Richard Halton, Director of Project Origin, part of a global cross media measurement initiative led by ISBA and the WFA.

For a brief moment on Thursday night, the woes of the world were put to one side. After a thirty-year wait, the longest season in Premier League history saw the fastest ever ascent to a league title by an English football club.  

Against the backdrop of Covid-19, much has been written about leading through change (or more accurately, managing chaos) yet models of leadership have been in short supply. Data has gone out of the window – instinct has been elevated over experts and even the phrase ‘the new normal’ has been systematically devalued as we clutch at the most recent straw.

So how do we navigate dystopia? How do we plan for an uncertain future? And what does this mean for a media industry turned upside down in a year that has seen records smashed for consumption and yet the economics of content and services never less secure? What can Jurgen Klopp teach us about navigating the age of Covid-19?

Let’s start with culture and leadership. A wise friend of mine recently re-shared the Cynefin model, originated in IBM in the 90s and derived from the wonderful Welsh word meaning ‘the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways that we can never understand’. Sounds appropriate? It posits five environments with ascending levels of unpredictability, each requiring a different leadership style. We can only dream of the first (Simple), let’s close our eyes to the last (Disorder) and so we find ourselves navigating ‘Chaos’ through ‘Complexity’ back to the reassurance of ‘Complicated’. 

In Chaos, there are no manageable patterns, the imperative is for the leader to bring safety and order. In the Complex world, the past is no guide to the future, so leaders must rely on values, integrity and personal energy. In the Complicated world we have precedents and patterns and there is space for the expert to thrive. While much has been written about Klopp’s vision, energy and personal values, his triumph is backed by insight and intelligence. As brilliantly described by the New York Times on the eve of last year’s Champions League triumph, the data team led by Ian Graham has turned Liverpool FC into not just one of the most feared teams in global football, but also one of the most cost efficient. 

So how does the media industry follow the Redmen in their quest for rediscovery and reinvention as we journey back from chaos? Follow the data. Even in disruption, the clues are there. The stand-out figures suggest extraordinary change. Tik Tok’s 12.9m unique users in April (4.9m in January). Zoom from 659k users to 13 million in the same period. Is it any surprise that an epidemiological shock of biblical proportions has caused fundamental change in human behaviour? Not really, the need for personal connection is stronger than ever. But how that has played out for the economics of ad funded media? Not well. The surge in TV viewing is essentially the same audiences watching more. And despite spending on average nearly 40 minutes more PER DAY online in April vs January 2020, the online search and display market is predicting its first year on year revenue fall. And those are just the quantitative challenges – the qualitative issues are even bigger: according to Ofcom’s recently published Online Nation 2020 Report, over 80% of 12-15 year olds claim they have had a potentially harmful experience online during the past year.

Building confidence back rapidly in ad funded media will need more data and real change. Not just the helicopter view of an annual poll, or the labyrinthine complexity of the programmatic universe. But real, robust information about how tastes and preferences change over time, across age, demographics and through culture. 

Let’s please hope that doesn’t take thirty years.