The stark realities of the crisis in media and advertising were faced head-on at this year's Guardian Changing Media Summit (London BFI, March 7). From the gender pay gap, to better representation of women and minorities and the ad world's battle with Silicon Valley, the BFI echoed with loud calls for change.
The #MeToo Revolution
There was anger from a number of panellists at what's been lost as a result of women feeling forced to leave the industry because of sexism and harassment. British media writer Jane Martinson pushed Martin Sorrell, chief of UK advertising giant WPP, on the need for change in his own business. "Women in our industry are more effective than men," Sorrell commented – prompting Martinson to ask: "Why don't you promote more women then?"
British advertising consultant Cindy Gallop saw this gap between words and deeds as a key problem. Gallop emphasised that the biggest issue facing the ad industry today is sexual harassment. "It keeps out of leadership and power the leaders who would make equality, diversity and inclusion happen," she said. She called for action through demonstration: "Don't do stunts about diversity, or create content about diversity – be diverse."
In the "fake news" era, the question of trust is crucial. Sam Baker, founder of UK female-focused platform The Pool, commented that "the only value you have is the audience's trust". Farrah Storr, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan UK, agreed, pointing to the value of print in establishing that image of trustworthiness. "Advertisers are understanding the role that print plays in building trust," she said.
There was concern over the way social media forces people into "echo chambers", where they only hear opinions that they agree with. However, Matt Kelly, editor of pro-EU newspaper The New European, vehemently disagreed. "The media has never been more plural; the echo chamber has been completely blown apart," he said. "The problem is the fact-checking. We're suckers for a story, and journos have become lazy in grabbing onto tags [like fake news]. We need to be much better in establishing facts."
Kelly sees this as an opportunity: "Brands will gravitate to being trustworthy," he commented. Nick Robinson, presenter of BBC Today, agreed: "Brands will re-establish themselves," he said. "People will realise that they need to go to brands they can trust, because you don't have time to assess for yourself the truth of stories."
Brands Take Back Control
This idea of brands reasserting themselves as arbiters of truth and authenticity was important for many speakers, who believed that brands have for too long been doing whatever the tech giants demanded of them.
Sacha Berlik, managing director, EMEA of global programmatic agency The Trade Desk, said: "Advertisers can vote with their money. They can make a decision [about] if they want to fund unmonitored social media content, or fund quality journalism." He believes that "we need to be educating the advertising world" on the responsibilities they should be taking on to ensure trustworthy journalism survives.
Gallop came at the same problem from a different angle. "We have a responsibility to redesign the future of technology," she said. "The founders of the big tech companies hate advertising. When you hate advertising, you will never leverage your resources and talent to innovate completely new forms of powerful new advertising on your platforms."
Gallop views this as a massive opportunity for brands and marketers to take back control. "The future is not ad units – it's ad products," she said. "Things of utility and value that surprise and delight consumers in the way they're delivered. We have the opportunity to create those. Look at those platforms and decide how you'd like to use them."
As such, she advised brands: "Blue-sky it. Don't look at what exists now – project out five years down the line; go sci-fi and magical."