Fearlessly telling the truth

Yesterday morning, a few of us were kindly invited by our lovely sister agency, PHD, to attend a discussion with David Pemsel, Global Deputy Chief Executive of The Guardian News and Media. It was a great opportunity to probe for his thoughts on news and content organisations today, and the bringing about of authentic conversations between brands and consumers.

The one key point to take out of the discussion was the importance of reaffirming the need for humanistic and global thinking that should inform content production and journalism, while “fearlessly telling the truth”.

A truthful and open relationship

One of the reasons why The Guardian entered the Australian market: they identified that there was an audience that was “desperate for the truth to be told”. So, they took a renegade stance that long-standing mastheads did not have the exclusive right to an entire audience on the basis that the whole news and content system is now an open system.

According to Pemsel, the days of monetising anonymous reach is over. The plan is now to move from anonymous to known. From being a reader to a becoming member. This is where content producers’ goals of bringing in the biggest audience needs to progress into a data goal where data needs to be turned into a brand-audience relationship – a relationship where brands understand who they are talking to.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

But what about concerns about brands using personal data? Well, Pemsel believes that in this case, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. The value and services offered is provided in exchange for data that you, in turn, provide. While sometimes this is branded as being inherently sinister, this is where openness and authenticity again plays a role.

The explicitness of this exchange of data for services isn’t so obvious, so must be communicated by brands to ensure clarity of the relationship. The value of the relationship to the consumer must then be communicated, with the understanding that they are and will be treated with respect. ‘Good’ brands are the ones who understand “the difference between the value you could sell for vs. the value you can give to your audience”. So, fundamentally, this is about recognising the value exchange between brand and consumer.

Be a purpose-led organisation

Within the business landscape, what is actually working? Pemsel’s view is that “purpose-led organisations are now the organisations that are winning.” Could this be due to clarity of purpose making it easier to trust a brand’s agenda?

And how does a business earn this trust? Too easy: transparency and openness. You must allow your audience into the conversation to discuss and debate stories. Then the audience can digest, think, and more easily action, driving behavioural change.

The folly of lowest common denominator procurement

One of the issues in the media landscape today is that lowest common denominator procurement does not understand that context is also what provides value. By focusing primarily on efficiency in media buying, it doesn’t put value on the environment in which the content is placed in. The balance needs to be made between the value of lower price and the value of the environment.

To sum: A widely distributed discussion (even on Twitter and Facebook) is just as important as a newspaper. If a brand has great stories to tell and lets the audience discuss and debate – then this is the most authentic conversation a brand can have.

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