The “Breaking News” in Britain’s financial press is that City AM is tearing down the divide between editorial and advertising and giving the people who pay for their site, the chance to run a section of their (digital) paper.
Running City AM will be a little like managing allotments. Each individual allotment will produce the goods for those who run the space and City AM will make sure that the rules that ensure the good name of the collective are enforced.
I love it. I am keen to know the views of others but I want to know where the line between advertising and editorial lies. Advertorial, the business of “bigging up” companies and products in return for sly back-handers is neither transparant or honest but it happens in most trade papers, I hate that.
The idea has been broken in a digital publication called “The Drum”.
I don’t read the City AM website much, I get feeds from it on twitter and I know and like some of their journalists, it seems a go-ahead and disruptive magazine and I think the more of it for adopting this fair and true stance.
Here’s how the Drum are reporting it
City AM will no longer be produced solely by the staff team (the company is 69-strong). From now on, articles will also be generated by a raft of new ‘contributors’, paid according to the number of page views they generate, and – most controversially – by corporate brands and their advertising and communications chiefs, who will be given direct access to the content management system (CMS) of the newspaper’s website.
“We are definitely turning the commercial model upside down on its head – now we will give the marketers and the advertisers access to the same content management system that all the journalists and contributors are using on a day-to-day basis,” says Yardley.
“This isn’t happening anywhere else in the UK. And it probably won’t for quite some time because journalists think it’s their environment, and we are ripping that up. Anyone can publish at anytime, anywhere in the world. There’s no longer this church versus state.”
Over the past ten years we’ve got used to advertising being dressed up in a number of ways. If you are on Mallowstreet, you learn about the products of third parties in the Mallowstreet University or in DC Drive Ins. No one needs be under any delusion about what’s happening, you are getting CPD and a nice time for listening to someone pitch you their way of doing things. It’s all a bit grey around the edges but it’s permissable because we Mallowstreeters are institutional investors/advisors and know what’s going on (or so the compliance manual says).
I’m not sure that learning how XYZ does LDI or infrastructure really counts as education- indoctrination maybe – but do we really learn at the feet of investment marketing teams? I want to hear two or three conflicting views before I form my own and the idea that somebody in sales and marketing is qualified to deliver a “masterclass” is baffling.
The problem is that where there is thought leadership within the banks and investment houses that pay the bills for mallowstreet, City AM, Financial News and so many of the pension trade mags, it’s kept out the back – it’s the house’s IP and that IP is staying in-house. What is usually touted as “education” is the sanitised views of the marketing/compliance department. The herd instinct being what it is, these sanitised views merge into “group think”
Education- my arse! Most of this stuff is regurgitated piffle dressed up into a nice powerpoint slide.
The downside of the City AM approach
The City AM approach leaves the jobs of the existing editorial team at risk. Are City AM going to pitch genuine independent editorial against the allotments and dare bite these hands that feed, or will City AM become just another shop window. The City AM view is that by giving autonomy to the marketeers , their big bank customers will show their Intellectual Property and people will buy their views on the quality of the IP on show.
This is a big bet and I don’t think it will work. Even in the wall garden of Mallowstreet, we see very little truly independent thought leadership (and a lot of marketing/compliance group think). The City AM approach will have no wall-garden which means that everyone, from your competitors to the primary school financial student, can read what’s going on.
Compliance are wary of allowing inexperienced investors to play with unexploded bombs (which is what many of the derivative based financial products on offer are). They are worried that one man’s thought leadership is another’s “reputational damage” and most of all they cling on to the idea that intellectual property has a proprietary value that is shared only amongst those who are prepared to pay for it.
The downside of the City AM approach is that no-one will go near these allotments and City AM will go bust because it has no thought leadership of its own (it’s editorial team having gone missing). I hope this doesn’t happen -but my bet is it will.
The upside of the City AM approach
The big win for people like me is that I can cut down my reading of a day and focus on stuff where I can be sure I am getting genuine independent reading. There are a number of newspapers which I consider give me good online content and there are enough hotels and offices that allow me to read the FT for free so I don’t have to worry about raiding the piggy bank to get my intellectual kicks (for free).
By syphoning off all the bad guys into well managed allotments (that I don’t have to visit), City AM is doing me a favour, sanitising my reading.
There are a great number of people who think that by paying someone £1m a year to be a thought leader, that person is a thought leader, I am not of that opinion. The thought leaders who I know, from Tom Hibbard to Con Keating, are underpaid or unpaid. If they needed £1m to think – no one would read them.
Henry.tapper.com will remain free to read and its editor will remain unpaid by advertisers. And we’ll all live happily ever after.