Monthly Archives: January 2014

The right rail is history. MPU’s are finished. The New York Times has chucked them out, so it must be true.

The New York Times website has just re-designed, the big news being  that with 700,000 paying subscribers, the brand feels confident enough to reduce reliance on display advertising, and concentrate instead on sponsored content. There’s been tons of comment on this, notably at Business Insider, from where I pinched the screen grabs below.

The fact of the matter, is that we’ve taught everyone that what happens in the ‘right rail’ is commercial nonsense and of no consequence. So no-body looks at it. (Although I would like to direct coverthinkers to my own right right rail, just over …there).

This screen grab shows the same story, but now with content extended across the full site width. In addition, they’ve also cleared out a load of clutter and replaced it with, shock horror, white space!

There are now dedicated areas for sponsored content, or ‘paid posts’ as the NYT likes to call them. This is best explained at Ad Age, where there are good details of  extraordinary lengths the Times is going to in order to make clear the distinction between this content and NYT editorial. Ad Age says that sponsored content will be visible through their own site search, but when I looked for this Dell article about millenials shunning the office, I couldn’t find it.

Many commentators like the new site, but like me, are frustrated by the lack of change on the homepage. Most readers may well land on an article page, but as a marketing opportunity, making a bigger move here would really help consolidate the gains elsewhere.

CNN make the bold claim that this redesign is the future of publishing. That may, or may not be true. But what is a fact is that sponsored content is here to stay, it’s just a question of how publishers can manage the fine balance with church and state. I’m grateful to David Bostock from Bauer, who has tweeted this excellent link on the 12 different ways publishers explain native advertising to their readers. And here’s the excellent Emily Bell, with her observations on the transparency of sponsored content in The Guardian.

In America, Hearst have made great strides with branded content under ex SAY Media boss Troy Young, who has just hired my old Conde Nast Mademoiselle colleague Kate Lewis as VP of content and editorial director. My suspicion is, that with her superb CV as guardian of editorial excellence, one of her biggest jobs will be to keep skittish editors in line.

Mergers, aquisitions and permanent beta. My media predictions for 2014.

End of year reviews are fun, but I’m just a little bit late for that. Besides, I’m much more interested now in what happens next. Here’s five big ideas that media brands need to grapple with in 2014.

1. Realise the value of their audience
Trust and recognition can take decades to build. With every brand in the world now able to deliver a content proposition, media brands have a genuine head start when it comes to building meaningful audience relationships. Expect mergers and acquisitions.

2. Understand that a strong point of view is an obligation
Content is everywhere, so brands must be highly disciplined with their content strategy to maintain attention, credibility and point of difference. This means more focus on brand values, and then delivering stories that reflect them with a point of view that really means something.

3. Create better sponsored content
Instead of the rubbish that turns up in everyone’s feed, brands have to realise their sponsored content must be entertaining, useful and non-promotional. Every. Single. Time.

4. Get the website balance right
The hardest nut to crack, but if the content and the user experience is valuable, users will pay – particularly for specialist brands. If titles can get their story straight and support it across every platform, then metered content, paywalls and added value subscriptions will succeed. A different business model will also reduce the requirement to yell at the audience with a bunch of screaming MPUs.

5. Accept permanent beta and budget accordingly
Media brands need to wake up to the fact that visual design IS content. User expectation is now so demanding, that brands need to accept continual development when it comes to look, feel and function. Whatever the platform, if the experience doesn’t feel right within the first three seconds, people will wander off.

Same as it ever was.