New WMG CEO to advertisers: Don’t shy away from trusted news in an election year

New WMG CEO to advertisers: Don’t shy away from trusted news in an election year
Clockwise from left: Credland, Adams and Winchurch-Beale
The Media Leader Interview

World Media Group (WMG) has appointed Jamie Credland as CEO, succeeding Belinda Barker.

Credland was most recently senior vice-president, marketing and strategy, at The Economist Group. In his new role, he will be supported by two newly appointed co-presidents: Samantha Adams, vice-president, advertising sales, Western Europe, at BBC Studios; and Emma Winchurch-Beale, vice-president, group partnerships UK, at Economist Impact.

Barker, who led WMG for 15 years, will remain on the board and act as chair in 2024.

WMG is a strategic alliance of media organisations that seeks to connect brands with audiences of major outlets. Its members are predominantly US-based and include BBC News, The Economist, Forbes, Insider, National Geographic, Reuters, The New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Its latest member is CNN.

Credland sat down with The Media Leader to discuss his remit and the challenges facing news publishers in an election year, when access to reliable information is likely to be complicated by generative AI.

‘Flight to quality’

“News is so important to the well-functioning of society.”

Credland, who spent 13 years at The Economist and its events and research sibling Economist Impact, has a great passion for WMG’s mission and for media more broadly, based on his belief in news publishing’s role in democracy.

But he is also passionate about the commercial opportunity around news, even as dominant narratives around news publishing have signalled red flags.

Just this month, Sports Illustrated laid off the majority of its staff and Pitchfork was swallowed by GQ. In the past year, BuzzFeed News and Vice Media collapsed, and startups like The Messenger are reportedly on the ropes.

That has not dampened Credland’s enthusiasm; he chooses to see changing consumer behaviour as an exciting challenge for publishers to adapt to and grow stronger: “Working in an industry that’s part of rapid change is really exciting.”

Yet he is clear-eyed about the challenges this year. For example, Credland admits generative AI is causing anxiety for publishers, even as it potentially offers an exciting future for news publishing — both in its capacity to aid newsrooms and sales teams, and the potential for it to change consumer behaviour to news outlets’ benefit.

“When generic content is so easy to produce, users will start to identify quality content,” he says. “I think gen AI will trigger a flight to quality, both in the news environment and for those wanting to read music reviews or anything else you’re going to be looking for.”

As such, the importance of news outlets as a trusted source of information will become invaluable, especially during an election year, when misinformation and disinformation, potentially created with the use of AI, is anticipated to run rampant on social media.

When consumers don’t know where to look for information, they’re more likely to seek out sources they feel they can trust, especially publishers that can be held accountable for misreporting facts.

Podcast: Guardian upfronts and why AI-generated misinfo could be a blessing for newsbrands

Credland says of WMG’s members: “All of them, I fully expect over the next six to 12 months, are going to be taking a different approach to generative AI.”

Keyword blocklists harming publishers

While Credland is confident consumers will increasingly turn towards news they can trust amid elections around the world, he is concerned advertisers will not do the same.

Indeed, AI and the changing relationship between publishers and social media companies are headwinds facing news publishers. But the biggest issue this year, says Credland, is a much longer-established concern: advertisers overzealously pulling spend over fears of brand safety.

“The biggest challenge is advertisers or marketers who are shying away from election or war coverage, who are perhaps using keyword blocklists in an indiscriminate way and may not even be aware of it,” he explains.

In some ways, he continues, the problem has worsened, with brands and media agencies increasingly erring on the side of caution when it comes to advertising against news content out of fear of controversy.

Such a strategy is not necessarily consistent. Despite using keyword blocklists on news sites, advertisers seem otherwise unaware of ads being placed against misinformation or harmful content on social media sites or made-for-advertising sites. This can be similarly harmful to brands.

WMG will be “banging the drum” on this topic in 2024, according to Credland, arguing that advertisers should want to support the necessary work done by quality journalists, especially because of the halo effect trusted news brands can have on brands. Alluding to research by the likes of Newsworks and effectiveness guru Peter Field, Credland notes that investment in trusted news improves ad effectiveness.

Regardless of whether news brands receive support from advertisers, Credland agrees that publishers must do more to innovate and diversify revenue streams. The key area to watch, he says, is around how publishers will deploy their first-party data — something that will become increasingly valuable to marketers in a post-cookie digital landscape.

Credland concludes: “Those publishers that own the relationship with their customer will have more opportunities to adjust their subscription or advertising models than those that don’t.”

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