Online Media Awards winners reveal the lasting editorial lessons from lockdown
Channel 4 News, Jungle Creations and The i, all big winners at The Drum Online Media Awards, share with us what they think gives them their edge in a competitive landscape.
It has been a challenging time for the media, with the lockdown tearing up editorial strategy and limiting the marketing budgets that keep the industry rolling forward. But The Drum tapped up some of the industry's finest to learn how they have adapted to the lockdown, from a content perspective as well as social media performance and audience loyalty.
They shared how they see the future of the industry after this unusual period.
Online Media Awards winners reveal the lasting editorial lessons from lockdown
First up is Ayshah Tull, a news reporter at Channel 4 News/ITN and part of The Drum Online Media Awards’ Outstanding Digital Team of the Year as well as being crowned Journalist of the Year and taking home the Grand Prix (the first time an individual has been awarded that accolade).
Tull is praised by Reuters global editor Jane Barrett, who was a judge at the Online Media Awards, for “engaging a younger generation with the news, finding and telling stories from communities often left out of the mainstream news narrative, and doing it all with utter professionalism”.
Tull, who works on a team of around 20, says her job is to make the TV-centric news product fit for the social and digital age. “Coming from a background of younger audiences, I need to make sure that we’re digital,“ she explains. “When we’re thinking about stories, we need to think about the audience first and where they’re likely to be viewing these stories.”
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It’s a rare day that younger generations turn on the TV to watch the 7pm news bulletin, so she’s creating helpful content that follows them into their platforms. Series like Rated on Instagram and Uncovered on Facebook Watch, as well as the YouTube Explainers are all landing with audiences that Channel 4 News was likely to miss.
And while people have been seeking out information during lockdown, Tull says the channel has had to ramp up its coverage. “There just hasn't been a lot of clarity in the daily news press conferences, and one of our most popular videos was about whether you should wear a face mask,” she tells us. [The answer was yes.]
And then there was the serialized content from Wuhan Ben (above), an Irish lad in Wuhan all too happy to share the trials and tribulations of life in early lockdown in China. “That was one of the ways we did it differently to traditional news. Our under-35 audience really appreciated it. A lot of it was sad, but I’ve never been so invested in one person’s ability to get beer.”
As for differences in consumption habits: “We had a lot of success with Instagram. And we’re looking further into TikTok and Snap Rated series.“ Rated is a deep-dive quiz and a more engaging way to brief young people on the news. It seems to be a format Channel 4 has hit gold on.
“It is really different to news that I’ve kind of done before. We are using the information in a different and accessible way for an instant audience. We use different language that you just wouldn’t put in a TV bulletin. I hope to convert a few more people into thinking that our journalism needs to find a home on new platforms. Don’t be scared of that.”
Daisy Wyatt is head of digital at The i, The Drum Online Media Awards’ Best National News Site. The site is only four years old and the first three years of those were about “getting known, getting the name out there and trying to grow the audience,” she says.
In 2019, the website was redesigned and a subscription app launched along with a suite of newsletters. The site attracted more monthly readers than The Times that year. It is no coincidence that it also recently trumped The Guardian to the ‘most trusted digital newsbrand’ accolade.
Wyatt explains: “We underwent a big expansion last year in terms of really pushing towards more loyalty products.” Like many titles, it has been questioning its role in lockdown.
The audience figures are up, but for any news title wanting to monetise their audience, visit frequencies or loyalty need to increase. Publishers need to get to know their audiences. Some, like the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, are exhibiting huge subscriber growth right now catalysed by reader knowledge and their need to pay for quality information.
On trust, The i’s been working to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of the industry. Editorial design is a big part of that. Wyatt says: “It’s very easy for news websites to get shares from the high PR political system. It is very easy to editorialize news headlines and make them seem like comment. But we’re very clear that our news headlines are factually news. Our comment headlines are much more clearly opinion.” These small distinctions help guide users. “When we redesigned our website last year as part of our loyalty push, we made it very clear.”
During the pandemic, she says ”people are hungry to know what’s going on”. So explainers are up, debunks are up, and the title is actually using its journalists to clear up the public record. “At the beginning of March, there was so much misinformation around 5G and viral WhatsApp messages.”
But there is more of a dialogue with consumers too. One example is The i’s daily newsletter, which goes out to several thousand people. Just recently it adopted a more human tone to “speak to the audience rather than just broadcast”. Very quickly the inbox was filled with readers responding. “They were emailing us with some really humbling things.”
Elsewhere, on social, Instagram followers rose 20% since March and on Facebook, pieces about TV are performing well. In Wyatt’s opinion, it will be ”the titles that really made the most of digital publishing around coronavirus and learned to speak back to the audience and offer practical advice,” that will be best placed to succeed. It is a reflex that many in the news industry may have lost focus on.
Dylan Davenport is managing director of The Wild creative agency, an integral part of Jungle Creations. For the third year, it secured the B2C Branded Content Team of the Year at The Drum Online Media Awards against some strong competition, including new Premier League winners Liverpool (a slightly more covetous award).
Jungle Creations is a huge social media publisher with five verticals, VT (entertainment), Twisted (food), LVL (fitness), Craft Factory and Four Nine (female interest). Each of these operate on “every single social platform – YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Snap, and Instagram, the whole works,” explains Davenport.
Jungle Creations has an eagle-eye view on what’s happening on social right now. ”We cover the passion points that we know audiences are interested in.” It has kept a close eye on how well said content has performed with its 115 million followers across all brands and platforms. The content that works is now “vastly different“ to what people were consuming prior. “We are on the positive side of life and want to make sure that everything we're putting out is putting the right foot forward.”
The entire content strategy had to shift, otherwise it would “jar with where we were as a nation”. While it reflects a lighter, more consumable shade of reality than the other titles on the panel, especially in lockdown, it has a responsibility to its audience (something that rival, LadBible, has courted a lot of praise for in its handling the Coronavirus).
“We’ve got a responsibility as a publisher to make sure that people understand what is happening. Across the board, there has been much more expected of newspapers and publishers like ourselves to communicate what the government actually means.”
But consumption habits have changed and, generally, news consumption is up. As is social media time, which makes our panellists on the digital side of publishing in a fine position to report growth. For Davenport, Snap has “been phenomenal over the last couple of months”. Pandemic life hacks seem to be current, helpful and highly engaging, he says. Jungle courts a young audience that a lot of media fails to talk to. It has had to step up its utility to them.
Generally “watch times increased by about 40% across most platforms,” against pre-lockdown levels. “Social is in rude health at the moment,” Davenport says. But with budgets tight and new rivals like Channel 4 moving into the social media branded entertainment space, Davenport is facing new competition – and opportunity.
“Channel Four published a study last week claiming that branded content sees a better ROI on brand perception than actual TV spots. My background is in advertising, at Adam&EveDDB, and I noticed that there was a swing towards more branded content.
“We’re going to see the blurring between the traditional ad TV spot and branded content.” Snoop Dogg’s latest stint in Just Eat ads is his way of evidencing this trend. He predicts that brands will become more confident in investing in non-interruptive media like branded content and shows.
“We’ve just done a huge campaign with Major League Baseball where we’ve created a lockdown series on showing people what baseball is all about in the UK. And it’s been hugely successful. And I think what we're going to see more of is brands coming to us asking what we can do for them that has “the value exchange audiences are looking for”.
Media reporter John McCarthy interviewed the trio 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.
Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.