10 Nov 2023

In Conversation With Andrew Ellson: “So much has changed but also so little”

This year Andrew Ellson celebrates 20 years at The Times. The award-winning journalist had stints leading the personal finance team and news desk before taking on the consumer affairs beat in 2015, and has broken some of the biggest consumer stories of past decade.

MHP Group

Earlier this week Andrew spoke exclusively to the MHP Media Network’s James Rollinson at a brunch event at 60 Great Portland Street in Fitzrovia.

Proprietary data is in demand

Andrew spoke at length about his interest in receiving proprietary data from brands, especially when it reveals a new trend or surprising take on a pre-conceived wisdom or stereotype. A  recent example Andrew cited was about the rising popularity of ‘boring’ noughties cars such as the Ford Mondeo. He also discussed the role proprietary data can play in complementing consumer surveys, giving those stories additional context and credibility. Businesses that can properly utilise their owned data to tell stories about consumer behaviours stand a good chance of catching Andrew’s attention.

Using his inbox as a search engine

Like many journalists, Andew receives hundreds of emails a day so finds it impossible to reply to everyone. But he stressed that just because he hasn’t responded doesn’t mean the pitch hasn’t been useful. Andrew described using his inbox as a search engine, searching for relevant data, quotes or spokespeople among his emails to see if there is anything he can use to include in his piece. Andrew said pitches can come in handy weeks and months after they have been sent, so its always worth sending through even if it doesn’t lead to immediate coverage.

There is demand for lighter stories

Following extensive reporting on the Israel/Gaza war, Andrew emphasised the desire from the news desk for lighter, feel-good stories. While significant portions of the news section continue to be dedicated to reporting on the conflict, specialist reporters are keen to run stories that can provide some light relief from the heavier news. According to Andrew, many of these can come from brands, and providing they are not too self-serving they stand a good chance of making the paper.

Cost-of-living fatigue creeping in

The cost-of-living crisis has been the dominant consumer topics for more than 18 months and we are now starting to see signs of fatigue among both journalists and readers, Andrew explained. While  major stories, such as energy bills, interest rates and inflation, will continue to be reported on, he urged brands to ensure that they are not approaching every story from a cost-of-living angle, as much of The Times audience has started to switch off from it.

Filling the Christmas basket

The release of the John Lewis ad means the consumer countdown to Christmas is officially on, and things are no different in The Times’ newsroom. Andrew shared that all journalists on the news desk have been asked to submit three ideas by the end of November for articles that can pre-written and deployed at any time over the often quiet Christmas period, so the next few weeks are the perfect time to get in touch with evergreen stories.

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