Jo Stevens MP: Digital advertising “good for democracy”

Posted on Friday 22 March 2024

With our fourth regional roundtable heading to Cardiff, catch up on highlights from the discussion with Jo Stevens MP, local council leaders, regional press and small businesses

“We’re here today to have an open and frank discussion about how digital advertising can help address the challenges that exist and unlock growth for local businesses, publishers and people”, explained IAB UK’s CEO Jon Mew, opening our fourth regional roundtable - this time in Cardiff. The IAB team was joined by Jo Stevens – MP for Cardiff Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales - as well as a range of council, local business and regional press leaders.

Stevens, who has been a Member of Parliament for Cardiff Central since 2015, set the scene by explaining how digital advertising supports local news and SMEs in her constituency, highlighting a key finding from IAB UK research that “three-quarters of Welsh SMEs say digital advertising is essential to their businesses”. She also underlined how digital advertising is “not just good for the pound in people’s pockets, but good for our communities and good for democracy too” by funding free access to local news.

The ensuing discussion covered the challenges that SMEs and local press are currently facing in Cardiff and Wales more widely, as well as how the IAB and its members can help.

Helping SMEs “get the best value for their buck”

One of the main subjects covered during the roundtable was what support small and medium sized businesses need to grow in a post-covid, cost-of-living context. As Ben Cottam, Head of Wales at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) put it, the industry needs to help “businesses understand where to put their limited spend” to ensure they get the best results. Paul Butterworth of Chambers Wales agreed saying “companies are now looking for a diversity of avenues to market… looking for where they can get better value for money”

People can’t become marketers overnight

Central to helping SMEs maximise value from their digital ad campaigns is more education. “People just expect to become marketers overnight”, explained Carolyn Brownwell, Executive Director of FOR Cardiff. While she explained that business owners are trying their best to educate themselves about tools such as Google Analytics, “they’re not seeing the best returns” because they don’t know who their audience is or how to best reach them with a limited budget. Similarly, Reach’s Commercial Director, Hussain Bayoomi, pointed out that a lot more support is needed when it comes to helping SMEs measure campaigns in an effective and time-efficient way.

The content vs. advertising balance

Reach’s Steffan Rhys, Audience & Content Director, drew attention to the challenge news publishers face when it comes to effectively monetising content while not overloading sites with ads within a programmatic ecosystem. While “direct advertising with SMEs is crucial” for Reach’s

local titles in Wales, the reality is that programmatic advertising is also needed to support free-to-access content and - while alternative revenue streams such as premium app subscription and tailored sports content could make a contribution - it’s “not going to replace advertising anytime soon.”

Resonating across generations

According to latest data, TikTok is a leading source of news for Gen Z - but that doesn’t mean that local news providers have no role when it comes to resonating with young people. Councillor Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff Council, pointed out that “when there is a local story breaking you turn to local news - that’s engaging whatever your age. In a digital age, one thing that joins you is where you live.” Meanwhile, Dr Zoe Lee, an Associate Professor of Marketing at Cardiff Business School, emphasised how she works with students to “identify the right content that is engaging for the right audience” so that the marketers of tomorrow utilise partnership and integration with press content to maximise the impact of branded activity.

AI provides support - not the finished article

Discussing how technology is impacting both local journalism and SMEs’ marketing, those around the table agreed that while AI helps to provide “a starting point” for press releases or campaign creation, it's not the final product. As Cottam put it: “It still needs to be honed so that it’s on-message and relevant to the market.” Meanwhile Gavin Thompson, Editor of the South Wales Argus, said that in an era of AI-generated news where audiences don’t know what’s real or not, local news providers stand out for providing verified, professional content. Rhys reinforced that all content shared on Reach’s title is “100% checked for accuracy” providing advertisers with a highly valuable environment to resonate with readers.

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