Irish Examiner: Ad blockers offer opportunity to online publishers

Imagine a web without ads: No more intrusive page takeovers, no more irrelevant pop-ups, and no more bizarre, third-party banners promising a septuagenarian’s secret to wrinkle-free skin.

For millions of media consumers around the world, this commercial-free utopia is a reality.

Ad-blocking has been a major concern for digital publishers and advertisers for a number of years, with consumers migrating to mobile, where the uptake in ad-blockers is greater.

PageFair, a Dublin-based company that provides media organisations with ad-blocking analytics and which creates anti-ad blocking technologies, published a report last year in conjunction with Adobe. It found that 200m desktop users have installed ad-blockers in their PCs and laptops.

A second report, focusing on mobile ad-blockers, was published last month. It found that 419m mobile users have installed ad-blockers in their devices.

“We’ve had 20 years of the online advertising industry, and it has gotten itself to a point where it faces a cul-de-sac that is self-destructive,” said Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem at PageFair.

“Ad-blocking is like the remote control for TV, invented in the 1950s. It might have taken a few years to land on your couch, but it was inevitable that it would eventually do so. I think it is possible to slow the spread of ad-blocking, but I suspect that the genie is out of the bottle,” he says.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau — IAB — a non-profit group that promotes best practice for online advertisers and publishers, has strongly condemned companies that create ad-blockers.

Recently, the IAB published the results of a small survey on ad-blocking, quizzing 1,300 desktop users and 201 mobile users in the US.

It found that 26% of desktop users and 15% of mobile users avail of ad-blockers. A further 17% of the sample, who do not currently use blockers, are “at risk of starting to do so”.

Similar to PageFair’s research, young respondents were the most likely to block ads, particularly young males who play data-heavy online games.

The reasons for using blockers are varied: over-populated ad spaces are distracting for consumers, ads sometimes intrude on content, and interactive ads consume a lot of data — a reason why many readers in emerging markets use blockers.

Mr Ryan says the rise of ad-blockers is also because of digital advertisers’ over-use of personal data.

“Advertising has evolved into a position where the industry is preoccupied with the notion of monitoring your behaviour to build a profile of you.

“It’s a mistake, because advertising worked just fine before the web. It was based on the idea of context,” Mr Ryan says.

The over-reliance on data has also led to inaccurate counts of genuine readers viewing advertisements online.

However, the problems created by ad-blocking and poor online advertisements have given publishers the opportunity to reimagine online advertising.

Mr Ryan, who is author of the book, A History of the Internet and the Digital Future, sees the problem of ad-blockers “as being one of those historical milestones”.

One proposition is to simply reduce the quantity.

Ads would cost more for advertisers and give readers an uncluttered space.

Suzanne McElligott, CEO of IAB Ireland, which in September will publish a Red C study on ad-blocking in Ireland, predicts that “we will see more engaging, more creative, better-quality advertising served in a more user-friendly manner”.

She thinks publishers will have to educate online users about the purpose of ads.

Harry Browne, a journalism lecturer at DIT’s School of Media, said he likes and uses ad-blockers.

But he warns that “it breaks the 200-plus-year-old, traditional media business model more surely than the mere provision of free content online ever did.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 1, 2016.

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Irish Examiner: Cork has potential to deliver growing space for startups

Co-working has become an attractive alternative to traditional offices, but entrepreneurs say that there is a need for development of the practice in Cork City.

Daniel Ramamoorthy— founder of The Treehouse, an organisation that offers co-working space and advice to entrepreneurs in Dublin— helped set up the Revolution Workspace in the Penrose Wharf business centre.

“Cork is actually a hotbed of incredible innovation,” Mr Ramamoorthy said, and “is leading the charge in Ireland in areas like synthetic biology, in particular.”

Mr Ramamoorthy, who advised the former government on policymaking for entrepreneurs, said that “there is a need for more co-working in Cork” to capitalise on these innovations.

“I get emails from people all the time who are in Cork and want to move to Dublin because they believe their business will grow faster there,” he said.

“I think it’s because they don’t see a good landing space in Cork. I think that if there was a more visible landing space for startups, more Cork startups would stick around because there would be a resource for them to continue growing.”

Without a major co-working hub, a number of smaller spaces have opened across the city. Fergus Murphy, manager and founder of the Plus10 space, became a co-worker by accident.

“Myself and another crew were developing a travel software site,” Mr Murphy said.

“We needed space for a couple of programmers. When we went looking, all that was there was very expensive stuff for short-term [use].”

Mr Murphy had access to a building on South Main St and decided to make it his base. After a while, one of the developers on his team suggested opening up the space to other startups.

“It just kind of grew from there, to the point where we have 17 desks occupied most of the time,” he said.

‘Cork is behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.’

One of the benefits of operating out of a co-working space, Mr Murphy said, is discipline.

“The idea of working at home is very practical initially,” he said, “but it’s very hard to work in isolation.”

The social side of co-working helps entrepreneurs avoid being “captured by your comfort” and overlooking flaws in their business, he said. The open space allows them to bounce ideas off other workers and share problems or worries.

“There’s a pool of different talents and skills there,” he said.

Mr Murphy, who spoke at last year’s Co-working Europe Conference in Milan, believes Cork lags other European cities in development of co-working spaces.

“Ireland is a bit behind the curve,” he said. “Cork is significantly behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.”

Mr Ramamoorthy agrees, but believes Cork could become one of the top 10 startup cities in Europe.

“Ireland in general ranks very high as a startup hub,” he said. “Cork as a city is not yet. But I think it’s fast on the heels of becoming that, specifically because of the collaboration between investors, accelerators, the local enterprise office and the universities. I think that network is absolutely important in building a good startup ecosystem.”

But it is not just startups that are attracted to co-working. Established companies have learned that the practice is not just about physical space, but a culture that promotes entrepreneurship and creativity.

“We have mature practices that have been much bigger in the past and had to scale down,” said Patrick Creedon of Magee Creedon Kearns architects, which set up Gate Design House on North Abbey St.

“They’ve discovered now that they don’t have to have the big overheads of taking on a whole space by themselves and yet they have a sense of scale in terms of the shared space.”

Both Gate Design House and Plus10 have been approached by large organisations, some of which already have substantial offices in Cork, looking to rent their spaces.

“I’ve had cases where big companies have been working on a project but maybe they wanted some lateral thinking,” Mr Murphy said.

“They want to come out of the office environment and into a more creative environment.”

As work becomes more flexible, Mr Creedon predicts a rise in demand for co-working. “One or two individuals can do so much more now than five or six individuals could do in the past,” he said.

Companies “don’t want their hard-earned cash going into bricks and mortar. They do want to be in an environment that is pleasant and attractive and buzzy.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

Why did a mattress company open a newsroom?

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

Former journalists have always been valued in marketing: They understand the components of a good story, they know the culture of a newsroom, and they can write.

But in 2016 we see a growing trend in marketeers hiring journalists to work as journalists, not PR pros.

Their role is to create a community around a brand, rather than write content that is exclusively concerned with sales: Think of the documentaries on counter-culture presented by Doc Martens.

Media consumers value content that digs a little deeper; they want to feast on something that offers them sustenance rather than SEO junk, and journalists are equipped with the skills to ask good questions, find interesting sources and ensure that articles are reader-focussed.

It has been almost seven months since the New York-based mattress company Casper opened a newsroom.

The self-described “sleep startup” hired journalists to work on its online publication, Van Winkle’s, which is funded by Casper, but isn’t part of their marketing budget.

Gawker-founder and former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer Elizabeth Spiers was hired as Editorial Director, with journalist Jeff Koyen as editor-in-chief and three other editorial staffers.

The two ventures share the same office space, but Van Winkle’s doesn’t feature reviews of Casper’s products or report company news. In fact, mattresses are a “blacklisted” topic. Why? Because mattresses just aren’t all that interesting.

‘Own’ a niche

So what is the purpose in funding the publication? There weren’t any media outlets specialising in the topic for Casper to partner with, so they decided to create their own.

The intention is that the site will “own” the topic of sleep as a niche. They then become the “go-to guys” when it comes to sleep and wellbeing.

Van winkles homepage

Van Winkle’s identifies itself as an “addition to the cultural phenomenon around wellness and lifestyle. While there are numerous publications covering fitness, shelter, and wellness, no single publication owns the conversation around sleep.”

Knowledge bank

It might sound a bit naff to write solely on the topic of sleep, but editor-in-chief Jeff Koyen recognises it as an important issue: “Sleep may account for one-third of our time, but it affects us around the clock. It may be the most important influence on our daily lives.”

And there is a host of material available to cover: Van Winkle’s publishes at least 10 original articles every day, including in-depth features, investigative reports and columns.

The material has nothing to do with Casper’s products, but it helps establish them as the powerhouse behind all things sleep.

Brand recognition

An important feature of their model is syndication. They disseminate material to websites that are hungry for content. One of their biggest customers is Huffington Post.

The service is free, but their website outlines that “You must cite us as the original source with the following text: This article originally published by Van Winkle’s, vanwinkles.com, the editorial division of Casper Sleep.”

The idea is that their material does not push the sale too much — it is a slow burner that will eventually build a community and play an active role in shaping the company’s brand voice.

The learning outcome for PR pros is that brands should focus on building lifestyles, rather than simply looking for material that is blatantly about increasing sales.

Good content marketing is about creating something is actually entertaining and newsworthy, and today’s media consumers are becoming much more fussy about what they consume.

Check out MediaHQ.com’s upcoming course on brand storytelling.