Best of the week: Trump scares some buyers while encouraging some publishers

Welcome to ICYMI: The best Digiday stories from the week just ending. This week — indeed this year — there is perhaps nothing quite so important as the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States this very afternoon.

There are of course a ton of angles to this story. Our own managing editor Shareen Pathak found one in the form of clients specifically asking agency buyers to keep their brands away from news about Trump.

Usually, the office of the president is considered fairly brand safe. Usually, brands either buy news and politics, or don’t. But there is nothing usual about Trump. One anonymous buyer told Pathak: “We have advertisers in news and politics who are sitting out for Inauguration news and for Trump news.”

But not everyone is skittish
And yet! Our brands reporter Tanya Dua had a separate story about brands like Boeing and Chevron and AT&T that are underwriting activities around today’s inauguration. These companies certainly don’t appear to be at risk of damaging their brands.

And Trump is good for (some) publishers
Indeed, for some publishers, Trump is even something of a boon. Along with other news organizations, Slate has had a big boost in subscribers in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. Since Election Day, its Slate Plus premium membership service has shot up 46 percent to 26,700 members.

“People are suddenly alarmed at the incoming administration,” said Gabe Roth, head of Slate Plus. “People are newly aware of the importance of having independent sources of media that are unafraid to say directly what’s going on. And they respect what Slate’s political team has done and want to make sure we can keep doing it.”

For publishers, scale fails
Once upon a time, volume was the name of the game in digital publishing. But today, with many major publishers cranking out hundreds of stories daily, a growing number are going the other way. Upstarts like The Outline, The Ringer and Axios are either abandoning the quick-hit content or de-emphasizing it, especially as display ad prices continue to decline and advertisers regard top-line audience numbers with increasing skepticism.

The industry’s kind of in a retreat,” said Josh Topolsky, the founder of The Outline. “People are numb to the volume right now.”

Facebook Messenger bots to the rescue
Meanwhile, in non-election news, we take a look at how five brands are creating chatbots for Facebook Messenger now. Several companies, including Starbucks, have been creating bots that are, in essence, brand mascots with personality. Others, like Pernod Ricard, are flexing their content muscles by walking users through hundreds of cocktail recipes. Unilever, for its part, is helping children learn proper toothbrushing techniques.

In what is perhaps a bit of proof that Messenger bots have a ways to go before they’re mainstream, our readers had mixed feelings about all of this.


Inside SportsCenter’s platform approach
“SportsCenter” has been on the air since 1979, but today, ESPN’s flagship news show has to be more than a TV show — it has to be a multi-platform media brand, according to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Rob King. This means having digital and social experts in planning meetings to create different versions of the TV show, as well as video producers creating content for platforms like Instagram, where “SportsCenter” gets 267 million views per month.

“I have never seen [James] Corden’s show, I’m on at the same time. But I’ve seen him sing in the car with a bunch of people. Does that mean I haven’t seen his show?” asked Van Pelt. “It’s the same thing with us. Maybe you didn’t see our show last night, but maybe you caught Van Pelt’s ‘One Big Thing’ segment on your phone. People haven’t chosen someone else, they’re just choosing to find you in some other place.”

Media owners and agencies, heal thyselves
So much of the blame for digital media’s woes is being placed on the Google-Facebook duopoly. But media owners and agencies alike would do well to look in the mirror — and get out of their own way. This, anyway, is the point of view of one digital media and advertising veteran who has worked in the industry for 26 years at a range of traditional and digital media owners, and has also spent time in ad tech companies.

Here’s an excerpt of a longer Q&A

Where are the biggest frictions in digital media currently?
The industry — and digital is particularly guilty of this — has become less about the work and more about businesses finding new routes via bits of tech to make marginal revenue gains. Something’s been lost.

You’re talking media owners or media agencies?
Both. With this drive to efficiency, which basically means cost cutting, there has become such a dependence on ad technology — some of which is amazing, lots of which isn’t.

Publishers have to make money to survive.
Of course, but they’ve let this happen.

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