Q&A 

Publishing trends: 5 minutes with… Gideon Spanier

With the shortlists for this year’s Campaign Publishing Awards just announced, we catch up with Gideon Spanier, UK editor-in-chief of Campaign, to get his take on publishing trends and the upcoming awards.

By Gideon Spanier

Publishing trends: 5 minutes with… Gideon Spanier

Q: What have been the standout publishing trends of the past year?

A: It has been an epic year, so I have picked six trends:

  • Digital consumption has accelerated because that’s how audiences have consumed a lot of media and shopped while they were stuck at home. Many of these shifts are permanent and, in some cases such as virtual events, they have been positive.
  • A new-found appreciation of trusted, high-quality journalism because consumers want reliable information and to see power held to account. It has been cheering to see digital subscription revenues rise at many publishers in the last 12 months.
  • The rise of collaboration as media companies have been more willing to work together. Newsworks’ long-term advertising partnership with the Government to get news brands to carry unified coronavirus messaging is a good example.
  • The resilience of advertising. A year ago, many publishers saw ad sales collapse by 50% or more during the first lockdown but the market recovered in the second half of 2020 and there is good reason to be optimistic about growth in 2021.
  • The rise of first-party data and a swing back to privacy. Apple’s reduction in tracking and Google’s phasing out of third-party cookies are major changes that present both risks and opportunities for publishers, which own a lot of first-party customer data.
  • The killing of George Floyd pushed racial equality higher up the agenda and shone a spotlight on the lack of progress in many areas. Initiatives such as the PPA Census are just the start if publishing is to recruit, reward and retain more diverse talent that reflects what WPP UK country manager Karen Blackett calls the “fruit salad” of modern Britain.

Q: What can B2C learn from B2B and vice versa?

A: The B2C and B2B sectors are moving closing together because the internet has levelled the playing-field in some respects. B2C can learn from B2B by looking beyond mass reach and building deeper relationships with known audiences. B2B can lift its sights higher and be more ambitious and confident, particularly with in-depth coverage and special reports. Journalism has the power to change the world and B2B publishers, not just B2C, should remember that.

Q: How will the publishing sector post-covid be different from that pre-covid?

A: This is hard to predict but I’ll suggest three trends: Most publishers will have smaller offices and allow more flexible and home working, which could improve operating margins and make publishing more financially resilient. Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay, even though a lot of in-person conferences, festivals and awards will return. It has been great to connect virtually with audiences, particularly across all of the UK and around the world, through online events. Sustainability is going to rise up the agenda. As Wendy Clark, chief executive of Dentsu International, the advertising agency and media group, said recently: “It will not be enough to simply operate your business and do no harm. You’re going to be expected to operate your business and actually contribute – regenerate the world’s resources.”

Q: ‘Audio’ has its own category in the awards – what particular trends are you noticing in publishers’ audio strategies?

A: Audio is an engaging medium that is great for publishers. A typical website user might only spend a few minutes on a single visit whereas a podcast listener might engage for 30 minutes or more during a single session. Monetisation is a key issue and I was interested in the branded podcast category at the Campaign Publishing Awards because advertisers such as BMW and Marks & Spencer, which were both shortlisted, recognise the value of partnering with publishers as expert content creators to create high-quality editorial environments – be it in audio or other media. It has also been exciting to see new audio platforms such as Clubhouse emerge during the pandemic. But, as we have seen with live video, I believe audiences will gravitate towards curated, edited audio content and that should play well for publishers.

Q: What do the recently announced shortlists tell you about the health of the publishing sector?

A: Overall, the sector has been resilient and resourceful during the pandemic as both editorial and commercial teams have innovated and kept delivering for audiences. Perhaps the most striking shortlist at this year’s Campaign Publishing Awards is for editorial leader of the year in consumer media because the four contenders are all women editors. That’s one sign of progress in an industry that remains male-dominated at the top. The event of the year category is also inspiring as there were some great physical and virtual events that were staged – often against the odds.

Q: Virtual awards ceremonies are obviously different to in-person events. What can participants do to recreate the buzz?

A: There’s a different buzz at a virtual awards ceremony, so I prefer to think of enjoying a new and unique experience, rather than re-creating the feeling of being there in person. I’ve loved taking part in and watching our virtual ceremonies and there are lots of benefits of being online together. Everyone from your team or company can watch at the same time and share in the experience and post photos via social media. Being in your home, rather than a big venue, also makes it easier to take in information – whether it’s listening to the host, watching the on-screen visuals or hearing the judges’ comments. Plus, you can watch the ceremony afterwards on-demand. I do miss the buzz of being in a packed awards venue, the party spirit and seeing the elation on the faces of the winners. We can all agree that some things just aren’t the same online.

You can see the shortlists for the Campaign Publishing Awards here. The winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony, taking place across two days: Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 May. You can register to view the awards here.