Media New York Times Cannes Lions

NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and Mark Thompson talk gig economy, fake news and Alexa

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By Nicole Jordan | CEO and founder

July 6, 2017 | 6 min read

Two journalism heavyweights took the stage at Cannes Lions to talk about building strong businesses in a changing world: Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box and editor-at-large of The New York Times’ DealBook and Mark Thompson, president and chief executive of The New York Times.

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Gig economy and new brand ambassadors

With the rise of the gig economy, especially services like Uber and Angie’s List, our engagement beyond the dashboard is with people who aren’t traditional employees. This creates an interesting market dynamic between users and the company’s front lines – not the corporate office.

Commenting on the topic, Sorkin said: “Most people are still happy to click on the Uber app. The people we interact with at Uber don’t work there at all. This is one of a few companies where people who are the frontline relationship have nothing to do with the [corporate] culture, and what does that mean?”

Thompson added that “brands would normally be terrified about ambassadors not being trained, but if you’ve got a leadership situation that’s controversial, it might be an advantage, because it’s the citizens who represent the company to the public.”

Sorkin has it right: what does it mean in the larger context of brand communications when the shenanigans of the corporate office (i.e. Uber’s recent bevy of issues) don’t technically impact the workers or end user? Given the rise of on-demand services, and projected growth, this won’t be the last time this question is raised in terms of brand ownership and control.

Brand and content partnerships in a voice-command world

In a world of voice-activated connected devices such as Alexa, where do brands fit? This is the question Sorkin posed. He likened the potential with a nod towards HBO, who is distributed through cable providers such as Time Warner or Comcast, as an example of a brand platform relationship where one supports the other.

“It always suited cable to promote HBO as a premium product…it’s in the platform’s interest to promote individual brands. It could be a competitive advantage and make sense to offer a new podcast from The New York Times [through Alexa], for example. It’s about finding symbiosis between brands that works.”

Media companies need readers and listeners as they expand content formats, but distribution has always been an issue. Isn’t this why Facebook is such a necessary evil for publishers? Mutually beneficial content partnerships – such as we’ve seen with Snap and other media properties – will only increase as we have more connected devices. How will branded content integrate into voice-command cars, for example? And how can publishers and platforms monetize?

Separating fact from fiction

#FakeNews is a hot topic at The New York Times. It’s not just the literal fake news, but headlines implying a lack of confidence in the business market. The real truth serum, as he puts it, is if business owners are confident enough to do deals.

“If you look over the past fifty years, deals are a forward looking indicator as to where the market and economy is going to go. Since Donald Trump was elected, deals have fallen off a cliff, with deal making in the U.S. now at 2013 levels.” As for across the pond, Sorkin sees a different story. “Confidence and deal making is high in Europe. The economy is fine, not great, not terrible, but not nearly where the market and news would suggest.”

Overall, The New York Times is seeing a surge unlike any in its recent history. Thompson sees the #fakenews push as having the opposite effect in terms of citizen engagement and morale with employees.

“There is a spring in the step of The New York Times and a sense our mission and relevance is greater now than any time I’ve been involved. We’re told every day how central and important we are by the president. He’s pumping relevance into the brand and the noisier and more distrustful news is painted as, the stronger the case for publications like The Times and the Wall Street Journal. It’s an incredible time to be a journalist.”

But it’s not just the professionals who are creating the news - citizens are also paving the way. Thompson closed out the session commenting how “fascinating it is how readers have become reporters, triangulating the news and searching for truth.”

“We may be happy to read fake news, but we become our own investigative reporter, and once you’ve gone to five sources you may land at The New York Times,” he said.

Media New York Times Cannes Lions

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