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The future of the media & the power of the past

IC’s Richard Bond reports back from two contrasting industry events which looked forward as well as back

With the festive season fast approaching it seems an appropriate time to share some learnings from two recent industry events we attended. Together they resonate with the season’s mix of enjoying ancient traditions while also looking towards the future.

The first was the PRCA’s North West Meet the media – 2020 predications evening which looked at what the media landscape might look like over the next 12 months.

Featuring an impressive line-up of media influencers including the editor of LadBible Simon Binns, national freelance journalist Felicity Hannah, newspaper columnist and broadcaster Angela Epstein, The Sun’s News Editor Richard Moriaty, and Social Chain’s Liam Anderson, the session explored a wide range of issues facing the sector.

A need for trust and rigour

Hosted by the inimitable John Robb, himself an award winning journalist, broadcaster, TV and radio presenter, topics included the ‘wild west’ of social media, the scourge of fake news and the need for mainstream media to maintain high standards to retain public trust.

Simon Binns seized upon the latter point, pointing out that LadBible was itself incredibly rigorous when it came to what they reported on, adding that maintaining audience trust was just as important to them (if not more so) as it was to any other media outlet represented on the evening’s panel.

Other key takeaways included:

  • Mass media platforms will still be the ‘go to’ source for major news and events which impact on everyone such as the General Election and Brexit
  • More long-form socially-orientated content, emerging niche online channels and more audience micro-targeting will continue to disrupt traditional media models
  • Shorter attention spans, peer-to-peer sharing and the ‘second screen’ will continue to reshape the way content is created and communicated
  • Brands and organisations can’t simply attempt to become ‘social’ by using social channels, they need to work closely with online platforms to get the messaging and treatment right for their respective audiences
  • Commercial pressures continue to influence all forms of media, old and new – with the suggestion that a ‘pay per article’ model may be more sustainable than a paywall approach for publishers

Using the past to help sell the present

In sharp contrast, Prolific North’s Nostalgia – is it what it used to be? evening focused firmly on the power of the past. Prolific North’s editor David Prior was joined by Amelia Brophy, Head of Data Products at YouGov UK, Helen Rose, Head of Insight & Analytics at the7stars, Phillip Hulme, Director of Sales at Anchor Hanover Group, and Emma Hunt, Head of Marketing at Vimto.

Based on new consumer research about attitudes towards nostalgia – co-commissioned by YouGov and the7stars – this event explored not only how the past is increasingly being used to promote brands but also why.

In addition, it looked at the phenomenon of ‘fauxstalgia’, a phrase coined to described how some people feel a fondness for an era which they never actually experienced.

Some important learnings included:

  • Most people would rather think about a familiar past than try and imagine an unknown future, and this is why advertisers look to trigger positive emotions via nostalgic treatments
  • Using nostalgia in marketing doesn’t automatically mean you are seen as authentic, and authenticity remains a much more effective driver in terms of successful storytelling
  • People will (and do) get nostalgia fatigue, so repeating already widely-used tropes – or over relying on the past with no real innovation added to the creative process – will inevitably fail to deliver the ROI you are seeking

If you want to know more – or to read the full research – there’s a full write-up here.

What this means for PRs

For those of us at the frontline of strategic communications both events highlighted that whatever content we are tasked with shaping and delivering, we always need to consider the target audience and the overarching objectives before we do anything else.

And that rule is as good today as it’s always been.