Things got a little heated at NewsMediaWorks INFORM Summit on Friday with a lively debate between Dentsu Aegis Network’s head of convergence and operations, Sophie Fletcher, and News Corp Australia’s MD of digital advertising and IAB Australia chair, Cameron King.
The two were speaking on a “Transformation and automation” panel moderated by CEO of NewsMediaWorks Peter Miller.
Fletcher kicked off the panel discussion with a strong pro-automation position.
“Automation is really crucial to our success. If we don’t automate and digitise our business, it will be hard to navigate and be successful.
“We are investing heavily. The focus (of investment) has been in the area of strategic content and data creation but where there hasn’t been an investment is operations. You need to make sure that the people who actually execute your campaigns are empowered.
“The impetus is coming from technologies being available today that we didn’t have before. We didn’t have technology platforms that helped us operationalise. We need to free up resources to spend time on high-value areas.”
Cameron King countered, “The industry is at risk of adopting technology for the sake of technology.
“Competing in an automated marketplace is really hard. There are three big steps that News has taken to be able to compete properly.
“First we invest in pricing capabilities. The secret sauce behind programmatic is consumer data and that was the second area we invested in.
“We don’t have the perfect data that the global tech titans have been able to achieve but the consumer data business for us has been incredibly important. It’s helped us have audience based discussions.
“The third investment we’ve made is in our sales people. How do I empower the largest sales team in the country so they are capable?
“The thing I want to ask is ‘where’s the beef’? What is the value exchange that is being transferred? Who benefits from this technology adoption?
“According to SMI data, $3 million is spent on digital exchanges which makes it the second largest digital channel. Yet at the same time marketer and media value has been halved. It is half as effective in terms of returning funds to publishers. I’m comfortable with the idea of adoption technology but we’ve got to really question the value.”
At which point Fletcher clarified, “For me, programmatic is just one equation of what we have to deal with.
“When I talk about automation, I’m not talking about digital. Where we’ve been left behind is the traditional media. How do I buy print, television, radio so that they can compete with digital inventory?
“It’s a business model that’s evolving and it will keep evolving.”
King challenged this position by using the digitalisation of out-of-home to support his earlier assertion on the value exchange.
“Let’s look at out of home. Digital screens now mean that a buyer receives one-sixth of the share of voice that they used to receive. The reality is that marketer value is significantly eroded when these sorts of technologies aren’t properly vetted.
“That is the mischief that the out of home industry has been up to.
“The role of news media in automation has never been more pertinent and more important. We have reputable websites, editorially controlled environments. The questions I would ask is what value am I getting from the adoption of this technology?
“Does it mean that my share of voice divided by 6? Does it mean that my working media is halved? Are they the outcomes and if so, who is winning?”
Somewhat frustratedly, Fletcher’s response was, “We’ve got people still filling in spreadsheets and sending e-mails to book in print inventory. We need to modernise!
“There has been a lot of investment in transforming other areas of the business (raising revenue) but over the last few years, we have not paid attention to the operational element.
“How can we make it easier for our operational teams to get through the transactional part when the campaign decisions have already been made? Then we can redeploy those resources to other areas of the business. We want analysts instead of processing assistants.
“Google and Facebook provide a platform. Anyone can jump on and buy inventory. We understand that that’s not the norm.
“Those companies are seen in a different light to our local established media partners. But in 2018, if you’re competing with Facebooks and Googles in the market, we need to make sure that we do our housekeeping in our areas.
“We have graduates in our workforce and they get frustrated that we are asking them to do manual work. The first thing I hear when people join agencies is, ‘I thought media was fun.’
“They’re not just saying ping pong tables. They are saying, ‘why is there so much paperwork?’
“We can automate and digitalise our business but without our media partners, there is only so far we can go. Millennials are used to being able to get everything on their phone.”
Attendee Newsworks UK CEO Vanessa Clifford then joined in on the discussion.
“It’s interesting you’re talking about this because we have all of this in the UK and one of the major challenges we have is getting agencies to take them up.
“Now our challenge is that they (the automated platforms) exist and they are not using them.
Mark Lollback, CEO of GroupM Australia, speaking to B&T, nodded his head in agreement.
“That’s exactly it. With Mediacom, we’ve built all this technology and it’s brilliant. And people won’t take it up.”
Sadly the panel discussion was coming to an end with both King and Fletcher finishing on positive notes.
King closed with, “To borrow a laboured position, I don’t think there’s been a better time to be alive. There’s a diversity of opinion. I think we need to get a new deal.
“And news media is on the precipice of getting a new deal. I think the next five years will be a lot more confident than the last.”
Fletcher had the last word, “We often overlook how fortunate we are. Yes, we are dealing with emerging technologies, we are adapting and adopting new practices.
“But at the end of the day, humans are the genius here. We are the ones who have created the technologies and algorithms that make our working life better. We really just need to keep reminding ourselves that we are in power, not technologies.
“I think that’s how we can manage some of the fear that we’re all hearing about.”