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News UK on new events division launch: ‘It’s not cynical sponsorship, there’s a reason’

The ability to deliver upon multi-platform campaigns will be a huge advantage for News UK / Elijah Ekdahl

News UK is to launch a specialized events division to capitalize on the strength of its storied editorial history. Execs from the media giant explain why it is launching News Live, a suite of new events in 2021, and detail what it means for the wider industry.

The new unit is designed to capitalize on brands’ desire for purpose-led experiential after the past eighteen months, and will exist across both B2B and B2C. Dominic Carter, group chief commercial officer at News UK, says that the endeavor is designed to connect clients with audiences, leveraging News UK’s brand and expertise on their behalf. He continues: “There is a considerable opportunity for News UK to leverage our brands, our journalism and our businesses in the events market. By creating News Live we’re putting live experiences forward as a key part of our content portfolio and advertiser proposition.

“There’s still a lot of opportunity to grow and develop our existing events portfolio, but we also want to focus on creating new events, partnerships and investments to grow this business into a substantial part of News UK in the future.”

The new division is headed by David McLean, who is moving from Bridge Studio to the position of managing director at News Live. He says that the endeavor builds upon the work News UK put into making its events viable and alive over the course of the pandemic. “We really quickly started focusing on technology, what technology can do for us and a virtual world. We were lucky – because we were doing some trade marketing events, we had the opportunity to test without going to our real customers. We quickly found out what worked and what didn’t work.”

McLean notes that the team looked at around 15 different suppliers of virtual event tech in order to decide what worked best. Acknowledging that it’s been a very difficult time for many publishers with events businesses, he says that it also allowed News UK to take a more holistic look at its existing event assets and capabilities.

He cites both Run Fest Run and the Sunday Times’s Life Lessons festival as examples of pre-existing events that, once brought in house, demonstrated the viability of launching a new events-focused division.

That was further proven by the success of its CEO Summit, which was by necessity run as a hybrid event. McLean says: “We balanced that off by being able to offer our new product to our clients. So when people were coming in for client solutions we were saying, ‘we can do this as well.’ We neutralized a lot of the revenue effects of the pandemic, because we could offer something new to clients that we didn’t really do that often.”

The future is hybrid

As a result, the stage for News Live’s launch was laid, with a focus on hybrid events that cater to brands’ desire to reach wider audiences. McLean says that while previous events inevitably had a primarily London-based audience, around 65% of News UK events’ audiences come from outside the capital. “So that’s one of the great learnings. We’re not going to stop, we’re not going back if the world goes back to normal tomorrow. We’ll still do hybrid events, because we’re just getting to so many more audiences. And again, that’s what clients want.”

The same applies for News Live’s commercial events, which are based in part on the audiences that currently consume News UK properties. He cites the broad appeal of its wireless channels, invoking the old Radio One Roadshows as an example of something the division has been challenged to recreate with its current talent.

And McLean says that while the plan is to still run events that cater to subscribers of other News UK properties, they now wish to look at how the team can iterate them in a way that caters to those clients’ wishes.

News Live has a core team of 22, working across the News UK portfolio. McLean believes that while we’ll have to wait until 2022 to see the fruits of its labor, the conversations it has already had with brands and partners are a good roadmap for the future. There is an increased demand from brands for multi-platform campaigns, which News Live is well placed to take advantage of.

He says: “If you take our Tech Summit, for example – our editorial folks will come up with a certain direction we want to take it, and we’ll work with brands and try and figure out how they can integrate into that. So it’s not cynical sponsorship, there’s a reason for it and it chimes with something we’re doing.”

As forecasts indicate the post-pandemic ad spend bounce is well under way, the ability to deliver upon those multi-platform campaigns will be a huge advantage for publishers such as News UK. A dedicated events division such as News Live should help boost the overall capability of the brand, while capitalizing on the resurgent interest in live and hybrid events among consumers.

From festivals to retail installations to unmissable activations, we examine the avenues open to marketers to reach consumers enjoying their newfound freedom in The Drum’s Experiential Deep Dive.

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