Six key learnings from our webinar with Tim Burrowes

I sat down with Media Unmade author and Mumbrella cofounder Tim Burrowes on Wednesday, October 13 to discuss what the past decade of media disruption has meant for communications professionals. Here are six key takeaways from what Tim had to say*. 

You can watch a recording of the session here, or just listen to the audio here.

1. Media polarisation isn’t going away any time soon

“For 100 years the single biggest driver of publisher revenue was advertising – classified and display – and that meant being all things to all people. Over the last decade we’ve hit the tipping point where subscriptions became more important than advertising, and rightly or wrongly the major publishers have decided the best way of driving subscriptions is to appeal to a niche, and that usually means (being) polarising.” 

2. In that environment, pitch more exclusives

“At the moment, you absolutely have news and media brands super focused on what will drive a potential subscriber to sign up, and that will take their news values in a certain direction. There’s a question there about whether that’s particularly good for society but if there’s an opportunity for comms professionals, it’s that if they have a really good understanding of what the priorities of a particular target publication are, then clearly crafting something which ticks the box for them can be a very compelling pitch indeed. One of the most valuable things to put behind a paywall is unique content, so of course that probably means having to pitch more exclusives rather than seeking mass coverage. “ 

3. Social media should sit with comms teams, not marketing, and ‘risk’ is the key to convincing managers 

“Personally my instinct with social has always been it sits more naturally with the comms team rather than marketing. I remember talking to a friend in a PR agency a while back, and at that point, they were struggling to find a way in with clients (about social). They were selling it as ‘You can talk about the brand’ or whatever. But the moment they finally cracked it was when they turned it into a conversation about risk management. Rather than being about building the brand it was ‘You need to be monitoring this so you can respond if there’s a problem’. Risk management is something that can be sold up the chain a lot more easily, but that’s something that also sits with the comms team.” 

4. You should be reviewing your company’s social media policies post the Voller judgement

“There’s a real risk there. It becomes a risk-benefit calculation. When that judgement came through I was still a member of the editorial leadership team at Mumbrella, and we took the decision that was moment for us to come off Facebook. Because although we got some traffic from it, and it was nice traffic to have, it wasn’t a major part of our business model. So it just reduced the legal risk of us having to take responsibility for a defamatory comment we’d not been able to moderate in time. Now for other publishers and brands, the benefits might yet outweigh the risks. But there needs to be a proper assessment of the increased risk. Some may choose to take the increased risk because the engagement is so good, but others might decide that it’s not worth it.” 

5. To succeed in modern comms, you should look to understand marketing

The communications discipline and the marketing discipline has gotten a lot closer in the past decade. It’s now not uncommon for people to have marketing and communications in their job title. Still not as common as I expected it to be by now, but owned, earned and paid – those three things are getting closer. I think if somebody wants to succeed in a communications career, they will need to understand the world of marketing, and vice versa. That’s definitely been one of the trends of the decade.” 

6. Navigating change means investing time in staying informed

“Life is so much more complicated now. When it comes to individual careers and working lives, I remember talking to someone who said, particularly when you move to a senior level, it should be a bit like being a medical consultant. You should feel obliged to spend, their argument was, maybe a day a week staying up to date on current practice, because it changes so fast. It’s such a fast-moving world and there are so many more voices out there now. Staying on top of the voices is ever more complex.” 

* (Quotes have been edited slightly for clarity.)

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