James Hewes has been appointed president and CEO of FIPP – the network for global media. He will succeed Chris Llewellyn in September 2017. We asked him to share his viewpoints on some of the industry’s most burning questions regarding native advertising.
James Hewes has been a director of the FIPP Management Board since October 2015 and has been involved with FIPP since 2004 when he was working in the international publishing industry for BBC Worldwide.
As the new CEO of FIPP, you want to help your members build better businesses — to what extent do you think that includes an advertising product like native advertising?
Native advertising is undoubtedly one of the more important growth areas for our members. The imperative for most content producers is to diversify their revenue streams and native is one of many elements that will enable them to do this. It’s been interesting to see the evolution of native amongst our members, from the early tentative steps to the establishment of dedicated branded content studios. This is a trend we very much see continuing, particularly as traditional digital display advertising continues to decline.
Having good people has always been the first step to creating a great business and, in a time of change, media businesses need to think harder about how they train, develop and incentivise their staff.
What is the biggest challenge for magazine media publishers regarding their business today?
Firstly I would say that I don’t think the challenges inherent in the industry are unique to magazine publishers. FIPP represents a wide range of content producers operating in multiple media and we’re finding a remarkable consistency in the challenges they’re facing.
In an interview I gave recently for our newsletter, FIPP World, I outlined the three “p”s that I think are the major challenges for content producers: people, platforms and prioritisation. Having good people has always been the first step to creating a great business and, in a time of change, media businesses need to think harder about how they train, develop and incentivise their staff.
Then there is the overwhelming power of the social media platforms, Facebook in particular. I think there’s a lot more that can be done to have meaningful, joined up dialogue with them. Finally, there is prioritisation. The opportunities for investment for media businesses are myriad and having a good prioritisation strategy is essential, to ensure best use is made of scarce resources.
What’s your personal view of native advertising? Do you see it mainly as a ‘necessary evil’ for publishing that, as critics would have it, risks jeopardising the credibility of publishers — or are you more of the conviction that native advertising benefits readers and viewers as well?
Like many, I don’t think it’s actually anything new. FIPP’s origins are in the magazine industry and our publisher members have been doing native advertising – in the guise of advertorials – for a long time. The great thing is that the publishing industry has plenty of experience in this field and, almost more than any other, really understands the steps you need to take to safeguard credibility. Publishers have always taken the view that great content benefits the reader, regardless of who’s paying, providing it’s always clear to the consumer what is paid for and what is not.
In the latest FIPP-NAI report from 2016, 11% of the respondents said that they didn’t label native advertising at all. Are ethical questions like this something that you feel FIPP should do more about?
I would like to see FIPP taking more of a lead in industry-wide issues such as this one. I spent a large part of my working life at the BBC, where media ethics were an important part of our operations, so it’s an area with which I’m very comfortable. The response to questions such as this is something I look forward to debating with our members.
It’s important that industry players are prepared to look at the experiences of others and rapidly adapt their own approach in response.
Many companies like Time Inc., Condé Nast etc. have established Native Ad Studios or Custom Content Studios, do you think this is the right way to go?
William Goldman once said, in respect of the movie business, “Nobody knows nothing” and I think much the same applies to digital media. The industry is evolving so quickly that there’s no ‘right way’, there’s only the solution that works for you right now. I think it’s more important that industry players are prepared to look at the experiences of others and rapidly adapt their own approach in response. Many companies have decided that a dedicated studio is the right way to go and it seems to be working for them. Whether that’s the right thing for every business to do is not yet clear. We see bringing examples of success from different ways of working to our portfolio of events as part of our core purpos so that our members have the opportunity to take the learnings that might apply to them.
In my experience, your editorial team are often the best guardians of your brand and will tell you if you’re trying to step over the line.
In the industry, there’s an ongoing debate about whether or not it’s wise to let the editorial staff of a publication produce native advertising with Dennis Publishing being in favour of that. How do you feel about this question?
There are definitely two schools of thought here. My own view would be that you will always need the involvement of a brand’s senior editorial staff in overseeing the production of native content, otherwise there is a risk that what’s produced is not consistent with a brand’s underlying values and approach. And I think that editorial staff are smart enough to understand the difference between native advertising and regular content and to act accordingly. In my experience, your editorial team are often the best guardians of your brand and will tell you if you’re trying to step over the line.
What is the most exciting and promising development in the industry right now as you see it?
I would go back to what I said earlier about diversification of revenue and opportunity. The exciting thing for me about FIPP, in its role as a body where content producers from across the world come together, is the prospect of the sheer diversity of opportunity that is available to our industry.
In September, FIPP and the Native Advertising Institute expect to publish a report on the 2017 Native Advertising Trends for the Magazine Industry. Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive a notification about the report.