When considering the competitive future, news media brands tend to look at the threats posed by Facebook, Google, and others.

However, they might also consider looking at the opportunities in the lessons given by the evolution mainstream brands are going through by becoming more activist and relevant, industry experts suggested at the INMA European News Media Conference on Thursday.

Fabrice Dekerf, former executive at De Persgroep, WPG Uitgevers, and co-founder at of Wombat Consulting, and Piet Wulleman, co-founder of Wombat and strategic director at Duval Guillaume, argue that media brands should be brands first, and ironically, that they become better media for it.

Wulleman and Dekerf are consumer psychologists with a solid reputation in branding and media. Together they founded Wombat, a consulting firm that helps companies and organisations stay relevant in a changing environment and sharpen their story and positioning to make a difference through their people and their actions.

It seems it’s not only Facebook and Google that media should be afraid of. These days many brands can create serious journalistic content and build strong emotions, as Johnnie Walker did in this video, Wulleman and Dekerf explained:

Publishers can learn a lot from modern branding, but first they should look closely at what brands have that media are missing. One of the answers is trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, businesses in Europe are already perceived as more trustworthy than media.

Brands are also good at:

  • Differentiating.
  • Being selective.
  • Starting with a purpose (i.e. IKEA is no longer a furniture brand but a brand that has a purpose, like sometimes providing homes to immigrants).
  • Being an activist.
Piet Wulleman, co-founder Wombat and strategic director at Duval Guillaume, believes media has much to learn from other brands.
Piet Wulleman, co-founder Wombat and strategic director at Duval Guillaume, believes media has much to learn from other brands.

Media companies should engage with their audiences. Engagement is what consumers ask and expect, Wulleman and Dekerf said. It drives loyalty and is good business. 

Brands work well as activist organisations, they said, offering the example of this beer brand advertising, where the brand fights against a serious problem:

Consumers compare brands. They prefer Nike to Puma, Dove to Nivea, and Mastercard to Visa. Why? Because (according to consumers) the preferred brands do something more than sell, Wulleman and Dekerf said.

Some may argue that media should remain objective. Yet, objectivity is not the same as being neutral, the two noted. Neutrality is not a value proposition for the future, and media should act like activists and know what they stand for.

Here’s what media should do to act more like brands, Wulleman and Dekerf said:

  • Don’t just write about everything (differentiate).
  • Don’t work for everyone. Know your audience (be selective).
  • Start with a purpose, because media can do it better and go further than brands. Media can be original.
  • Become activists.
Fabrice Dekerf, former executive at De Persgroep, WPG Uitgevers, and co-founder at of Wombat Consulting, discusses what news media companies can learn from non-media brands.
Fabrice Dekerf, former executive at De Persgroep, WPG Uitgevers, and co-founder at of Wombat Consulting, discusses what news media companies can learn from non-media brands.

Aftenposten, for example, raised €6 million to buy yellow rescue boats to save immigrants fleeing to Greece. Competing Belgian DeTijd and L’Echo joined forces in the #diningforbrussels social action:

Dekerf and Wulleman left the audience with some additional thoughts:

  • The numbers war is not to be won with Facebook and Google.
  • Express your purpose. What do you want to fight for as a news brand? Editorial and marketing must find out and campaign for this to create engagement.
  • Don’t be just a media partner. Leverage your impact, be in the driver’s seat. Be a real influencer. Make news -- finally.
  • Becoming better media (and more profitable media) means  becoming better brands.

The INMA European News Media Conference continues on Friday.