Q&A: Digiday's Brian Morrissey on Native Ads, Innovation and the Best Media Stories of 2013

Brian Morrissey - Digiday

I'm most interested in how brands, agencies and publishers adapt to high-metabolism marketing.

Brian Morrissey, Digiday

When it comes to digital media, Digiday's editor-in-chief Brian Morrissey has seen more than his share of startups, ad campaigns and new media models. And before he was at Digiday, he spent 6 years as the digital editor at AdWeek. These days, Brian spends most of his time interviewing industry movers and shakers and reporting on advertising and media trends for Digiday – an eviable job that made us wonder: What's his take on where the digital media and ad industry is headed, what works, and what he sees as the most interesting stories for the rest of 2013? So we asked him, and he happily didn't mince words.

What digital media and advertising stories are you watching with the most interest for the second half of 2013? Any surprises you see in store? I'm most interested in how brands, agencies and publishers adapt to what I call high-metabolism marketing. The need for agility has never been greater. The companies that are able to do it, again and again, are the ones that will succeed.

What are the biggest challenges facing today's new media companies? Making money in an advertising system that rewards quantity over quality. The reason you see so many bullshit slideshows and click bait headlines is the pageview rat race that is ultimately self-destructive to the entire industry. I believe this will change. You're going to see quality win out. It always does.

What's your current take on native ads? Are they good, bad or the future – and why?  Oh boy. Native ads are such a loaded term. I define them as "not crappy banner ads." I see the clamor around them as a reaction to the banner ad industrial complex that's completely ground down publishers and pushed "creativity" into the realm of the dancing cowboy ads yield a .005% higher click-through rate.

What brands do you think really get the digital media space and are doing innovative things right now? I love what GE is doing. It's showing that a really complicated company that makes everything from windmills to aircraft engines can take a really progressive approach to telling their story.

What is a media company these days? Are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn media companies in your book? Why or why not? A media company to me is one that aggregates an audience and then makes money off that audience's attention, either through loaning it to advertisers (for a fee!) or charging for access. In the past, this was done more often than not through content. Now it can be done through creating a fun iPhone game, providing a platform for communication and community, etc. What I think ties these all together is media is about audience attention.

You witnessed the dot-com crash as a reporter at Silicon Alley Insider – are we in another media/tech bubble? I don't know. I saw the end of the dot-com crash. It was like arriving at a crazy party after the booze had run out. Everyone was so drunk that they didn't know it was over. This seems different. There's no shortage of irrational exuberance oozing from Silicon Valley, but the people who will lose their shirts are the VCs and the "disrupters." There's an underlying media ecosystem that will be just fine.

Why do you think we haven't seen a Disney, Murdoch or MGM emerge in digital media yet? We've seen a Google emerge. That's more impressive. In the grand scheme, it is amazing what it did. It took a Web function thought, for all intents and purposes, boring and unprofitable and used it to create the most successful media platform of the modern era.

What media company innovations are you watching with interest? Who's doing it right and why? This might be a cop out, but I'm most interested in the less sexy but harder work of organizing for the future. It's easy to blather on and on about "disruption," but as Rishad Tobaccowala says "people are analog." That means not just embracing change, but institutionalizing it. Doing this at large scale is hard. See Time Inc. So I'm most interested in companies like The Atlantic that are reinventing themselves from the inside out. That's the only way.

What were some of the most interesting things you saw come out of Cannes this year? The irony of advertising people (again) saying the future of advertising isn't advertising. I see their point, yet I can't help but wonder what other industry has so many people in it who decry the very thing they do. I guess military people typically hate war. In any case, I'm interested in whether the talk of focusing on experiences and stories over hitting people over the head with messages will ever translate into true industry wide change. Hope springs eternal.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bmorrissey.

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