As Battlespace editor Julian Nettlefold has noted, (See below) there has been a raft of aerospace and defense media closures in 2019, including half a dozen long-running, English-language properties in the U.S., UK and Europe. And while one might be tempted to view this with the same sanguinity often applied to corporate merger and acquisition activities, the two situations are not wholly analogous.
Trade media play a unique role in any industry, providing a level of journalistic expertise and analysis that mainstream media simply cannot match. This is particularly important in aerospace and defense, where the technology in question literally moves and shapes the world. It is not hyperbole to state that life-and-death technology and policy are an accepted part of this journalistic beat. Thus, it’s not surprising that many journalists we know exhibit the same commitment and longevity as the executives they cover.
Sadly, this symbiotic relationship is under unprecedented strain from multiple factors. First, media consumers everywhere have gotten used to accessing online content for free, a situation many media executives will admit they enabled and empowered at their eventual peril. Second, the increased corporate emphasis on marketing metrics has driven advertisers away from print to digital offerings, resulting in less spend due to a relative paucity and lower price points of online inventory compared to the heady days of traditional newspapers, magazines and newsletters, not to mention broadcast media. Third, the dramatic rise of programmatic advertising, which according to eMarketer now accounts for roughly 85% of all U.S. digital display ad spending, means A&D companies can appear on dozens or even hundreds of websites and mobile apps at once, automatically optimized for location, demographic and other audience criteria.
Aerospace and defense publishers have begun to take decisive, if belated action. Some have placed content behind paywalls or changed ownership to be better prepared as we transition from print first to digital first to potentially digital only. Others have trimmed costs by eliminating third-party circulation audits that validate their subscription claims or replacing full-time journalists with less expensive freelancers paid by the story. Yet, the old corporate adage that you can’t cut your way to growth is also true in media. Good journalism is not just important for transparency, knowledge and even business advantage, it is inherently challenging and expensive.
That’s not a justification for falling prey to countless pay-for-play schemes that promise editorial in exchange for a modest fee or list of customers/suppliers to be harangued for ads in support of the featured company. That sort of cynical boosterism, often in an unfamiliar title, is as useless as it is expedient and unimaginative. Yet, retirement or sidelining of legitimate A&D subject matter experts in an era of reduced editorial budgets, including for travel, can only diminish thoughtful and often justifiably critical analysis of certain programs that otherwise might prove even more costly in the long run.
And while it is unrealistic for publishers of legitimate titles we rightly consume and trust to expect advertisers to purchase media with reckless abandon, so industry must understand that a modest business relationship with the very outlets they court for earned media coverage is more vital than ever for the latter to survive. What was once an abstract, distant and academic construct has become real, current and existential. Trust me, nature isn’t the only one that abhors a vacuum.
Adam Konowe, FRAeS, is vice president of client strategy at TMP Worldwide, an adjunct professor of communication at American University in Washington, D.C. and an active member of the National Press Club.
BATTLESPACE Feature in BUSINESS NEWS BATTLESPACE UPDATE NO 33 19/08/19
15 Aug 19. Defence Publishing shakeout? A raft of announcements over the past few weeks suggests that the current defence publishing model of a monthly printed publication with an online news service has been found wanting. One of the reasons for this is the inability to generate the same revenues online as in published format. BATTLESPACE was started in 1997 as an online publication with printed coming later for specific exhibitions. We noticed the decline in advertising in 2009 and adjusted our frequency in published magazines accordingly from six to four a year. One problem has been for the propensity for MoDs and Companies to do their publishing in-house spreading the word as they see it. Other publishers branched out into Aps, which we did and was a notable failure and TV and video which have also proved fruitless. This has proved more problematic for publishing houses with high staffing levels and multiple magazine titles who are facing expensive redundancies in the event of any layoffs or closures. So, over the past four weeks we have seen Flight being sold, Rotor & Wing closing, Governing from e.Republic closing, Jane’s being put up for sale, Mönch folding Safety & Security International earlier and Shephard closing its Special Forces title. The inevitability of a war with China or indeed Russia and the growth of Budgets across the world suggest that this is a strange time for contraction. At BATTLESPACE, we haven’t seen any decline in interest for our publications as our DSEI issue will clearly show. But, certainly recent events show that the current model is broken and that online will prosper against print. Adam Konowe and Peter Bradfield are lecturing on this topic, ‘Advertising Trends and Topics,’ in London on September 9th. A timely opportunity and one that industry and Mods should look closely at as the choice for media promotions for products and services declines. In addition, the combination of subject matter experts retiring coupled to reduced editorial budgets means a reduced ability for true analysis of defence contracts and thus the ability for costly mistakes and expensive overruns to be revealed and rectified at a fraction of the cost if MoDs cover up or fail to spot technical glitches in systems and equipment, often after lives have been lost.
(SEEFeatures: Why less is truly less, A clarion call in light of recent A&D media closures
By Adam Konowe. Adam Konowe, FRAeS, is vice president of client strategy at TMP Worldwide)