Celebrating 50 years of genuine content

As we hit our half-centennial, CEO Niki Webb looks back at the major transformations that have shaken the communications industry since 1969, and how our genuine approach to content has been a constant throughout.

There is something indelibly special about a 50th anniversary. Here we are, a publishing company with 50 years on the clock. It’s a moment to reflect on the changes we’ve seen in this time; after all, the last 50 years represents the most momentous period of transformation in communications. Ever.

Although the internet has brought so much entertainment and choice to the palm of our hand, the channels of 1969 are still thriving. We still have high consumption of ‘resilient’ radio, television (which just gets better and better), books and magazines. This month, Booker Prize nominee Margaret Atwood ‘broke the internet’ when her eagerly awaited follow-up novel The Testaments was leaked by a hapless Amazon packer. A book making waves on the internet. There’s irony.

Ten years ago, we were fearing ‘content congestion’ but statistically this does not bear out. Our capacity to consume different channels broadens with ease; each week we consume more channels with greater variety and interaction.

Getting closer to content

Audio is the latest exciting channel to transform into a huge content platform; podcasts, apps and sounds… We are taking our passions, hobbies and interests with us on the move. While the proportion of adults who go online (87%) and the total average estimated weekly hours spent online (25.3 hours) are largely unchanged since 2017*, the way we are using the internet is changing. Adults now estimate they spend over 15% more time online out and about, compared to 2017 (2.9 vs. 2.5 hours*). *Source: Ofcom Adults: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019

As people get closer to their content, it’s a great time to celebrate the business of content production and the elements at the heart of great content.

Strong roots, strong trees

When our company was formed in 1969 in a small office in Wales, the core team of a designer and an editor were the anchors. Fast-forward to 2019, we are a business with global clients, producing award-winning content across many digital and traditional platforms. Yet the core of any project team today remains this magical partnership of designer and editor, now supported by a new cast of stars – developers, planners, data scientists and digital strategists.

Designers create the visual narrative. In 1969, their tools were certainly simpler, but the ability to bring to life a story or big idea was the essence of the role. True design vision always starts simply – the greatest creative directors are always twitching to sketch; that hasn’t changed much.

Editors are still the engineers of words and ideas in our business. The raw skills of planning, creating and curating content for multiple audiences across pages of a magazine now thrive online today, as we create vast sites for companies looking to expand, enhance or rationalise their digital estates. The ability to edit, slice, reorganise and shape a narrative is the very DNA of content.

The whole company celebrated 50 Years of Specialist at Goldney Hall, Bristol
[Photography: Sam Beasor]

5G and the future

Having sailed through five decades of change, another networking revolution, poised to be as transformative as the internet itself, is within sight. The 5G revolution will provide the foundation for software-defined infrastructure and carrier-edge computing. Just like 4G – and the internet before that – it will accelerate an abundance of technologies, including virtual reality, digital medicine, IoT and autonomous vehicles.

I expect to see that stat of people ‘on the move with their content’ climb much, much higher.

I’d argue that it has never been a better time to choose a career in content, and that the craft, the art and science of what we do with words and pictures is even more relevant and exciting today than it was in 1969.

Niki Webb