The six major newspaper groups are discussing the feasibility of a joint ad sales venture and whether the pooling of resources will help to counter declines in print ad revenue across the market.
The initiative, known as Project Juno, marks the first time the six groups - News UK, Trinity Mirror, Guardian News & Media, DMG Media, Telegraph Media Group, Northern & Shell - have considered an industry-wide collaboration, with each serious enough to put money behind it to run a feasibility study, according to sources close to the matter.
In discussion is the joining up of advertising sales operation across of all the newspapers’ assets in print, digital and mobile, combined with the centralisation of all their data sources.
It is understood the talks involve senior executives at the six groups as well as advertising clients to assess whether the initiative will benefit both and outline what it might look like. The feasibility study is said to be running over a short period of time.
The initiative was first rumoured in May with Trinity Mirror’s chief revenue officer James Wildman said to be leading the contingent, with the business keen to tackle what it believes is a rise in so-called "printism" across the market, a bias against the printed press from agencies and advertisers.
A joint ad sales offering could help publishers share the load of rapid ad revenue declines in recent months. Both print and digital ad spend slumped 16.9 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively year-on-year, according to the the recent Advertising Association/ Warc Expenditure report.
Print advertising in the UK fell by a fifth in April, according to the Telegraph Media Group’s chief executive Murdoch MacLennan, following one of the steepest quarterly drops for newspaper circulations between January and March.
Such declines have forced all the major newspaper groups to implement aggressive cost-cutting measures and be more proactive with how they sell advertising, with News UK’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks approaching agencies for the first time to ensure the group is engaged with advertisers and Trinity Mirror launching the ill-fated the New Day newspaper to try and create new sales opportunities for advertisers.
This proactiveness has led the newspaper groups to consider a pooling of resources, to help them gain better leverage with media agencies, which would be able to buy cross-industry for the first time should the initiative take shape. There’s more impetus now from these publishers to scrap traditional strategies and craft a story of why advertising in newspapers is still a good thing to do.
Each of these publishers owns valuable first party data, but the pooling of such data could work to boost the value of their inventory, giving advertisers the opportunity to target new audiences at a greater scale and at an unprecedented level. Specifically, media buyers could have greater access to impressions, meaning scalability and reach should this initiative go ahead.
That said, it does not come without its obstacles. Carat UK's chief strategy officer Dan Hagen said the publishers would need to "overcome the technical and legal concerns" over merging and de-duplicating their overall pool of users should the data be joined.
What's more, the initiative does raise questions on whether 100 per cent of each publisher's inventory will be pooled together, and if not, what percentage of their inventory will be opened up.
This presents a challenge for each of the major papers, says Sociomantic's partnership development manager Joel Franklin, on how each will value its inventory versus that of a competitor’s.
This was a notion echoed by Hagen, who said: "Working out who owns what and who has a bigger voice could be challenging as some of the players have much better data assets than others."
"This collaboration could see media owners facing a loss of control with how they manage their ad offering with buyers," Franklin said, "What's then needed is for both media owners and buyers to maintain a dynamic and trusted partnership with one another in order to strategise as part of an alliance or as a single entity."
There are other cross-industry initiatives in operation, but these have been historically slow to take up with long-term gain in mind. This includes an automated booking system Publisher Advertising Transaction System (PATS) created by News UK, Mail Newspapers, Telegraph Media Group, Guardian Media Group and ESI Media in 2014 to simplify the transactions process between publishers and agencies.
The Publishers Audience Measurement Company (PAMCo) launched on 1 January this year and has created Audience Measurement for Publishers (AMP), a measurement system that will allow newspapers to trace their broader footprint across all their assets enable advertisers to cross-plan. This intends to deliver value in the second half of 2017.