Five questions with: Jo Allan, Newsworks managing director

Five questions with: Jo Allan, Newsworks managing director

Jo Allan, Newsworks MD chats to Mike Fletcher about fake news, creative advertising, the role of the news brands marketing body and getting back to West End theatre

Hi Jo. You have an impressive CV, having held senior positions at brands including Cadbury and AB InBev and at agencies including Carat, Dentsu Aegis Network and Vizeum. How does your role at Newsworks compare?

Having worked both agency and client side, it’s stood me in good stead for my current role at Newsworks. I think having such rounded experience helps me do the job I do now, from leading the industry’s ‘All Together’ campaign for the Government, to galvanising the industry around our common purpose, journalism matters.

I’m in my element because I’ve been tasked with driving news brands’ reputation and revenue but I also get to be involved in hands-on marketing again, which inspires me creatively. Marketing has always been my passion and I’ve been fortunate enough to work for brands I love, alongside some truly incredible people.

At Newsworks, I’m sitting at the heart of an entire industry, not just one brand or one agency and that brings with it a different dynamic. It’s fast-moving, that’s the nature of news after all, and there’s always something going on.

What might surprise some people though is that it is an amazingly collaborative industry, and this is one of the most inspiring aspects of my job.

What are some of the day-to-day challenges Newsworks is faced with and in particular, how has Covid impacted the value of journalism and the role of the newspaper marketing body?

Our main challenge is convincing advertisers of the true value of trusted journalism.

It’s our job to demonstrate the importance of news brands’ unique context and content, and how that directly links back to driving better business results for brands.

Covid has forced us all to re-evaluate how we do things. It has encouraged us to innovate and help to move the industry forwards.

Last year, our Back Don’t Block campaign focused on the impact advertiser keyword blocklists were having on trusted journalism.

Plus, as mentioned previously, a year ago we launched our ‘All Together’ campaign for the Government, which saw the “Stay at home” message run in more than 600 local and national news brands across the country.

It was the single biggest news brand collaboration the UK has ever seen, for the most important public information campaign in a generation. It delivered huge impact, which is why, a year on, the partnership is still going strong.

From a Newsworks point of view, I think these two campaigns encapsulate the role we play for our news brand stakeholders. We help bring revenue directly into our industry, while also cheerleading from the front.

That’s a pretty unique place to be and why I am immensely proud of what we do.   

With the rise of fake news, misinformation and disinformation across other mediums, how important is it for news brands to maintain trust and quality?

In a world clouded by fake news, misinformation and wild conspiracy theories, we have seen a surge in people coming to news brands for information and analysis they can rely on.

The pandemic has accelerated this trend but the growth in readership started long before. It won’t surprise anyone that millions more people have been reading news brands in the last year.

Our own World Without News research also shows just how much value people put in quality journalism.

Some 66% of news consumers said they appreciate journalism more since the pandemic began. Encouragingly, this rises to 77% when we look at the under 35s.

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This increased demand for trust and quality among readers has had a beneficial knock-on effect for advertisers, as the recent IPA Databank analysis we carried out with effectiveness expert Peter Field revealed.

This is largely because ads appearing in news brands are increasingly perceived as more trustworthy and high quality by readers, which are now two of the most important factors that lead to profit growth for advertisers.

So, maintaining trust and quality for our readers and advertisers is absolutely imperative and is something our industry is always focused on.

What’s your overall opinion on news brand advertising? Has it grown more creative over the past year? Are you seeing any particular trends in key areas?

Your timing couldn’t be better as we recently held the judging day for our Planning Awards.

While I can’t give too much away ahead of our awards ceremony, which takes place on 28 April, I can say that we were all blown away by the entries.

It’s great to take time away from the day job and remind yourself of the brilliant campaigns out there. It’s really inspiring.

In a year like no other, we saw some truly incredible creativity. Brands that really embraced, adapted and responded to a Covid world, from offering practical advice and help to customers, or injecting much-needed fun and humour to lift the nation, we saw a display of the very best in news brand advertising.

These campaigns worked so well because they had all aligned their insights and thinking to quality journalism, the unique power of news brands and the outcomes they can deliver.

I am sure all the other judges would agree with me when I say that we all had moments throughout the day when we sat back and thought: “I wish I had thought of that.”

The day certainly left me feeling very buoyant about news brand advertising and what the future holds.

Away from news brands, what entertainment media do you consume? Are there any lessons that news brands can learn from the likes of Netflix?

For news brands, one learning we have taken from the platforms is the importance of simplification, and by that I mean how much easier can we make it for advertisers of all shapes and sizes to engage and activate with our industry.

I think it’s really important to be aware of everything else going on in the wider industry, so I try and consume as much as possible.

From a personal point of view I’ve watched more TV than ever in the past year. I suspect I’m not alone. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to the West End to see some shows when we can.

As to Netflix, I do love a good series. I’d recommend The Queen’s Gambit for a bit of escapism if you haven’t already seen it.

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