Business Leadership


By Sam Anderson 

Era-defining publishers (first Buzzfeed, then Vice) on the rocks; social giants sweating over TikTok; rapid cultural changes. The 00s version of the internet finally feels like it’s slipping away. But is it – and what comes next? We asked leaders from The Drum Network.

Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco: “Search will change more in the next 18 months than it has since the noughties began. That will affect the broader digital ecosystem.

“AI-delivered information will soon take centre-stage on search pages, meaning far less real estate for anything other than a very small (and valuable) brand and product set. For consumers, this could be positive, for smaller brands, probably less so.

“These search changes will materially affect the amount of marketing content created. Branded content will no longer be needed at such high volume to channel consumers through a sales journey. Those changes will affect digital advertising’s opportunity to do a job. AI could yet be the killer of the humble banner.

“There’s much changing, and consumers will be the big winners. For brands, perhaps the latter 2020s will be about sponsorships and, dare I say it, quality creative ideas that people want to watch and share!”

Charlie Wade, global executive director of growth and innovation, VMLY&R Commerce: “The internet is constantly evolving. It started as a broadcast ‘message board’, before moving to content sharing, from music to photos. Now, web3 and AI have ushered in an age of decentralization, giving people the power to reimagine worlds, songs, and even the Pope.

“The internet is lauded for the disruption it has fostered: critics have receded in the face of consumer reviews; mass media usurped by social. While this initially brought immediacy and a widening aperture of information, the downside has been an erosion of authenticity, which the decline of legitimate publishers could compound. From fake sneakers to fake news, the ubiquity and the relative ease with which nefarious actors can spread misinformation is real. Those who control platforms (Musk or the masses) must imbue protocols around what is being positioned as authentic.

“Reader habits have morphed, placing stress on revenue models: sponsored editorials and mass advertising wilted, so companies needed new income sources, such as e-commerce integration. Marketers should think about the internet as episodic, with each stage impacted by user needs and technological developments. The 00s era is over. Its replacement offers both opportunities and challenges for brands.”

Matt Belanger, vice-president, director, digital communications strategy, Momentum Worldwide: “The (current) digital revolution comes amid a heightened desire for authenticity and realness. With technological advancement comes knowledge and experience as more people become seasoned social media users. The skill of spotting clickbait, ads, and content that doesn’t add value to our lives has sharpened to the point of skipping right past without a thought.

“As we see media companies who focused traditionally on selling advertising as their source of revenue start to fall, it signifies an opportunity for marketers to guide these shifts. Content creators stand out because they are the voice of authentic human beings, gaining trust (and sometimes financial support) from their communities. Providing authentic value is key to standing out, whether that’s an opinion, education, or just entertainment.

“We’re hopeful for the future. If we take great care to create quality, relevant content, consumers will flock to it.”

Nina Goli, digital strategy director, Radley Yeldar: “The internet of the 00s is not dead. It defined the era of the profile and laid the foundation for future developments. Societal dependence on the internet became more evident in the 2010s, bringing forth toxic aspects of web addiction.

“As we progress further into the 2020s, we’re witnessing a resurgence of omni-web experiences with a nostalgic twist. Challenges arising from regulators and a ‘big brother’ mentality present organic opportunities for marketers and publishers to redefine authenticity and credibility in online relationships with audiences.

“In addition to emerging technologies like influencer marketing, user-generated content, AR, and AI, publishers should tap into the gap that exists: a need to reintroduce the human aspect of digital communication. This human touch was instrumental in forging strong bonds with millennials during the early 00s and is now being reclaimed by Gen Z. While challenges persist, there is hope that innovation and adaptation will lead to an improved digital landscape, but we should prepare for further disruptions and adjust our strategies accordingly.”

Danielle Dullaghan, social strategist, Social Chain: “We have to learn from the mistakes of social publishers. Relying on platform functionality for your business model is not possible in an ever-changing landscape. Today, there’s power in TikTok; tomorrow it could be something completely different. Social publishers built their business off Facebook link clicks and video formats, and when Meta pivoted their algorithm, publishers were left in the dust.

“00s internet is not dead, but used in different ways. Facebook favors meaningful engagement; groups and marketplace are absolutely thriving. But social publishers are struggling to organically monetize on a platform that has changed their business model so drastically.”

Dan Bermingham-Shaw, senior digital PR consultant, BuiltVisible: “The new internet age requires fluid, transformative change. Big institutions like the NYT and BBC have kept up by adapting and creating diversified digital businesses, while smaller, punchier companies have done important, valuable work but failed to retain momentum and adjust to new demands.

“Those lessons in failure help push others to improve and create platforms suited to our needs; the successful publishers of tomorrow will be able to incorporate audience convenience in as flexible a way as possible, making use of tools like AI to capture audience minds and interests. The internet is always moving and there will be many more crumbling publishers in the future, but they will fall in order to build something better and more suited to what audiences demand. We loved Vine, but TikTok took the concept and doubled it with huge success. It’s a pattern we’ll continue to see.”

James Crooke, chief technology officer, Rawnet: “Web 2.0 (The 00s version) is far from dead. It remains highly relevant for brands in today’s digital landscape. It has revolutionized brand engagement through interactive and collaborative user experiences, along with social networking and user-generated content.

“Despite challenges faced by publishers such as cookie consent, ad-blocking, and the shift towards closed ecosystems (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, Twitch, YouTube, etc.), web 2.0 technologies continue to evolve, offering new opportunities for personalized experiences and improved customer interactions. To thrive in the uncertain future of the internet, brands must remain agile and adaptable, aligning themselves with evolving audience needs and expectations, allowing them to connect with customers and build strong relationships.”

Feature Image Credit: Alexander Andrews via Unsplash

By Sam Anderson 

Sourced from The Drum

In exchange for anonymity, communications specialists spill the tea on what it was really like being on the front line navigating brands through this historic moment.

For 48 hours following the death of The Queen, comms teams and PR professionals were the first port of call for companies unsure how they should respond.

Uncertainty had been brewing since the Thursday morning, with one PR telling The Drum how he had been spending the morning with the media, facilitating filming for a charity campaign due to launch the next day, when the journalists around him began to receive alerts.

The Palace had issued a landmark statement saying that doctors were concerned for The Queen’s health and that she was being kept comfortable. “The journalists warned us this was going to take over the news. They knew what was coming.”

Sure enough, by the time he got back to the office the decision had been taken to pause the campaign. The press launch was axed and social media influencers were told to hold off on promotions. “They shut it down.”

Across town, another PR exec within an ad agency had just hit ‘send’ on a press release announcing the launch of a client’s major new TV ad campaign. “We had literally got the release signed off that morning and issued it that lunchtime,” she explains. “Then came the news that The Queen was ill.“

She says that the agency’s account director then spent the next few hours going back and forward between the client, the media agency and the media owners, debating whether to go ahead with the launch that night.

‘It was the CEOs, CMOs and CFOs ringing me personally’

As the world’s media hastily set up on the periphery of Buckingham Palace, clients began making frantic calls asking what they should do if the worst happens, explains the owner of an agency that specializes in crisis comms. “The phones were ringing off the hook from about 3pm onwards and didn’t stop for two days.”

What surprised him, he says, was that brands’ internal communications departments were being shut out. “I usually deal with those teams on crisis comms, but this time it was the CEOs, CMOs and CFOs ringing me personally. I found myself saying ‘trust your team’, but they wanted an agency opinion.”

Many of those calls from the C-suite were to ask what other big brands had planned. “I was taken aback at the size of some of the companies that had clearly put no thought into this. There were global brands that had nothing in place, no plans for these situations.”

A PR agency owner with almost three decades of experience running her own business, handling multiple clients across different sectors, tells us how she moved early to hit the brakes on planned activity for the remainder of that week. “It was obvious the direction things were moving.“

With a couple of big campaigns due to break, she says: “We started telling clients ’have a think about what you want to do before the morning’. We were trying to be front-of-foot. Some heard us, but others chose to ignore and were steadfastly plodding on.”

‘Most got it, but some were tone deaf’

Of course, the decision on what action to take came much sooner. By 6.30pm that day, Buckingham Palace confirmed The Queen’s death. Unlike brands, most broadcasters, publishers, media owners and platforms had processes in place for the passing of the nation’s longest-serving monarch. They went into mourning mode and immediately paused all advertising on commercial stations, out-of-home and online media for two days.

At media agencies that had been primed to release big new campaigns, retractions were swiftly being issued. An exec at one tells how his client felt it would be more appropriate to pause its new spot until later in the month. “But then they came up against a problem with media owners in that some were unwilling to pull the ads for any longer than their 48-hour blackout unless they were in direct conflict with the royal family.”

The brand CMO and the media agency are still in negotiations with certain media owners about what happens to the significant ad budget they’ve invested, but not all clients have been so attuned to the situation.

The PR agency owner that we spoke to tells us how, “once the penny dropped on the enormity of this moment and the tsunami of reaction across the world on social media” her agency started advising all clients to stop all activity until at least September 20, the day after the funeral. “Most got it, but some were tone deaf and have continued, regardless of how crass, naff or disrespectful it is. Some turned it into an opportunity.“

She reveals that one client – despite all her emails and calls beseeching it not to – went ahead with a big comms push that will “at best have no response, but at worse will have negative impact on the brand“. “It has been very revealing about the kind of organization we’ve been working with and how they see the world,“ she says. “There has been a big misread.“

Now, she is diligently recording every interaction with said client in anticipation that, three months from now, she’ll be faced with complaints about why the activity didn’t achieve the KPIs they’d agreed. “I’m keeping it all in writing and recording everything. Response rates will not be anything like what it wants. Unfortunately, apart from covering ourselves in that way and putting every bit of advice in bold and underlined, there’s little we can do.”

‘Consumers don’t give a crap about an FMCG brand commenting on societal affairs’

As we saw in the hours following the Palace’s announcement, too many brands – from Playmobil to Pizza Express and The British Kebab Awards – were too quick to share their ill-judged messages of condolence. So what guidance would these trusted PRs and crisis comms specialists offer corporate giants on paying their respects on social media?

Without fail, all of the experts we spoke to say that, unless your brand is one of the 800 or so with a royal warrant or well-recognized connection to The Queen, it is strongly advised to simply stay silent. They stand by that advice for comms on the day of her funeral.

“If you have a royal warrant then it’s fine to put something out there, but otherwise just shut the fuck up,” stresses our crisis comms specialist. “Brands were worried that by not saying something they’d be seen to be disrespectful. Consumers don’t give a crap about an FMCG brand commenting on societal affairs. And no brand that hasn’t put out a statement has had feedback from customers saying they really should have.”

At the downright bizarre end of the spectrum, one ad agency tells The Drum they had a brand (not UK-based, it is important to note) brief them to create a tactical stunt. “We told them to fuck off.“

Aside from talking brands down from ridiculous ideas of how to insert themselves into this seminal moment, most PRs are expecting the next seven days to be quiet. Clients are actively avoiding PR opportunities, they say, declining interviews that are likely to run before the funeral and continuing to put major news releases on hold. “We need to wait until the mood changes,“ they all agree.

By Jennifer Faull

Sourced from The Drum