I don’t think anyone would challenge the statement that the last seven years have represented a period of unprecedented change in the media industry!
Back in 2008, at the start of my time at ABC, we were heading into the worst recession in 30 years. Within the space of a year, advertising revenue collapsed and it was a difficult time for media owners, agencies and advertisers alike. But the challenges that assailed print and other media gave a new impetus to an already burgeoning force in the industry; digital.
The boom in digital media and the economic recovery kick-started growth and helped drag the industry back into positive territory – digital now forms the still-expanding and evolving core of total ad spend and is the biggest single sector ahead of TV. One of the things that impelled digital forward during those difficult years was the promise of the “ultimate measurable medium”, where you only paid for what you got. Investment in digital advertising in 2008 saw online ad spend reach £3 billion. Fast forward seven years and that figure has grown by 233 per cent, representing an industry now worth £7 billion to the UK economy.
Digital has also been the catalyst for many of the dramatic changes witnessed by the industry over the last seven years. When I joined ABC, the media sector was still very much siloed into print, radio, TV, out of home and online. With divisions between these platforms rapidly dissolving, cross-industry partnerships are more important than ever before. ABC now works with BARB to audit TV player data as part of Project Dovetail. Traditional Newsbrands are expanding online, with audio and video integral to written content and a reach that is now global - over 70 per cent of Mailonline’s 12 million daily Unique Browsers are from outside the UK.
The way an audience engages with content has also dramatically changed. Apple’s revolutionary iPad was introduced in 2010 and with smart phone technology improvements, suddenly everyone became mobile. Social media for many companies has become an essential part of doing business. In 2008 Facebook had 100 million active users worldwide. In 2015 this is now 1.5 billion – a growth of 1400 per cent. Successful brands now have to move faster and relevant content is more important than ever before. The role of ABC through all of this has been what it always had been – to continually innovate so media brand owners have the right products and services to demonstrate the breadth of their brand reach across all platforms, website, face-to-face, apps and beyond.
The rise in digital ad trading however has exposed some serious issues for advertisers, which are now right at the top of the CMO’s agenda as the amount of “money at risk” has grown. ABC has used its R&D expertise to rise to these new challenges working closely with the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS). The discovery of big brand advertising on porn and other inappropriate websites sparked widespread panic and an industry investigation back in 2008. ABC now certifies Content Verification Tools and issues ‘trust seals’ to over 30 companies to show their compliance with the industry-agreed code for online brand safety. Last month, ABC issued its second Viewability report which compares results for 6 ad viewability measurement products on a comparable basis. In 2016 ABC’s focus will be on anti-fraud initiatives as the industry works together to overcome this. We also continue to develop our partnerships for example with JICREG, BARB and UKOM, to offer consistency and transparency across the wider media industry.
As the digital world expands, so do its borders. Partnerships are now global, as I saw during my four-year tenure as President of the International Federation of ABCs. We have undertaken joint projects with our sister organisations in the US, Brazil, Sweden and Australia to name but a few.
Seven years ago, ABC couldn’t have coped with all this change. ABC had to evolve its culture to be focused on getting things done, not on processes. I decided to merge our separate print and digital brands, ABC and ABCe, to reflect better the integrated nature of our clients and promote a smoother exchange of resource and expertise inside the company. Our ABC Board and governance structure was streamlined to be more flexible. Now we can change an industry standard as agreed by both buyers and sellers, in six weeks not six months and in as little as two weeks. Based on our members’ ideas we developed ABC Quickview and other interactive reports, so everyone could select and analyse the information they needed simply and quickly.
If the last seven years is anything to go by, the media world will continue to evolve in ways we cannot yet predict. Our biggest challenge is to keep our stakeholders active in shaping what we do and helping us to develop future standards, products and services that work hard for them. ABC’s future ultimately lies in its ability to provide a ‘stamp of trust’ for an increasingly complex industry.
What will I miss the most? As much of cliché as it is, it’s the people. From small publishers in farmyards in Warwickshire, to the Blue Fin building and the little Shard, my role has taken me to all four corners of the country. Back in Berkhamsted and elsewhere, ABC boasts an incredible team who never fail to impress me with the quality of their work and commitment to deliver. When all is said and done, it’s the people not the processes that make ABC and I have every faith that they will continue to build a vibrant and dynamic future for the organisation.