Agencies and marketers have an important role to play in the future of Australian news

Seb Rennie
By Seb Rennie | 1 September 2021
Seb Rennie

Our advertising dollars are investing in the future of news in this country. So how can we ensure we’re doing our part to future-proof this important asset? GroupM's Seb Rennie explains.

When I first started my career, news was an important part of what we did.

It offered immediate reach at and was an important part of our media mix. It was, and still is, timely and provides a palette for smart, entertaining and engaging creative messaging. 

I’d argue that news has become more, not less, important. But with the advent of digital, the environment has become more challenging, particularly with the introduction of programmatic ad placement across news publishers.

News publishers have seen the impact of aggressive avoidance strategies with examples of keyword blocking that excludes advertisers from huge swathes of news inventory. As it stands, content is being blocked unnecessarily and not for the right reasons. The intention is heightened brand safety, but the outcome can be counterproductive. We saw in the uncertainty at the start of the pandemic, many brands blocking terms like Covid and Pandemic to reduce exposure to negative and potentially damaging news content, but the result was excluding large volumes of credible, important and brand safe news.

Ultimately, news matters to us all. Now, more than ever before, we have to stay informed from credible sources. Fair and balanced journalism is an important part of having a balanced discourse from a national and a community perspective.

To ensure trusted, reliable news remains available to us and the generations to come, advertisers and agencies have an important role to play.

At GroupM, we’ve long advised our clients against blanket blocking and we frame our conversations with clients to talk about where they sit on the spectrum of risk when it comes to brand safety and brand suitability.

While brand safety looks to protect brands from sitting beside negative or damaging content, brand suitability is more about aligning with the quality and values of the media publication. It’s an evolution and an important conversation.

Some clients want to conservatively curate the space where their ads go, others have performance as their primary objective – KPI delivery is king. We tend to find most clients generally sit in the middle of the tolerance vs. tactics spectrum.

Having more nuanced conversations around how we can ensure investment is going to the right place and not inadvertently being diverted into other hands is critical. And we're bringing more focus to the importance of supporting the news environment and quality journalism, in general.

For us, this is an ongoing conversation with our clients, and I would urge other media agencies, and marketers, to do the same if they are not already.

It’s encouraging to see industry body ThinkNewsBrands working with Roy Morgan to streamline how news is represented in our key planning tool, the Asteroid database.

The reorganisation of the database has created a one stop shop for planners that better represents how we are consuming news these days. While news previously sat within a “print” folder alongside magazines, it is now represented within the database as a stand-alone channel that shows the reach across print, digital and Total News – the combination of the two.

This removes the friction for agencies and clients to access the information they need making it as easy as possible to make the right decisions around investing in news.

All of this is part of a wider discourse the industry needs to have. Given the scale of what we do, the decisions we make have the power to shape the media landscape. At GroupM, we believe we can make advertising work better for people and that’s brought to life through our responsible investment framework.

Brand safety and suitability sits at the heart of this framework alongside data ethics, diversity, equality and inclusion as well as sustainability and responsible journalism

We want to be more intentional in our investment decisions and support trusted news sources.

Having these conversations is vital, if not for us, for the generations to come who deserve a diverse and ethical Australian news media.

Seb Rennie is the Chief Investment Officer for GroupM.


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