In late March, Cision convened a gathering of leading editors, thought leaders, and a Fortune 500 digital brand innovator and discussed their insights and recommendations for communications and public relations practitioners during a compelling session titled, “State of the Media Report.”

The panelists included: John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast; Brian Braiker, executive editor of Digiday and recently named editor of Advertising Age; Katrina Craigwell, vice president of General Electric Digital Innovation; Richard Levick, chairman and CEO of LEVICK.

Chris Lynch, CMO of Cision, moderated the discussion.

Brand consistency, authenticity, and loyalty were the key topics discussed.

Levick: You must be consistent with your brand because companies are looked upon as personalities. Starbucks and Nordstrom opposed the President easily.

Craigwell: As marketers, we seek to attract attention and we hope we’re pushing ourselves to earn that attention. Now it’s foundational. Rather than scream and shout, it’s what’s the value you’re creating and for whom? In the last five or 10 years, brands can reach people directly. We have been on a journey of the proliferation of information. That gain isn’t just a volume gain in three, six, or 30 seconds. How are we using this tool to run better a business to drive value?

Avlon: Influence matters more that scale for its own sake. Commodity news is almost by definition valueless. Differentiation, loyalty, and quality are what matters most. The problem is broad programmatic ad buys. You have no control over what your content ends up against. It could be fake news and hate news. It’s a privilege to have relationships with publishers who’ve established credibility.

Corporate citizens need to be the change they want to see. We have an enormous amount of influence if we all stand-up and reset the equation.

Data is great, but …

Avlon:  The key is to balance data with the improvisational art form, which is news. It’s science and jazz. We have amazing real-time data. But, there’s a problem if you become slaves to the algorithms, which lead all sites to an undifferentiated mass of click-bait.

It’s important to know who you are, how your brand is differentiated, have a mission statement that is clear internally and externally.

Braiker: Be informed by the data, but not slaves to it. Honestly, it helps give us a sense of where readers are going, helps us tweak headlines, and spreads the content. Scale for scale’s sake creates undifferentiated viral clones, where you die by the algorithms.

From the brand side, where does data fit in?

Levick: On the crisis side, we are in a technology revolution, which is much more complex. Companies are not very good at looking at the data points vs. getting to the wisdom. People are missing that in an Internet revolution that’s much more that digital. It’s the transformation from a republic (small r) to a democracy (small d). We knew the four horsemen for our brand strategies, advertising, public relations, lobbying, and pack funding. But now it’s at diminishing levels. You must look at what’s going to happen and plan. The truth may be debatable, but it’s what we know first.

A differentiated brand.

Braiker: People seeing a bump in subscriptions speaks to the power of a differentiated brand, a strong journalist reputation with integrity and history. You’re seeing this at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and The Daily Beast.

At Digiday, we’re seeing a return to what’s core to our brand and what resonates with our readers. There’s a stronger forging of great connections between publishers and their readers through newsletters and subscriptions.

Levick: We’re seeing a return to the English model, to the America model of 200 years ago where media is having a political point of view. I’m not sure if we survive this test of the balance of government. Hats off to the Washington Post. Their masthead reads, “Democracy Dies in Darkness” and it reminds us of our responsibility that citizenship is both voluntary and required.

Craigwell: Your brand is a collection of humans, part of a community bringing a product or service to people which impact their daily lives and communities.

Engagement is the key.

Avlon: I’d like to see more acts of appreciation. Engagement should be part of that metric as it’s more valuable than scale. It’s a proxy for loyalty and trust. Readers and brands need to step up and support the outlets that consumers support and develop a sense of responsibility.

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