The communications swing – what goes up, must come down

Henry Adefope, account director at Newgate Communications, implores marketers to re-think the optimal platforms for engagement today.

girl on swing

In March 2018, Dame Frances Cairncross was appointed chair of the Review into the sustainability of high quality journalism in the UK. Then the results came in; digital media is up; traditional media is down.

It was a relatively groundbreaking review. A key takeaway from the Review is that it asks for the creation of a regulator that can oversee technology giants like Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy, noting the emergence of heightened consumer engagement with digital news. Apparently, quality journalism will surely come at a cost, tomorrow. That’s the main lesson of this report. But let’s focus on today.

The report acknowledged that, when it comes to news, convenience is king. The speed, versatility and zero cost of so much news now means that, even if it is of poor quality, a generation of consumers has fallen out of the habit of paying for news.

In terms of reach, digital coverage should effectively be seen as being of greater importance than print and satellite broadcast television, by a long stretch today.

It follows hot on the heels of news regarding UK broadcast giant ITV, that went viral earlier this year after an investment banking analyst told some awkward truths. The US bank cited declining advertising market share as the major factor in its decision to cut its price target for the stock, seeing the rise of on-demand streaming services drawing advertising revenue away from linear programming. I’m no Buffet, but even I would have got rid of television media stocks the minute I found myself curating my own programming on Netflix two years ago.

People engage with different platforms in different ways today – the consumer and businesses alike. Recent years have seen the gradual erosion of television as the single most widely used source of news, to the point that today it has been overtaken by online sources in terms of reach - at least amongst almost the entire the 92% of the UK population who have access to the internet. The reach of printed newspapers has declined rapidly in the same period, whilst social media has become much more important.

So, ask yourself: as communication professionals, what platforms are you prioritising to reach your audience? Is the full range being utilised? Coming from the world of corporate communications myself – I can certainly tell you that success to the biggest clients is still entrenched within traditional national newspaper/ television broadcast coverage. Despite the fall in engagement and a shift in habits, traditional platforms like print media and television broadcast will continue to be the most dominant for the foreseeable future, certainly within the more corporate and professional sectors. But the end is nigh.

Increasingly, less of your audience are engaging with these platforms (at least not in the traditional sense). If you ask the leading newspaper publishers, they’d tell you most of their business now comes from ‘online. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice every publication in corporate and professional services worth its salt, have all incorporated multimedia channels. 

Figure 1 Reuters Institute of Journalism 2017


Areas which ad spend is growing (New School platforms):

  • Video on demand
  • Digital (magazines)
  • Out of home advertising

Areas where spend is falling (Old School platforms):

  • National news-brands (and digital)
  • Regional news brands (and digital)
  • Internet mobile
  • Internet
  • Radio
  • Direct Mail

Figure 2 Reuters Institute of Journalism 2017

Biggest influence

So, advertising spend is on the wane on traditional media platforms. With a suspected economic downturn on the way, I foresee a lot of firms wanting to be more targeted, and more efficient with the way they communicate with their audience – effectively wanting more bang for their buck.

Half a century ago, the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting concluded that “until there is unmistakable proof to the contrary, the presumption must be that television is and will be a main factor in influencing the values and moral standards of our society.”

Well, proof is now available that the sands are shifting; television and newspapers are still important, but people spend more time with digital media, and increasingly turn to this as their primary source for news and politics as they do for so many other things.

Generational differences in news use

The swing from traditional sources of news like television and printed newspapers is particularly clear if we look at differences between age groups. There are very clear generational divides. Asked to identify their main source of news, online comes out number one in every age group under 45 — and for those under 25, social media are by now more popular than television.


The television and newspaper audiences are still large, but it is also older — and ageing — and younger people increasingly find their news from websites and apps, and via search engines and social media. By now, the BBC is the only news media organisation in the UK that reaches more people with online news than Facebook. The age-old argument around ‘my clients’ audience will only be reading…’ doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Everybody is using the internet to access news and make sense of their lives quickly, it’s just used to varying degrees between generations.

Traditional media as a free medium for mass news engagement/distribution is over. Thinking traditionally will get you traditional results. Communications professionals must begin seeing the communications spectrum more holistically – the press release announcement, or the broadcast interview slot, is merely the start of a dialogue with your audience.

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