Quality journalism still matters. Here’s why

This post is sponsored by BBC Global News.

COVID-19 shows us why quality journalism matters – and there’s never been a better time for brands to engage with premium audiences.

Recent news of huge audience growth among news publishers is proving once again the value quality news offers people in times of need, and COVID-19 is currently highlighting just how important news is in people’s lives, helping them understand and gain perspective on key issues and events.

Major news events such as Trump’s impeachment inquiry, Brexit, and the Australian bush fires (remember them?) also share something else in common – advertisers applying the brakes on campaigns and reflexively adopting blocking list strategies to ensure their advertisements don’t appear next to news about these topics.

We know that our commercial partners are, like us, trying to understand what the coronavirus crisis means for their brand, their clients, their teams and their business. We have always been there to help our audiences understand the world and the same philosophy that underpins our editorial commitment also underpins our commitment to our commercial partners.

We are here to help. We want to work with brands to determine the right strategy and message for their audience during these unprecedented and challenging times. We can help them understand how news audiences are behaving – what they want and how to reach them in a way that shows that they get it.

Using our data smarts and global and local audience insights, we can help brands engage with audiences appropriately and strategically, creating cast iron, brand safe and suitably managed opportunities for advertisers to accelerate their brand equity.

But for us to get through this together we need advertisers to work with us and we are asking you, our partners, not to block news. But this is not a self-serving request – we know advertising around news works, and also that audiences expect it.

Recent global news events have contributed to record traffic, and at BBC Global News, we are seeing precisely that in digital and TV. Site visits to BBC.com have doubled in the past month; we’ve added nearly 50% new unique browsers across APAC1; and we’ve had over 800k new downloads of our news app in the past month globally, almost half of which are from within this region2.

This growth is a clear indicator that people are seeking out news at this unprecedented time, wanting a trusted and global perspective.

Putting my personal “consumer hat” on for a moment, I expect to see brands around this content. I don’t judge them badly for it; in fact, I quietly respect them for stepping up. But then a sample of one holds no water, so we have been taking the pulse of our audiences this past month, deploying the “BBC Coronavirus Study” to glean insights from our readers/viewers. It has produced some unequivocal findings that should be of interest and benefit to any brand advertiser3:

  • 64% of BBC audiences in APAC approve of brands running their normal ad campaigns, and are 20% more likely to approve of these campaigns by brands. 
    More than half said they want brands to acknowledge the pandemic in their advertisements and speak about it.
  • 67% agree that brands have a platform to do good while still earning a profit.
  • 67% agree that brands should show compassion and support in their communications.

Plus, the latest GlobalWebIndex shows us that 68% of our global audience believe that brands should support news/journalism by advertising now4

We also understand that not all COVID-19 content offers the same risks for brands, but most reputable publishers will have the data capability to manage any risk effectively.

With any publisher you decide to work with, you need to ensure they will be able to safeguard your brand’s message and guarantee it will not appear in the wrong places. At the BBC we employ both human and technological measures to make sure this doesn’t happen. Plus, we have also created a section on BBC.com dedicated to uplifting stories about how people are responding positively to the situation.

The presumption that news is a place to avoid when trouble is around is not new, and needless to say, some advertisers will have good reason to selectively manage their brand safety around challenging news content. However, quality news (and the multiplicity of related features content spanning science, travel, sport, culture, work, and more) offers some of the most engaging content that audiences will read that day, and evidence suggests it’s some of the most effective content you can find.

Our BBC AdImpact Study 2019 looked at brand uplift data from 195 campaigns on our platforms and found those which included more “news heavy” environments performed much better across key brand metrics than those that included mostly “news light” environments5.

Verification technologies now make it easier than ever for advertisers to avoid certain news out of the fear it may be detrimental to their brand or campaign performance. But anecdotal evidence shows that, in some cases, brands are not taking the time to consult with their agency or tech partners to customise their blocking, with the impact being that they are missing out on some of the most effective environments.

Make no mistake, these are tough times for everyone, and advertisers that are tightening budgets still need results. The evidence clearly shows the ROI that quality news organisations offer, and this same investment will also support a healthy and diverse news industry which provides such a crucial resource for audiences and advertisers.

So please, back, don’t block news automatically, be sure to speak with your media partners to find the right and most effective solution, and taking this simple and easy step will deliver the results that we all have to stand by.


The writer is Alistair McEwan, senior vice-president, commercial development, Asia and ANZ, BBC Global News.

Keen to hear more from the BBC? Join Maura Fogarty, Singapore bureau editor for BBC News, and other industry leaders at Marketing’s upcoming Virtual Content 360 week to discuss challenges and share insights on future content marketing trends, as well as successful strategies to help tackle the complex marketing landscape. Sign up here!


1Browser traffic: AT Internet, March 2020 v February 2020
2App downloads: Appfigures, March 2020
3Brand advertising: BBC Coronavirus Study, April 2020
4GlobalWebIndex Coronavirus Survey, March 2020
5BBC AdImpact Study 2019