The Associated Press (AP) has reported on global events for 174 years. But its bustling cabinet of Pulitzer Prizes is no longer the brand builder it once was. Hoping to polish its public reputation and motivate partners, the news agency has launched a fresh brand positioning – right into the teeth of the biggest news story of the year.
The charge has been led by global marketing director Julie Tucker – a former business director at Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA\London and JWT New York, who joined the AP in 2018 following a stint as brand director at EY and, before that, executive director of marketing at The New York Times.
The Associated Press, Tucker says, had lacked a ”meaningful brand presence” to date. But with the economy behind journalism under threat, she argues that ”you probably need marketing and a good strong brand positioning more than ever”.
So, the organisation worked with design consultancy Frog Design to reassert the its brand and values, updating elements of its visual identity and creating a campaign promoting new messaging. The result is ‘Advancing the Power of Facts‘.
It may seem like a strange time to launch such a project, she confesses. ”We meant to launch last October, but decided the timing wasn‘t right. We then planned to launch in January, but again decided the timing wasn‘t right. In February, we pulled back again because our colleagues were being hit with coronavirus. At a news organisaton, there‘s always a reason not to launch something like this.”
Having recut film assets to include more recent coverage, the team launched the project on 13 March as coronavirus rapidly spread across the States. ”Arguably, it‘s even more salient now than it was in January, or than it would have been in October.”
Despite their impact on the AP‘s marketing efforts, Tucker suggests that recent restrictions placed upon reporting activities have helped to emphasize the necessity of its services.
”Clearly a lockdown is really tough if you want to go to the source and get the story. We, of course, have also been affected by the lockdown... but we do still have as many people as we can out in the field safely. The fact that we have so many journalists on staff around the world means we‘re able to get into the corners where a lot of news companies can‘t safely get to.
”We‘re really trying to help our customers and members as best we can. We need to make sure there aren‘t information vacuums and that people can understand what‘s happening globally, nationally and locally.”
More concerning is the pandemic‘s economic domino effect. Publisher revenues have been hit by lower ad spends, depleting their own budgets for services such as the AP‘s. The organisation is approaching its 175th birthday ”at a time when both journalism and the media business model face serious challenges,” according to the AP‘s president and chief executive officer Gary Pruitt.
Tucker admits that recent woes adding to long-term decline in the AP‘s core market of local and regional newspaper titles are a big worry. ”Look, it has been hard on everybody. It‘s really been a challenge. The decline in traditional newspapers has been something that we‘ve been anticipating, but unfortunately the lockdown might have accelerated that.”
The brand positioning, designed months prior to the onset of the pandemic, seeks to emphasise the AP‘s commitment to publishing hard facts in an era of misinformation and distrust. ”We have a long and storied history of maintaining true neutrality. We‘re a co-operative; we don‘t have any shareholders and we don‘t have any funders. We are in existence because of our members.
”We really serve a steadying force in the world: we provide information. We provide factual stories and factual content, and we provide it across the political spectrum and the global spectrum. We don‘t publish any opinion. We don‘t take sides. And we‘re really proud of that.”
While neutrality is the bedrock beneath many newsrooms, Tucker believes the AP can use the concept to stand out in the market. ”It is actually a space that no one else can claim. There‘s no other media wire service like us, no other news organization that really is independent and built in the structure that we‘re built in.”
She suggests the AP can make a distinction between its reporting and more narrative-driven coverage. ”Truth and facts are subtly different. There‘s no question that every journalist goes out in search of the facts. But the truth is open to you, it‘s your opinion, whereas a fact is simply a fact.”
Tucker, who was at the NYT when it created and launched its lauded ‘The Truth Is Worth It‘ campaign, says the AP‘s ‘Advancing the Power of Facts‘ aims to create brand affection among its staffers as well as among member organisations and clients. ”It‘s about empowering them to feel empowered. Our employees are our best advocates, so the fact that it resonated with them is important. But also, we‘re a B2B company – so we want to say to our customers, ‘this is what we believe in‘.”
The AP also stands to reap benefits from developing its brand for the public. ”More than half the planet sees accurate news and information from the Associated Press every single day,” Tucker claims. ”It‘s important that the general reading population, when they see a story from the Associated Press, know our values and know where we come from.”
Tucker spoke with assistant editor Sam Bradley as part of The Drum‘s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.