Marc Sands of the Guardian on the future of the media

November 7, 2008

Marc Sands, Director of Marketing at the Guardian newspaper company in the UK spoke at our Forrester Research Consumer Marketing Forum in London on the 7th of November. He came to speak about how media companies have had to give up control of the media — the sources of media content, the analysis of the content they deliver, and the online communities that feed off them.

I introduced myself before Marc’s speech and mentioned that I would be posting a blog entry. In classic British modesty, he appeared uncomfortable with the attention. I misinterpreted this as concern about my blog and asked if he was okay with being blogged live. He responded very quickly and sincerely:

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? We media companies have to give up control over the content. So whether I like it or not doesn’t matter.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Here’s what else I learned from Sands:

  1. The newspaper isn’t dead, it’s just changing how it adds value. He’s not pretending that newspapers aren’t challenged and the question of where the money will come from looms very large in Sands’s view, but he showed some data about how newspapers are becoming more valuable as sources of analysis rather than daily information. See the clip below for his comments and data. His point isn’t just about newspapers. Rather, he’s emphasizing that all media have to find how they either pursue a niche, or use a multimedia strategy to meet their audience’s different needs. 
     
  2. One potential side effect of media digitization is the rise of people who don’t consume news at all. Sands reported data on consumers who don’t engage the news at all. He mentioned that as many a tenth (didn’t catch the actual number, sorry) of Americans don’t consume news at all in a typical week. He wondered aloud whether they knew yet that their compatriots had elected a black president.
  3. The people inclined to say “yes” are the ones who will shape the future. This was a particularly powerful point, especially coming from somone at a newspaper which Sands admits tends due to its political leanings to say “yes” to just about anything (including Ricky Gervais’s hilarious podcast). He said that people who are by nature inclined to say yes to new things will do the most valuable experimentation. As a result, they will end up having a disproportionate impact on the future (my words, his implication). To that I say: “Yes.”
  4. The media have the luxury of having short development cycles. Media companies can launch new things, new stories, new ideas, quickly. They can also make mistakes quickly (he mentioned the role of citizen journalism to correct news organizations when they fail, such as in the case of Dan Rather vs. George Bush). But, responding to the speech before him from BMW in which the company spoke of 5-7 year development cycles, he added, “at least when we make a mistake, it doesn’t get built in to the body of a car. We can bury our mistakes more quickly and move on.” 
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