2023 – Highlights, trends and what we’re looking forward to!

December 19, 2023

In conversation with Damian Douglas, Emma Winchurch-Beale and Samantha Adams

In this episode, Belinda Barker chats with Damian Douglas, Managing Director, EMEA, TIME and President of the World Media Group, Emma Winchurch-Beale, VP Growth Partnerships UK, Economist Impact and Samantha Adams, VP, Advertising Sales, Western Europe at BBC News about the key issues facing the marketing and media industry as we head into 2024. Below are the highlights of their conversation. You can watch the video above or listen to the full podcast here.

Belinda: From a commercial perspective, what did you feel were the biggest trends this year?

Emma: AI gets real – for business that are adopting it, regulators regulating it and techies continue to improve it. It started this year and we will see that continue next year.

Another trend I’ve noticed is longer considerations for programmes. There are more key stakeholders involved in programme decision-making. The sign off process is taking much longer this year than it has previously. And I think that’s a trend that’s going to continue. Following through from that, there’s an appetite for more meaningful projects as brands continue to want to be more authentic. They don’t want to be classed as greenwashing or to be doing something that doesn’t have some substance to it.

There’s also a definite return to in-person events – in-person meetings, a lot more event programming, more appetite to attend bigger events, to network with your peers, to learn and to understand in-person. I think the video conferencing fatigue has really kicked in.

Samantha: We saw a masterclass in branded entertainment with the Barbie movie, and subsequently we have seen a rise in the number of brands looking to engage in true commercial partnerships. Bringing it back to what Emma was saying about the meaningful projects and the long consideration times, there are requests coming in for more blue sky thinking. But whilst brands are starting to think bigger, they’re being more cautious about where and how they spend their budgets, and the need for a return on investment was critical this year.

Damian: I agree. I think typical sales cycles, have pushed out significantly – six plus months in our organisation, but that’s because you don’t see many traditional advertisers anymore. They’re clients of brands; brand storytellers; they lean into us to tell their stories on our platforms, but they also have to tell the world how they are relevant today because the landscape has changed. They are having to justify their existence from a purpose and values perspective, and that means there are more stakeholders. The sales cycles are long, but that means deeper partnerships and longer relationships, so there are plusses.

Belinda: How is Gen AI going to evolve during 2024?

Samantha: Gen AI has been one of the biggest topics this year. There’s no doubt that it’s already beginning to change the way we work but I feel there’s still a long way to go on winning wider trust.

Brands are increasingly exploring the use of AI curation and personalisation. People are using it to work smarter and it’s enabling advertisers to analyse vast amounts of data to really understand consumer behaviour, consumer preferences and demographics. It’s increasing the relevance of ads to consumers and allowing for greater personalisation and targeting, be it within the programmatic space or display advertising.

It’s also impacting on brand safety, which isn’t an issue with trusted media brands like members of the World Media Group. Across the wider media landscape, it’s getting much better at picking up areas of misinformation, which is particularly important in 2024 as we’ve got so many elections taking place around the world. Finally, it’s going to offer so many efficiencies and cost savings. I really hope it frees up more time for even better use of human creativity, which is what makes brands stand out.

Damian: I agree. We’re going to be able to model those more efficiently. We’re going to be able to look at how we optimise in absolute real time. Being more responsible around how we handle consumer data and what we use it for is going to be imperative. One of the biggest trends I’ve seen in the last 12-18 months is publishers starting to own and generate their own in-house data platforms. That’s also coinciding with the move to a cookieless future. There’s a real opportunity, but also responsibility.

Emma: Yesterday, two of our members, Politico and Business Insider, as part of Axel Springer, have announced a partnership with OpenAI. Chat GPT is going to summarise Politico and Business Insider articles in a first-of-a-kind deal. I think we’ll see more work to really protect journalism and to ensure that we’re partnering and being open about, how Chat GPT and AI doesn’t take away anything from editorial values.

Damian: I’ve always fundamentally believed that good journalism and good journalists introduce you to subjects that you might not think you want to know about, but you should know about. That’s where generative AI still lags behind – that human aspect. I think we’ll end up in a position where if you’re reading AI-generated content, you’ll see it clearly labelled on sites.

Belinda: What are the biggest challenges for advertisers in a difficult economic climate?

Emma: The world economy remains fragile in 2024 and whilst most of the Western economies have fared better in 2023 than expected, the risk on interest rates remain high. The longer that goes on, it becomes more painful for companies and consumers, even if we avoid recession.

The election year also has a big impact because it makes economies more uncertain. We also can’t avoid looking at what’s going on in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, and we have tensions between China and Taiwan. These all make for uncertain time and impact oil prices, and all of those factors feed into the economic climate. With uncertainty comes caution, and there is more pressure and accountability on marketing budgets. The poor CMO is now not only answering to the CEO, but also the CFO and the COO, so they have even more pressure and accountability in economic uncertainty. I think we are looking at a continuation of uncertain economic climate in 2024 and that has huge impact on business.

Belinda: Can we talk more about the impact of an election year?

Samantha: It’s going to be a massive year of political change. We’ve got over 40 countries taking part in elections including the US, the UK and India, so there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty in the world. Election years are always interesting, and many brands consider going dark during this time, but there’s no real need to do this.

It’s important for brands to be true to their brand identity and have a consistent focus on their core messaging and to avoid diluting their message, but elections can offer lots of opportunity, especially for timely, reactive advertising. For example, a brand could double down on messaging about their commitment to a certain value, such as sustainability, which could really resonate with a politically conscious audience.

There’s often a lot of misinformation around elections so it’s important for brands and consumers to engage with quality publishers who can offer brand safe environments and trusted quality journalism so that you know the truth of the messaging out there.

Belinda: What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

Emma: I’m a big sporting fan so I’m looking forward to the Olympics. I found out the astronauts are returning to the moon. I’m a real ‘spacey’ so I’m excited about that because it’s kind of going back to the old school, but it’s new for 2024. And it’s a leap year, so an extra day to get work done!

Damian: I’m going to stay on the positive side here and say, I’m hopeful we get a new set of leadership emerging across some of the most important political landscapes in the world. I think we’ve had a decade now of really poor standards through our political leadership. It feels that we have an opportunity in a 12-month period to re-write some of those challenges and put some leadership in place that shows proper statesmanship and keeps politics off the front pages.

Samantha: I always love the start of a new year, both professionally and personally, because I think it’s great to have that reset, but also to take all the learnings from the previous year and build upon them. Like Emma, I’m really excited about the Olympics and Paralympics, mainly because I know we’re going to see some brilliant advertising creative; there’s going to be amazing content out on the television.

Professionally I find it exciting to work with brands on trying to amplify their partnerships around not just the physical location of the Olympics, but to see what we can do beyond that and take it to new audiences.

Belinda: Thank you Damian, Emma and Sam and here’s to an exciting year ahead!