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5 minutes with EssenceMediacom Canada’s Urania Agas

5 minutes with Urania Agas, CEO of EssenceMediacom Canada.

Robyn Phelps / The Current

In recent years, the news industry has faced plenty of challenges, to say the least, and Canada’s market is no exception.

According to a report by the Local News Research Project published in November 2023, more than 500 local news outlets, mainly community newspapers, closed in Canada between 2008 and October 2023. In that time, just over 200 new outlets launched.

As new factors — such as the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of generative artificial intelligence — put even more pressure on the news media, the importance of advertising to support journalism has taken on newfound urgency.

Canada itself faces a unique challenge. As EssenceMediacom CEO Urania Agas recently told The Current, Canadian news publishers may not have the same resources as American publishers that have entered the marketplace. Meanwhile, Agas said that advertisers in the country face a similar test, as a lot of the local marketing industry has been consolidated in the U.S.

Ahead of a discussion at The Trade Desk’s Forward ’24 event in Toronto last week, Agas discussed with The Current how important advertising dollars are to supporting journalism in the country, but also how marketers are trying to balance that with the needs of their business.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Big picture, how important is advertising to preserving journalism?

It’s obviously critical we support our Canadian economy, diversity, democracy. Advertising plays a critical role there. We were at the CMDC [Canadian Media Directors’ Council, on April 24], and there was an investigative journalist there talking about the fact that important issues and topics require 12, 18-plus months of resources and commitment, and that’s really only possible when there are advertising dollars and support financially in order to allow journalists to do that kind of work.

What differences do you observe between the Canadian news industry and that of others around the world?

From a Canadian standpoint, there are so many U.S. players in our marketplace — and they certainly provide value and provide the ability reach audiences in a way that we need to for Canadian consumers. But Canadian publishers haven’t had the same resources available to them in the same way as our American friends that have entered the marketplace do. So it behooves us to invest in and support the Canadian publishers who are supporting the Canadian economy. At the end of day, advertising dollars are still so important to uphold a newsroom and afford [journalists] the opportunity to work on long-term pieces as well as day-to-day news that we need.

Has there been more urgency in recent years to support the Canadian news industry?

[Regarding the Local News Research Project statistics] It’s a real trend and it’s a real epidemic. Canadian advertisers and marketers recognize it and many clients want to address the problem while still balancing out the needs of the business and their audience needs, and being able to deliver the results they need from a business standpoint.

What do you think were the biggest factors resulting in those closures? Did the pandemic accelerate this?

A big part is the fragmentation of the industry, the number of players that have come into Canada, which does provide value but there’s always a tradeoff. And obviously, yes, the pandemic hit many publishers deeper than others.

What have you been hearing from clients about that relationship between the news and advertisers?

At the end of the day, there are a lot of senior Canadian marketers that share the same mindset: They’ve grown up in the industry, in Canada. Their careers have been spent in Canada and the last thing we want to see is our media ecosystem and economy being impacted in this way. Across the board, we’re also seeing a lot of marketing roles leaving Canada and being consolidated as a North American role based in the U.S. This obviously poses a challenge to our marketers and the next generation of marketers in Canada who want to be able to develop their careers and flourish in the Canadian market, and not have an automatic reflex that you need to move to the U.S. to advance. So, I think it’s all interconnected. Certainly, they understand the urgency, but have to balance that with delivering results.

Overall, is there anything the news industry can do to “future-proof” itself, and anything advertisers could be doing more of to help in that regard?

I don’t think future-proofing is a useful term. It has to keep adapting. Newspapers don’t have the same business model they did 10 years ago, for instance. What advertisers can do is continue to invest with intent, invest responsibly with the media dollars that they can control, think about where the dollars are going and who is being supported and why. There is always a tough battle in front of you of delivering results. Sometimes it takes a little bit of bravery of investing there because in the long term it’s the right thing to do for a brand, mission, economy, publishers, etcetera.

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk, Inc.