Moving with The Times: How News UK survived digital transformation

Many of the most high-profile digital transformations in businesses take place at the front end, where the brand meets the consumer.

Indeed, in our own business the digital transformation of our consumer products – The Times and The Sun – has been massive, moving from standalone print products to a mixed portfolio of digital and physical brands in just a few short years.

However, often the most fundamental impacts of technology in a business occur in the back-end, in the processes and technologies that are deployed to transform the commercial operations of a business.

In News UK this is a process that is happening as we speak – we are transforming our commercial team by applying new approaches and technologies to meet the challenges and opportunities that the digital revolution has presented. What’s instructive about these changes for the wider world is in how it shows the progression of so-called legacy business into one that is leading the market in digital growth and monetisation.

The news industry is one that has been disrupted more than most by the rise of new online business models and our response to that is, hopefully, a case study for other businesses to highlight how this change can be managed.


The digital challenge

For over a hundred years the commercial operations of a news business were fairly straightforward. The editorial and circulation functions of a newspaper created an audience based on great content and brand loyalty and the commercial operation monetised that audience by selling advertising in the print newspaper. Advertisers were attracted to newspapers because they offered large, homogenous and profiled audiences based on the positioning and reach of the paper in question.

However, the internet has changed all of this. Audiences have become fragmented and the competitive set for the news industry has changed unrecognisably. Advertisers can now reach consumers through ever more channels and technologies but, conversely, valuable audiences are proving ever harder to reach.

For newspapers the threat was two-fold. As well as facing competition for our readership from new content sites and social media services, our advertiser base was also being offered new ways of targeting, reaching and measuring their audiences. This threat was manifested in falling print circulation and decreasing print advertising revenues – an unsustainable situation that has, for some of our competitors, led to significant downsizing of their businesses.

On the one hand our response was to change the way we work editorially. It’s taken a few years but we now have an optimised digital content and services portfolio that uses different approaches and business models to reach and monetise audiences. Whether it’s the paid-for Times and Sunday Times’ high-quality engaged audiences, The Sun’s mass-market reach or digital services such as The Sun’s Dream Team or our newly-launched Sun Bets, we’re connecting with our audiences in more ways and at greater scale than ever before.


Building the bridge

Just as important was the way we responded commercially. With a changing marketplace and product portfolio it was clear that we could no longer simply offer advertisers standardised packages to engage with a generic Times or Sun audience. Not only had their expectations changed, our audiences have also developed, meaning that we could offer a different portfolio of opportunities to our commercial partners.

The first thing we had to do was to recognise what it was we could offer in this new digitally dominated world. There are a plethora of online businesses that can offer mass audiences, many far larger than ours, so what was it that we could offer that they can’t? The answer was in the quality of our audiences and their interaction and relationship with us. Whilst more than a billion people might use Facebook regularly, their relationship and interaction with the social platform are very different to that with their preferred newsbrand.

Newspaper readers, whether in print, online or on tablet, are highly engaged. They spend longer periods engaged with the content – up to 40 minutes a session in the case of The Times – and they have a longer term, more meaningful relationship with a news brand than with other content types.

Readers select a newsbrand because it reflects who they are, what they believe and how they see the world, and that gives newspapers a unique level of engagement with their audience, one that is reflected in the impact of the advertising that is hosted within it.

Technology for marketing 2016: hear more from Dominic Carter, Chief Commercial Officer for News UK, on the restructuring of The Times & The Sun for digital transformation.

With this recognition that what we had to offer was more valuable audiences, the next question was how we could help advertisers connect with them, and that’s where The Bridge comes in.

The Bridge is the new name of our commercial operations because it’s what we do – we provide a bridge between brands and our more valuable audiences. We do this not by offering simple, standardised packages but by working in partnership with our clients to create bespoke advertising solutions that leverage our creative, insight, technology and data expertise to reach the right people in the right way.

Creatively this has meant leveraging our deep skills in storytelling to develop campaigns that really engage with consumers and linking these to the content and titles that reach them. In terms of technology, insight and data the challenge has been to bring together the vast amount of customer data to create a platform that lets advertisers connect with the audience they want.

We connect with millions of UK consumers every day across our papers and services and we know a huge amount about them. Analysing their interactions with our services, we know what they’re interested in from the content that they consume and we know who they are from our subscription data. The challenge was creating an internal data platform that brought this together in a meaningful way – something only achievable through the creation of a world class data and insights function.

Completing the digital transformation

However, in a digital world, it is no longer about transformation but rather iteration. Gone are the days when organisations can embark on long transformation programmes to achieve a desired future state and then pat oneself on the back for a finished job well done. The products and platforms through which we connect advertisers to our audiences tomorrow might not exist today.

We believe we have created a commercial operation that is fit for the future, not because we consider our digital transformation complete, but rather because we’ve built a flexible organisation that is proactively and constantly adapting and experimenting to meet the changing needs of our advertisers. Selling more means listening more – to our audiences, to our advertisers and to our market.

We recognise the unique value that we can offer and being successful means leveraging that value in the most effective way. The Bridge has been fundamental in transforming the way we operate commercially and has created a foundation of creativity, digital expertise, and insight to help leading advertisers change the way they connect with our more valuable audiences.

Dominic Carter Chief Commercial Officer, News UK