PPA Blog

Guest Blog: Nine learnings from the PPA Innovation of the Year finalists

By Tom Hawkins, Content Consultant, PPA

23 Jun 2020

PPA Innovation Lab, in association with SPRYLAB

There are some things it’s just difficult to put your finger on. Examples include the taste of water or that feeling you get when you’re about to sneeze - you know what they are but defining them is another matter.

Something else that can safely be added to that list is innovation. It’s a word that’s used freely but do we really know what it means? Is it the same as invention? Does it have to involve technology? Is it just another way of saying something is new?

Rather than getting lost down a Google-shaped rabbit hole, we turned to the publishers shortlisted in the Innovation of the Year category at the PPA Awards 2020 to find some answers. At a virtual roundtable hosted by PPA Associate Partner SPRYLAB on June 16, we heard their stories and, according to our finalists, innovation is about:

Finding the gap

Delish’s appetising mix of multi-platform content has been served up to US consumers since 2015, and with growing interest from UK consumers, Hearst UK launched a local version of the site in October 2019. Even in a mature and competitive market, Editor Vicky Chandler explained there was an opportunity for Delish to build out an inclusive, digital property that was about more than recipes alone, It provided a space for food lovers to gather under the philosophy: Come for the food, stay for the fun. Rapid audience growth followed, with a twofold increase during lockdown as the nation transformed overnight into sourdough aficionados.

Vicky Chandler, Editor, Delish UK: “We felt food media had become quite an exclusionary experience. We wanted to make a digital space that was for everyone – people who wanted to eat more than they wanted to cook.”

*Just doing it *

Since 1959, GPs have turned to Haymarket’s MIMS as an authoritative reference for prescribing. The team, along with sister title GP, identified that shortages of certain drugs were creating an additional workload burden for their audience of doctors. MIMS looked to close the information gap by launching a live online tracker. Editor Chloe Harman said the turning point was a realisation that it should simply get the service up and running rather than wait until it had a comprehensive, official list. What started as 40 drugs has grown to become around 100, and the tracker has spawned news content, driven traffic and informed the brand’s gated content strategy.

Chloe Harman, Editor, MIMS: “We realised if we just got something out there, any partial list would be helpful and better than nothing. Last April we began collating everything we could find from various different sources and about six weeks later we launched.”

Going boldly

As a brand that can trace its roots back to 1849, it’s no wonder that Boots is often regarded as part of the establishment. Geraldine Lynch, Creative Director of Boots Health & Beauty at WPP, said the title needed to take a brave approach to detach itself from these associations and debunk brand myths to attract potential new customers – all while retaining its sense of authority. Geraldine Lynch, Creative Director of Boots Health & Beauty at WPP: “We had to smash a lot of things and visually make it something that would make people do a double take and think: is that really Boots? That was our acid test.” Meeting a specific need When DC Thomson Media launched Platinum onto newsstands in September 2019, it was a move that appeared to go against the grain of a challenged print market. However, Sally Hampton, Consumer Magazines Publisher at DCT Media, explained that the title was born out of ongoing in-house research among its target audience of ABC1 women over-50 that revealed they were looking for something new that really spoke to them. The team set about creating a product that would differentiate itself through a laser-focus on serving that need, while also balancing the requirements of retail and advertiser partners.

Sally Hampton, Consumer Magazines Publisher, DCT Media: “My number one piece of advice would be ‘know your audience and produce what they need’ – rather than producing fantastic products and finding an audience for them.”

Opening new doors

Pitched as “the perfect read for the toilet”, Viz has offered up a treasure trove of potty-mouthed mirth to its readers since 1979. As part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, publisher Dennis developed and launched Honk My Horn, a card game based on Call My Bluff fronted by the profanity prone Roger Mellie. Dharmesh Mistry, Managing Director of the Specialist Division at Dennis, said bringing the brand to life in this way was an opportunity to open a new revenue stream and to reinvigorate the relationship not just with magazine readers but with a broader audience of Viz fans on social media.

Dharmesh Mistry, Managing Director of the Specialist Division at Dennis: “The biggest takeaway for me is that rather than licensing it out, I’ve learned that knowledge, and I can take it back to the business and roll it out across other brands.”

Reframing a problem

While it has evolved more recently to become a provider of sustainable woodfibre products, Sappi remains well known as a manufacturer of graphic papers. Getting media buyers and agencies to recognise the strengths of these products in a digital-first world is an increasingly difficult task, despite the fact that e-commerce brands in particular are challenged to promote the tactile qualities of their products via mobile screens. Chief Content Officer Matt Potter explained how John Brown Media Group answered the problem, not by championing print media but by producing a book extolling the virtues of touch, which it put at the heart of a campaign encouraging a reassessment of the strengths of paper in its own right.

Matt Potter, Chief Content Officer, John Brown Media Group: “To invest in something that’s physical means that a lot of people down the line have trusted it and are prepared to invest in the reaction it creates.”

Building on your strengths

Computing is a long-established business title targeted at the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) responsible for managing and procuring multi-billion-pound IT systems. Robin Shute, Operations Director at publisher Incisive Media, said the editorial team, led by Stuart Sumner, registered that the UK market lacked an independent source of data and information to help inform their decision-making. This led to the idea for Computing Delta, a UK-based intelligence product that incorporates analysis of suppliers, pricing and technology. It is exclusively based on peer-reviewed information from IT leaders themselves, free from vendor influence and rubber-stamped with Computing’s editorial authority.

Robin Shute, Operations Director, Incisive Media: “The most important thing about this is that other platforms let the vendors buy their way into the platform – ours is 100% independent.”

Joining the dots

Taken together, all the information from litigation cases and judgements across 15 UK High Courts amounts to a huge wealth of data – but it highly opaque. Catrin Griffiths, Editor of Centaur title The Lawyer, recognised that being able to extract insight on the law firms, chambers, barristers and companies involved would have significant potential value for the legal community and give the brand exposure to Chambers and Litigation Funders. This led to the creation of the Litigation Tracker, a searchable catalogue of more than 10,000 cases and judgments alongside news and detailed analysis on the UK litigation sector.

Roger Wagland, Research and Digital Product Director, Centaur Media: “We’ve now added claims because we’ve been so successful with the original product, and we’re putting together a business plan outlining what we’re going to do next. We’ve been really pleased with the progression we’ve had. It’s flown very well in it is first year.”

Asking sideways questions

Stephan Heck, CEO of SPRYLAB, shared details of the moment when, during a project to integrate Artificial Intelligence into its Purple DS SaaS platform for German car manufacturer Daimler, the team had a thought: what would this kind of technology look like for our publisher clients? SPRYLAB realised there was a user case for AI to automate content recommendations and link suggestions based on analysis of audience interest data and article content. The result is that website users receive more relevant content, maintaining their engagement for longer, and publishers have the opportunity to direct user journeys and grow subscriptions.

Stephan Heck, CEO of SPRYLAB: “Everybody who innovates, especially during these times, is set up well to get out of this stronger. Using this time to innovate, somehow, is the right thing to do.”

While the coronavirus pandemic may have curtailed opportunities for colleagues to physically come together and generate new ideas, either in planning meetings or serendipitously over the water-cooler, it has brought a key aspect of innovation into play: the pivot.

Whether it manifests itself as a shift in tone, a reinvention of live events or creating content on new platforms, these pivots are evidence that the constant of innovation is alive and well. No-one can say with certainty what the end result of those efforts will be - but then, if you’re struggling to describe it, you can probably be sure what you’re looking at is innovation.