Media Future of Media Global

Future of Media: Selling The Athletic, Global restructure, CNN after Great Big Story


By John McCarthy | Media editor

December 10, 2020 | 8 min read

This is an extract from The Drum’s Future of Media briefing. You can subscribe to it here if you’d like it your inbox once a week.

Future of Media: Daily Mail charm offensive, Inside Dugout and TikTok threat

Future of Media: Selling The Athletic, Global restructure, CNN after Great Big Story

John McCarthy, senior reporter here. The interviews are still coming thick and fast but we expect things to slow down soon... right? Guess again. Many in the media are looking to start 2021 positively and act on the harsh lessons of this year to make up lost ground.

This week we focus on growth at The Athletic and Football Manager, as well as restructures at CNN and Global.

Net growth

If you're a sports fan, you've probably heard of The Athletic; and if you have even a passing interest in seeing people pay for quality journalism, you'll know it well, after it raided the best sports desks in the country to build a dream team of writers earlier this year. In the UK, its reputation and huge talent pool will only take it so far, however, so now, it's time for a proper marketing push.

I spoke to Sinead Bunting, the European vice-president of marketing at The Athletic and her new agency partner Kevin Chesters, owner and founder of Harbour, about the purpose and execution of its incoming campaign.

It's time for The Athletic to sound a little bit more British, they say. The team are looking to supercharge its word of mouth marketing with a TV ad pushing a two-for-one deal.

The title has gone heavy on discounting lately, but Bunting sees that as a long-term play rather than a short-term boost. That's because she's confident most people who try The Athletic will stick around.

How CNN moves forward without Great Big Story

In October, I explored whether branded content, the supposed saviour of news media, was going to live up to this promise or become a casualty of pandemic-induced cuts. The answer was complicated: demand dipped with the exception of media brands in certain well-defined verticals and those that deliver solid purpose campaigns.

CNN's Great Big Story was one such casualty this year. Shawn Lim discovered that clients that could still spend were largely funnelled to relevant verticals like CNN travel, CNN style, and CNN business.

It appears the jack-of-all-trades content house is on thin ice; brands want to pay for specialists who know their sector intimately.

Why Global restructured its sales

For years, Global has delivered out of home and audio ads but to future-proof, it restructured its sales team to have both working in tandem for top campaigns. Mike Gordon, chief commercial officer of Global, explained to me how he fast-tracked a restructure by around two years.

For a moment, I spared a thought for the sales team who have been upskilled to help form and sell campaigns spanning radio breakfast shows to bus wraps to smart speakers to digital out of home screens. Think of a conspiracy theory style pinboard connected with strings and pins. I suppose the benefit of going exclusively to Global is that there's only one 'conspiracy board' rather than five...

Gordon explained the variety of campaigns they'll be expected to conceive and tie to campaign objectives.

Building the Football Manager brand

Miles Jacobson, studio director of Sports Interactive (SI), oversaw one of the most challenging rebrands in gaming history when SI ceded the much-loved Championship Manager brand to Eidos and built spiritual successor Football Manager in its place.

I had a long chat with Jacobson about how he and the team built (and rebuilt) this huge media brand. Along the way, it became clear just how much this game, which attempted to virtually recreate football, became so successful it changed the sport.

Other stuff

Well, that’s this week’s round-up. If you missed the last one, I have summarised it here.

Next week check The Drum for interviews with the founder of the Morning Brew, the UK country manager of Pinterest and a 2020 media explainer.

Got a tip, a correction, a complaint, want a chat? I'm at or @johngeemccarthy on Twitter.

Got a tip, a correction, a complaint, want a chat? I'm at or @johngeemccarthy on Twitter.

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