Audiences are notoriously difficult to wrangle. Just when publishers feel like they’ve got a grip on which direction audience consumption habits are going, they’ll buck and throw the publishers off, forcing them to begin the chase again.

Publishers, therefore, have to experiment with the new-fangled platforms and means by which audiences are experiencing their content. If they don’t, they risk missing growth strategies that are vital to their long-term survival. But in their desire to reach new audiences publishers sometimes get accused (rightly or wrongly) of getting carried away and distracted by the shiny.

At the Shift: Newsworks event last week, a series of speakers suggested that the same is true for the marketers who partner with news brands. While there’s something undeniably impressive about a great VR project or some incredible live event (and it looks great on that agency’s portfolio) speakers from Saatchi & Saatchi, Vodafone and the London School of Business argued that marketers should also focus on fundamentals in order to hit targets.

Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing of the London School of Business, began the morning with a talk in which he argued that “at the highest level, there are only two generic types of marketing communication” – those initiated by the marketer and those initiated by the consumer. While technology has enabled much more of the latter, Barwise argues, it has done so at the expense of traditional marketing methods, and took classified advertising with it.

Noting repeatedly that he absolutely detests wrap-arounds and believes that bells-and-whistles advertising can be irritating when context isn’t taken into account, he instead advocated that marketers and news brands focus on the fundamentals of good marketing.

That was echoed in a later session by Katrina Lowes, head of marketing at Vodafone Global Enterprises. She argued that while it’s very easy to get distracted by the Next Big Thing in marketing, there are some underlying issues with the bread and butter of advertising that need to be addressed:

“Our digital advertising isn’t working. There’s no media transparency, unreliable measurement, no common standards, too much fraud. And we’re obsessed with shiny things.

“If I’m honest, I want to get away from the shiny new thing. In that twelve week window I’m measured in it’s really important that what we report is the truth, because we are scrutinised.”

She used the example of a marketer claiming the gimmick of monogrammed golf balls would help close a multi-million pound deal to demonstrate how distracted publishers and marketers can get from the genuine issues that impact the delivery of a marketing campaign.

One thing all the speakers agreed on is that news brands have a halo effect on which good advertising campaigns can piggyback. Sam Wise, head of planning at Saatchi & Saatchi, expounded on this point, arguing:

“A lot of it seems designed to break the format. It forces the medium itself to do a backflip, and it turns the newspaper into [something lesser]. These things seem to run away from the fundamental power of the medium itself.”

He gave the example of a Swallows and Amazons branded campaign and Oreo campaigns in The Sun as being campaigns that succeeded because of the timely nature of print publications, that still have a weight and power despite falling print circulations (09:16 in the following video of the session.

Lowes agreed, saying:

“Commercials, context and consistency. Something that news brands and media has in spades. Newsbrands have context; you can really bring things to life, you can tell stories, you can make people engage.”

However, earlier that morning Barwise had warned that native campaigns, when delivered poorly, are simply exercises in trading off long-term trust in publications for a short-term gain. That’s a concern that’s existed since the start of ‘native’ as a term, even back to the days when ‘advertorial’ was the accepted nomenclature. Publishers are always quick to say that well-delivered native content adds value to the newsbrand as well as the ad partner, but they’re all very aware of what happens when branded content goes wrong.

And while it’s true to say that print products are overall a safer environment for advertisements than digital, because of issues around fraud and viewability, the reach of print products is falling in the UK and the US as circulations shrink. Ad spend is migrating online despite those issues, and publishers’ bottom lines are hurting as a result.

As ever, while print is an integral part of many a media company’s product line and is a valuable product for publisher and advertiser alike, it’s becoming less integral overall.