Associated Press marketing director on newsroom diversity, work-life balance and AP's new marketing push
While Julie Tucker was executive marketing director at The New York Times, she played a pivotal role in creating the newspaper’s award-winning “Truth” campaign. But when she took a similar position at the Associated Press in 2018, Tucker was careful not to copy the formula that worked so well at the Times.
“We couldn’t own ‘truth’ at the Associated Press,” she says. “The New York Times is known for their opinion section and giving their slant in the story,” she adds. “They are absolutely arbiters of the truth. But truth also requires some thinking ... truth to you might be different than truth for me. Whereas with the Associated Press, because we don’t have opinions on things, we are really about facts.”
That insight is behind the AP’s new “Advancing the power of facts” campaign that aims to inject new marketing energy into the 174-year-old wire service, while emphasising its position as a neutral news provider in an era when facts and opinion often commingle. “When it’s hard to tell news from opinion, let alone real from fake, accurate is the most powerful thing you can be,” the AP states in a campaign video released earlier this month.
The fact that the AP is doing any advertising is by itself breaking news, as Tucker explains on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Ad Lib” podcast. “They really weren’t accustomed to marketing,” says Tucker, who was named as the AP’s first global marketing director in late 2018. “Everyone knows who the Associated Press is, we’ve been around for all these years.”
But brand awareness—and decades of staying power—are no longer cutting it as financially strapped newspapers and other news organizations cut budgets. The AP is a not-for-profit cooperative whose members include newspapers and broadcasters. Revenue primarily comes from content licensing. With a network spanning 99 countries, the AP pumped out about 2,000 stories and 200 news videos a day last year, according to its annual report, with more than half of the world’s population seeing AP journalism every day. But despite its breadth, the AP must prove its worth to members as it competes with the likes of Reuters, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Bloomberg.
“Our partners are coming under pressure. They are having to make tough decisions to go with a single source news agency and we wanted to make sure that we stand for something bigger,” Tucker says on the podcast. With the campaign, “we want to remind them of the work we have done and the work we will do in the next 175 years.” She adds: “We wanted to create a little bit of FOMO in our customers—that if you leave us, this is what you are leaving behind. You are leaving behind world-class photography and world-class reporting, and not all things are created equal.”
The effort, which comes from Manhattan-based brand strategy and design firm Love & War, is supported with paid digital. But the budget is small, Tucker says, so the AP is also relying on its members to spread the word.
The original plan was to launch the campaign in early 2020, as the AP geared up for major news events like the Olympics and U.S. elections. But the campaign was delayed because of the coronavirus. It finally debuted on June 2, just as another major news event began dominating—the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests and calls for racial equality.
While it was too late to make references to the APs coverage of the protests in the campaign video, Tucker says “that will definitely be an edit to the film.”
Diverse newsrooms a ‘work in progress’
As for the AP’s own diversity, Tucker describes it as “a work in progress,” adding, “I don’t think we can ever stop striving for that diversity in our newsroom.” (Roughly one in five AP journalists in the U.S. is a person of color, according to an AP spokeswoman, who added, “there is clearly work to do.”)
"We are blessed because we are a global organization,” Tucker says on the podcast. “So just by that nature alone, we’ve got people all over the world of different colors and different races and different religions. And in that diversity, really, is our reporting power.”
She points to a recent first-person essay from AP Deputy Managing Editor Amanda Barrett about what it is like to be a black journalist today. In the article, which is part of AP’s “American Diary” series, Barrett writes about “how routine violence against African Americans at the hands of white people has been and continues to be.” In the piece, she wrestles with the urge to “go off and join the fight” for racial equality—“to put aside my journalistic reserve and give full voice to my anger, my disappointment that my country doesn’t always live up to its lofty ideals of equality and justice.” But she concludes that “I’m doing my part right where I am. I’m telling stories that help readers understand the world around them.”
Managing work-life balance
Tucker joined the AP after a quick stint as brand director for the Americas at financial services firm EY, which followed her three-year stint at The New York Times that began in 2014. She joined the newspaper after serving as global business director at JWT New York, a role she took on while looking after three children, ages 1, 3 and 5.
She talks about agency work-life balance on the podcast: “I thought, I could do all this. This is not a problem. I can handle all of this. And at one point I just went, oh my god, I can’t handle all of this. I knew that at that point, I couldn’t be beholden to the whims of the clients and the presentations and the travel. It was too much.”
Tucker, who is married to Ogilvy executive Adam Tucker—whom she met while working at an ad agency in Chicago (at Euro RSCG Tatham)—also talks about what it is like to have a partner in the same career.
“He would understand when a client would call and say you to be in Geneva tomorrow morning,” she says. “We’ve never had issues over who is watching the kids. It’s always worked. And I can’t image how that would be if your spouse had no idea what it was you did for a living. It’s an all-encompassing life when you really commit yourself to the ad industry.”