My being invited to be one of the Epica Awards judges is a massive honour. Everyone in adland is always “excited by this,” or “thrilled about that,” in their announcements. Now it’s my turn. I genuinely am both.
Being an Epica judge also won me an invitation to interview its editorial director – journalist, Mark Tungate. Tungate is also the author of Adland: A Global History of Advertising, Branded Male: Marketing to Men and Luxury World: The Past, Present and Future of Luxury Brands.
Who better to untangle some of the knottiest questions confronting advertising and journalism right now?
So I did. [Candide McDonald: ed]
The Stable: More and more people are consuming information on mobile phones. Is it a problem for quality journalism to have that interrupted by (in some cases a lot of) low quality and/or annoying advertising?
Mark Tungate: I read the New York Times on my phone every morning, along with a handful of newsletters, and honestly I haven’t found this to be a problem. Re-targeting is mildly irritating but I find I just glide over the ads without really seeing them. This is less a problem for quality journalism – which, as you know, has always been paid for by advertising – than for the advertising industry itself. Why do I glide over those ads? Because they are insanely dull and devoid of value. Quality journalism and its readers deserve quality advertising. Epica exists in part as a way for journalists to push for creativity in advertising.
TS: What examples of creativity and journalism working together do you think have been most noteworthy this year?
MT: My feeling is that journalists, or at least gifted writers, are often working behind the scenes on branded content. Brands are also hiring journalists. Red Bull, for instance, has an entire magazine called Bulletin. And Epica’s jury president this year, Spencer Baim, who is the chief strategic officer of Vice Media, pointed out to me that Vice has its own branded content team. But he also underlined very clearly that this is kept separate from the editorial team producing Vice’s exceptional journalism. I also noticed a new high-end bespoke travel agency called Essentialist, whose staff combines experienced travel planners with travel journalists. One of the co-founders is Nancy Novogrod, the former editor of Travel + Leisure. Who better to advise well-heeled travellers about the best destinations? I recently wrote a book about the evolution of the travel business, The Escape Industry, and I wish I’d found out about that before it went to press!
TS: Publishing is trying to remain profitable. Many publications are feeling the strain. What income earning ideas in journalism have worked/not worked – or have potential? Which publications have soared this year? Why have they?
MT: Well that’s the big question, isn’t it? Actually, I write a quarterly newsletter about this that I send out to our jurors. It’s called Media Shot. Most of the tactics involve looking beyond print. Podcasts are hugely popular right now and can be monetised with those little “message from our sponsors” segments that, oddly enough, hark back to the golden age of radio. Similarly, the Washington Post has worked on a mobile app that turns certain of its articles into “spoken word” pieces, using the Amazon Polly speech synthesiser. And each converted article kicks off with an audio ad. An alternative tactic involves turning magazines into experiences: in the UK last year, Hearst – publisher of Cosmopolitan, Red and Elle among others – organised a “pop up” beauty event in association with Estée Lauder. More common of course is the paywall strategy. There’s plenty of evidence to show that readers are willing to pay for a certain amount of quality journalism. But the important word in that sentence is “quality”. In terms of publications that are “soaring”, I know my pals at the New York Times have successfully added digital subscribers, in part thanks to “the Trump bump”. I also read that the design magazine, Wallpaper, is celebrating its 21st birthday with a bumper 420 page issue. It says print and digital advertising have seen double digit year-on-year growth. I’m guessing that’s because it’s glossy, great-looking, well-written and a reference in its field.
TS: Advertising is devoting a great deal of creativity and effort into campaigns that are “non-media” (Clemenger’s Meet Graham, M&C Saatchi’s NRMA Fire Blanket, Leo Burnett’s Samsung Pocket Patrol etc). What can print publishing, in particular, do to reignite its appeal?
MT: Well, branded content and native advertising are clearly ways to go. Journalists are talented storytellers and brands need that skill. In terms of actual print ads, at Epica we’ve seen a lot of examples of ads that transform into mobile content when you scan them with your phone. That’s kind of a fun way of creating engagement if it’s done well. The commercial teams at print publishers should be working harder with advertisers and agencies to develop new formats. They should also be pushing for more powerful, arresting imagery. Most print ads are simply dull. Show readers something fun or stunning and they’ll give you a few seconds of their time.
TS: There are so many advertising awards judged by advertising people. What are the advantages of an awards programme judged by journalists?
MT: Objectivity, purely and simply. Agencies that enter the Epica Awards know that they are not being judged by their competitors, but by a group of unbiased observers who are nonetheless experts in the field. We’ve also recently added experts in specific areas like fashion, virtual reality, design and so on. They won’t vote for a campaign because they once worked at the agency, or they’re part of the same network. They vote because the work is great – full stop. I believe the many smaller and independent agencies who make up roughly 50 % of our entrants support us for that reason, too. The other advantage of Epica is that, as soon as you enter a campaign, even if you don’t make it to the shortlist, you’re getting your name and your work in front of a very influential group of people.
TS: On the awards circuit each year, the same campaigns tend to dominate the top awards over and over again. What are the best ways to guard against “follow the fad/fame” judging?
MT: We’re lucky in that Epica falls in November, which is either right at the end or right at the beginning of the annual awards cycle, depending on how you look at it. We very often receive campaigns that haven’t been in competition before. In fact, we set trends – from Honda’s Grrr to Cadbury’s Gorilla to Shiseido’s High School Girl – we regularly award campaigns that go on to reap awards elsewhere. It’s notable also that, perhaps because our journalists have a slightly different perspective, ads that have won big at Cannes sometimes don’t do as well at Epica. Our jurors sort of shrugged at Dumb Ways To Die, for example.
TS: How else does Epica do things differently?
MT: Epica isn’t just about the awards. We like to think of it as a hub where journalists with common interests can come together. Physically at the jury meeting, but also virtually via our online Press Club and a Facebook group. Plus our jurors often email ideas among themselves. For example, our US juror from Adweek recently found himself writing an op ed piece for our German juror at Werben & Verkaufen. We also regularly produce content – interviews with creatives, reports on new campaigns, the previously mentioned Media Shot – that any of our jurors are welcome to use online or in print. Finally, just before the awards show, we also have our Creative Circle conference, during which creatives and marketers weigh in on some of the big issues of the day. This year’s theme is The Creative Singularity: How Technology Drives Creativity. Artificial Intelligence will be one of the big talking points. All that takes place in Berlin on November 16.
The Epica Awards are open for entries. But only until September 30. Enter here.