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Resilience remains the key to ensuring publishing success

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Richard Reeves, Managing Director, AOP
Richard Reeves, Managing Director, AOP

Through the COVID-19 crisis, one key theme has stood firm: resilience. Challenges have been met with determination to keep going, embodied by inspiring individuals such as Sir Captain Tom, and of course key workers who continue to battle on our behalf every day.

 

And while it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the severe impact of COVID-19, especially one year on from the first UK lockdown, wider changes to priorities and behaviours are also offering surprisingly positive lessons in how to build a better future. This is well captured in a recent article from the Evening Standard, which highlights that while there are many aspects of the pandemic we want to leave behind, there have been valuable lessons and unexpected beneficial side effects, whether that’s flexible working or bringing communities closer together. We have all learnt to adapt to the changing times. And the same is true of online publishing.

 

Taking stock of success

While we continue to face evolving threats, I am often buoyed by the success stories I see from across our industry. Independent media players like Reach have announced record year-on-year digital revenue growth, and we can see from our own DPRI data that AOP members are adapting to the disruption, with 53% of digital publishers seeing positive revenue growth in Q3 2020, more than double that of the previous quarter (22%), partly driven by a rise in subscription revenues. We’ve also witnessed incredible innovation; Hearst Media, for example, is experimenting with livestream events that give Cosmopolitan readers the instant ability to buy featured products, while Future has already made sizeable gains from eCommerce collaborations on key shopping events, including Black Friday.

 

The wider industry also seems tentatively poised for optimism, especially with a government roadmap out of lockdown on the horizon. But, it’s clear in the short-term, constant adjustment and innovation still remain essential to publisher success in a challenging world.

 

Prioritising transparency and trust

We know that audiences have rushed towards premium publisher environments during the last year as they seek trusted sources for news and information, demonstrated in a recent study from QuMind. During this period of uncertainty, news brands have delivered strong impacts on quality perceptions – see the latest report from Newsworks – showing that by association, brands appearing in these premium environments will also be seen as trustworthy, an important consideration for advertisers. Trust has always been at the forefront of our industry, but now readers themselves will take action and rightly hold businesses accountable for unethical practices. Authenticity and genuine brand values are no longer a nice-to-have, they are a must-have.

 

A key priority to continue forging trust is by sharpening the focus on transparency around data practices and protecting consumer privacy. We’ve been in deep discussions with the ICO to understand how its announcement earlier this year will impact digital publishing and, most importantly, what publishers can do to ensure they are adhering to regulations and have put in place the appropriate measures around data protection. While we continue to work closely with the ICO to help them understand specific nuances around the supply chain and digital publishing, we have put together a summary to help publishers consider and refine their position.

 

As part of our own mission to build a fairer ecosystem that rewards quality journalism, the latest CRUNCH event also addressed the issue of trust. With a panel of esteemed speakers, moderated by Ali Hanan, Founder & CEO at Creative Equals, we explored industry commitment to honest journalism. One key message was “be the change you want to see” and it was clear that all industry players, tech platforms, publishers and the government alike, have a role to play in building an ecosystem with trust and quality at its core. The event proved there is work still to do and we must facilitate the forums to talk openly and directly about these issues.

 

Championing publisher excellence

Last but not least is the importance of learning from leading industry forces. The annual AOP Digital Publishing Awards not only provide a chance to celebrate publisher brilliance, but also gain inspiration from those who have demonstrated exceptional resilience and agility. As ever our awards will be judged by industry specialists — under the expert guidance of co-chairs, Robin Shute, Operations Director of Incisive Media, and Hayley Cochrane, Head of Digital for Mail Metro Media — and enable the showcasing of work across 26 categories, including the newly added ‘Best Publisher-led Social Good Initiative’. Entries are open now, so I look forward to hearing your success story.

 

I’m sure we’ve all had moments of doubt over the last year – or even in the last week – and I remain in awe of colleagues, friends and key workers, who have demonstrated true resilience and continue to overcome the challenges put before them.

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