The Dallas-based Wilkinson is delivering the keynote address at the Toronto Star Speaker Series at FFWD Advertising & Marketing Week on Tuesday. He’ll address the challenges facing media managers, particularly newspaper publishers, many of whom find themselves introducing paywalls to buttress their bottom lines.
Founded in 1930, the association draws members from 81 countries and represents the likes of the New York Times, Times of India and Telegraph Media Group. “Sometimes it’s really difficult to find a middle,” Wilkinson said in an interview. “You have on the one extreme, the United States, which is massively digitally disrupted; advertisers are not affiliating with newspapers, not because print doesn’t work, not because print doesn’t add value. They’re not affiliating because of the perception of the industry.
“The other extreme is India, where frankly, they can’t get their hands on enough newsprint — literacy rising, middle class rising … It may not be the haughty New York Times or Wall Street Journal. It may be a local language newspaper. But still people are curious and interested and I think a lot of the middle class in western countries, some are still growing, some are shrinking, some are stagnant, but all of them are less aspirational today than they were a half-century ago.”
But there’s no denying the impact, positive or negative, of the Internet, mobile and tablet wave, particularly on younger consumers. While The Economist magazine, for example, has a healthy 1.6 million readers in both print and digital, 77 per cent of the digital subscribers had never subscribed to the print version, according to INMA.
“The number one way to connect to young readers today is to invest in a smartphone app,” Wilkinson said. “Invest in a mobile website. Invest in data journalism. Invest in location-based journalism or location-based advertising.”
After that, it’s a matter of marrying quality with relevance, he said.
“Invest in stories that your community is more likely to read versus throwing darts with your eyes closed. Digital is rewiring our roles and it’s putting a finer point on our roles. Regional daily newspapers should be covering regional local issues. National newspapers should be covering the world. That’s the challenge I see, especially in Europe, North America and the South Pacific.”
Toronto, along with New York and Lima, Peru, remains one of the western hemisphere’s remaining “rich media landscapes,” Wilkinson noted. And Toronto publishers shouldn’t focus what happens in places like New Orleans, where the daily Times-Picaynune recently moved to three-days-a-week publication.
“This is a very robust print market from a readership perspective, not so much in New Orleans,” said Wilkinson. “So I think they made a gamble to accelerate their digital transformation. Are we there here? It depends on your readership and to some degree your advertisers.”