Changing media and eternal truths

by Martin MacConnol, Chief Executive

I spent two days at the Guardian Changing Media Summit this week, and I learned a fair few things.

Some of the learnings – but not as many as I’d hoped – came from the speakers themselves.

That there weren’t more bits of genius from Facebook, Twitter, the BBC et al was less down to the quality of their insights, and more to do with the fact that the media revolution is now confirmed on a trajectory that it’s been on for a few years.

Put simply: if you want to be successful, capitalise on mobile and real-time – and get as up close and personal to your audiences as you can. But we knew that already.

Ironically, when I stopped focusing on the speakers and took a look around the room at my fellow delegates, I felt like I learned more.

Firstly – content really is king. As CEO of a content agency I have said this frequently and loudly. But I experienced it at first hand in the Fuhrer Bunker that was the conference auditorium.

You could tell when people started to think the content of a presentation wasn’t relevant to them – they reached for their mobiles. In some of the panel sessions, which were moderated with varying success, more than half of the audience appeared to be concentrating on their phones rather than the speakers on the podium. It was the conference equivalent of the Britain’s Got Talent buzzer.

That this was a summit that celebrated the power of mobile communications created an irony. A couple of speakers actually said, “it’s fine to look at your mobiles”, but of course it wasn’t. People were only looking at their phones because the content on offer wasn’t engaging enough for them personally.

Secondly, the conference confirmed to me the power of ‘news you can use’. For instance, I was hugely vexed that a session on the digital skills gap became more a panel debate on social issues and immigration policies. I was looking for guidance to help me in the day-to-day management of my agency, not for what I could read in the Society pages of The Guardian.

Conversely, what kept me in the venue to the end of the final day was the hook of the last session – 10 media trends for the next 10 years from Survey Monkey. Listicles, it appears, are killer apps for conferences as well as web content (although in this instance I still didn’t learn anything earth-shattering).

The last thing I learned was distinctly personal. I realised for the first time I now have a real love/hate relationship with the technology in my pocket. I want the ‘treats’ and instant gratification that an email and Twitter feed can bring, but I dislike the power they have over me. I dislike the way they can make me a ruder, more introvert and less focused individual. For some sessions, I actually made myself switch my phone off to stop me from being drawn out of the room.

That’s a change in my relationship with media, and if I am feeling it, I am sure others are too.

Published Mar 20, 2015

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