The Great Debate: Interview with David Pemsel, Deputy Chief Executive, Guardian News & Media

The convergence of content and technology – where do brands fit in? We asked Guardian News & Media Deputy Chief Executive David Pemsel, who spoke at The Great Debate on March 26th, to share his thoughts on the big issues in media and content that are impacting the advertising business.

AD Club: What is the biggest trend changing digital advertising today, and which online advertising models will last the distance?

Copyrigth Sarah Lee - David Pensel head of advertising at Guardian Media Group.

David Pemsel, Deputy Chief Executive, Guardian News & Media

David Pemsel: The move towards mobile is already having a huge impact on digital advertising; affecting brands and media owners alike. On the one side, marketers need to ensure all their communications platforms are optimised for mobile devices and tablets. On the other, media owners need to ensure the advertising solutions they offer brands are fully integrated and focus on reaching the target audience rather than prioritising channels. This is something we at the Guardian have spearheaded and will continue to champion.

Big data is another trend in digital advertising that is not going to go away. In the long-term, it will deliver better understanding of consumers and allow brands to be more targeted and personalised in their advertising. However, many media owners and brands are still not getting big data right, and haven’t yet managed to unlock the value it can bring – this is likely to change, as organisations get more clued up and better tools to analyse data are created.

AC: Consumers don’t mind being advertised to, as long as they are getting something out of it. How do you connect with consumers on all touchpoints and create a utility or value they can benefit from?

DP: As long as advertising is targeted and personalised, consumers will see value in it. And as data analytics become more sophisticated, consumers will be receiving advertising that is increasingly more and more relevant to their browsing and shopping behaviours. At a time when consumers are contending with information overload, the challenge for advertisers will be to ensure that the content they target consumers with is engaging and integrated across all platforms.

At the Guardian, we work hard to help brands get cut through with audiences and to produce great content that will appeal to them. Our unique open approach extends into our commercial partnerships and is ingrained in the way we do business. Brands choose us because we’re collaborative and open, and we work with them to find the right channels and content to reach their audiences, without compromising the independence of our editorial output.

Our partnership with UK mobile operator EE to launch GuardianWitness, our citizen journalism platform, is a perfect example of this – it allowed EE to create a unique service to showcase their high-speed 4G connectivity and to engage more closely with consumers, while helping us to develop a platform that benefits both our readers and our journalism.

AC: How is the rise of platforms like Whatsapp and Snapchat changing the way brands communicate with consumers?

DP: There is little evidence to suggest that the rise of platforms like Whatsapp and Snapchat is inherently going to change the way brands communicate with consumers – at least for the time being. Consumers don’t mind being advertised to, so long as the adverts they’re presented with are relevant and targeted to their needs. Rather than shunning platforms like Meta and Google in favour of ad-free platforms like Whatsapp and Snapchat, we’re more likely to see a trend of consumers using a mix of public and private communications platforms, and using them for different activities, in different ways. As such, not a lot is likely to change in terms of how brands advertise.

AC: Now that anyone can be their own content creator, publisher and social media super star, how is the role of ‘influencer’ changing?

DP: The media landscape is in a state of flux. More and more people are accessing content from global sources and producing and sharing growing volumes of content themselves. People are increasingly consuming news on multiple platforms and social media is fast becoming a place for breaking news.

That said, I’m a big believer in the power of media organisations to produce quality content that will appeal to their readers. People are faced with an information overload and consumers will ultimately turn to a small number of media brands who they trust to cut through the noise and provide them with informative and reliable content. We pride ourselves on our era-defining, brave journalism, which is why our readers trust us and will continue to come back to us, and why we’re continuing to grow our readership around the world.

But media companies have a job to do to ensure they remain relevant, by embracing new technologies and adapting the way they operate. This is why the Guardian adopted a pioneering digital first strategy, and why we remain committed to that approach – we know that we need to continue to innovate to ensure we’re meeting our readers’ needs in an ever-changing environment.


  1. […] Brands: let consumers in. Let them participate in your content. They have a point of view and their contributions can create better stories. According to David Pemsel, Deputy Chief Executive, Guardian News & Media, this is how The Guardian has increased traffic and readership by leaps and bounds in recent years. As long as we keep consumers at the center, the overlap of content and technology has a rich future ahead of it. (Read the full interview with David here.) […]