News Corp’s Lou Barrett on Serial Killers, print media’s ‘ad recession’, and its election coverage

April’s SMI figures showed a subdued climate for the ad market, but News Corp managing director of national sales, Lou Barrett, says she doesn’t see cause for concern in reports of an ‘ad recession’. She spoke with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about the figures, why backlash over News Corp’s election coverage hasn’t hurt its ad revenue, and why big executions are making a comeback.

I’m speaking to News Corp’s Lou Barrett after the April SMI figures have been released. The headlines are all doom and gloom – ad spend is down, it’s been down for months, and even outside of the big events which would distort the figures (Commonwealth Games, an election and several public holidays), things look pretty dire.

So are we in an ad recession? Barrett doesn’t think so, and she’s having the calls to prove it.

Barrett: ‘I’ve had a really good year’ 

“I don’t believe we’re in a recession because I’ve had a really good year. And that good year has happened because we’re not going to a client and saying ‘Which paper can we sell you?’ We’re saying ‘How can we help you with your business problems?’ We’re putting the client first, at the heart of everything we do, and then we talk about which asset works best for them. Which newspaper, or which magazine, or which digital asset?” says Barrett.

“Once upon a time we were set up to go ‘Which paper can we sell you today?’ News Corp wasn’t a service business. So we changed our business to be client-focused and it’s having a really positive effect on our revenue.”

While she can’t deny that there’s a shift in the industry, Barrett says the figures show that there’s still a lot of trust in traditional media. She also points out that the figures provided are only those from media buying groups, and don’t provide the full view of the industry. Particularly absent in the April figures was the massive election spending by Clive Palmer, which wasn’t conducted through an agency, but did include print campaigns as well as big spends on television and outdoor.

Newspapers, particularly those owned by Rupert Murdoch, took up a lot of the conversation during the election. The Daily Telegraph faced substantial backlash for attacking Bill Shorten, and the outlet as a whole faced claims of biased reporting. But Barrett says the backlash hasn’t negatively impacted ad revenue, nor should it.

The spread in The Daily Telegraph which copped backlash

“We’re known for our opinion pieces, people trust us for that. It shows advertisers that we have influence, we have impact, whether people agree with the opinion or don’t, they’re still interested to read it. The newspaper sector is really robust,” she says.

“It feels like people are coming back to those trusted mediums, but also seeing the results they get from press, which is great. The role of the newspaper is a trusted voice in the Australian community, and that’s getting stronger.”

Outside of the election conversation, News Corp’s sway has the ability to work both ways. The initial iteration of the Heart Foundation’s Serial Killer campaign, which named heart disease as the biggest killer of Australians and implored people to get on the front foot when it comes to heart health, ran across print titles with editorial support and generated a lot of buzz, both in and outside the industry.

“The first generation of the Heart Foundation’s serial killer campaign was a News Corp idea and it had massive impact, the client was blown away. The Heart Foundation had been lobbying the government for eight years to get heart checks listed as part of Medicare and within four days of advertising with News Corp and our editors getting behind the campaign we have free health checks,” Barrett explains.

“These are the sorts of results print can deliver. We can create movements – that’s what we do. When advocacy is needed and our editors get behind a cause they believe in they have a massive impact. As a direct result I’ve had so many clients say they want something like the Heart Foundation campaign.”

That’s the place of print media, argues Barrett. In big, hard-hitting campaigns which need the reach and support heritage print can provide, and in special events, like elections, when coverage is best supported by editorial and the reach of print.

Sporting events, end of financial year, big auto executions – these are all the places where advertising in print media can deliver the best results, and where creativity can deliver incredible results, Barrett says as she hints that News Corp is currently working on some of these executions, which will hopefully gain similar traction to Serial Killer.

“We’re doing great work for clients, we’re winning awards and it’s having a positive impact on the press figures which makes me really happy. There are places in the world where print isn’t in good shape, but News Corp is currently in really good shape.”


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