenges, we’re thinking about things like sustainability, diversity, and inclusion,” Hines said. “And then there are opportunities to build reputation through brand safety.”

Many news media companies have migrated to consultative selling, which allows them to understand what advertisers are trying to do and then create a plan using technology to achieve that. “If we know what their objectives are, we can give advice which is very focused on what they can actually do,” he said. “So we can give better quality advice to people.”

That is backed by new technologies allowing publishers to deploy new strategies, but he cautioned against relying too heavily on technology: “It also relies on people’s creativity, too.”

Along with new challenges, digital advertising offers exciting new opportunities.
Along with new challenges, digital advertising offers exciting new opportunities.

Embrace the media future

While changing, the future of advertising holds great promise and opportunities for news media publishers. He said leveraging those opportunities begins with owning first-party data to be able to reach the audience. It also means building customer trust, which can be difficult in today’s digital environment — but news media companies have an advantage here.

“In news media, trust has been built over a long period of time with the brand of the newspaper,” he reminded. “Maintaining the quality of content and protecting brand reputation is a must.”

Publishers who do that, he said, have a bright future ahead. Each company must understand what works for them, for their advertisers, and for their audience.

“It is about having right time, right place, right space — and it’s very important to hit the market and own that first-party data,” he said. Exploring native advertising and creating new dynamic content opportunities are other ways to keep customers engaged and. When native ads are accompanied by quality content, Hines said, customers will search out the content and find the native ad by default.   

He ended by urging every publisher to answer six questions that will help them map out their path going forward:

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. How can you engage more effectively with consumers?
  3. Are you resilient and agile? Can you reallocated resources quickly if needed?
  4. What strategic relationship and networks should be nurtured to build a better future?
  5. Can you employ technologies to transform your business?
  6. Where are your blindspots?

These, he said, are questions every news media company should consider.

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About Paula Felps

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