The Death of Greentech Media Editorial Coverage is a Failure of the Cleantech Community
By Lisa Ann Pinkerton
Editorial support for this article provided by Christian Zdebel of Silver Section, and Sarah Malpeli, Gabrielle Reitano, and Caitlan Caviness of Technica Communications.
People working within and advocating for a post-fossil fuel world awoke to a shock today at the revelation that the Greentech Media editorial division is being closed. To our community, it’s as if the New York Times shut down. It baffles the mind that Wood Mackenzie would spend around $40 million on a brand, only to throw-away what one might consider its most prestigious asset. The cynics among us will charge the oil-and-gas research firm with a premeditated hit-job – an attempt to silence one of the most prominent clean energy voices at a time when the industry is just hitting its inflection point. The realists may see it as a logical business decision, yet even that is short-sighted.
The shuttering of a prolific news outlet so instrumental in the renewable industry’s growth for decades is sad indeed. Adding salt to the wound is the assumption that GTM events and podcasts will remain active. This decision signals that Wood Mackenzie sees profit in those divisions as entirely unrelated to the editorial division. Most people who have been in the industry for a few years know that GTM events are what they are because of GTM editorial staff.
This move by Wood Mackenzie takes the narrow view of what GTM editorial represents. News coverage by GTM has the power to make or break companies. Its insights and influence point observant players in directions that empower markets. In many ways, GTM journalism is a public service. Sector-focused news desks, like GTM, are critical to a markets’ health, the companies in those markets, and the people who depend on them for their careers and livelihood. Moreover, influence and leadership are critical to disseminating the knowledge about the technologies humanity needs to turn back the ruin of climate change.
By ending the GTM editorial group, Wood Mackenzie is doing a massive disservice to the energy transition. And if they believe they can continue to support these industries solely through expensive research reports, podcasts, and events (I.e., assumptive profit centers), they are probably in for a surprise. For an enterprise like GTM, the editorial division is the top-end of the sales funnel. The high-quality editorial is what gave the whole brand its credibility. Its articles and insights (not its research) attracted new readership, those ever-coveted fresh eyeballs. Through editorial, GTM could channel people into various properties, be it research, events, podcast sponsorship, or general advertising. Obviously, not everyone has the money to pay for the research products Wood Mackenzie produces. Not everybody has the travel budget to attend its events, either. But by bringing people in through the editorial door, opportunities opened for further monetization. As someone who frequently works on behalf of startups, I have to mention that GTM events (at least in the early days) were in-range for even smaller budgets lest we begin to believe that small-budget new-comers have nothing to offer and don’t need a seat at the table.
Employee #1 and Founding Editor of Greentech Media, Eric Wesoff, reports on his new outlet Energy Transition Now, that a Wood Mackenzie spokesperson commented: “As part of the final integration of GTM within Wood Mackenzie, we have taken the decision to retire the GTM and GTM2 news sites. We will cease publishing new editorial and news content on the sites from March, and all impacted subscribers will be contacted. We know this will be disappointing news for many loyal GTM subscribers, and we thank them for their readership over the last decade,” adding, “We will continue to expand and grow the popular Energy Gang and GTM podcasts and Greentech events, as part of Wood Mackenzie.”
Wood Mackenzie’s acknowledgement that GTM has very loyal customers signals its failure to monetize its massive audience. It feels decidedly short-sighted to ignore the profit potential of the GTM audience through high-quality journalism, just as the transition to clean energy hits its stride.
It’s no surprise that an editorial division might be struggling to maintain a semblance of profitability. In the internet and digital advertising world, it’s challenging to profit from disseminating news when the margin on print advertising or event sponsorship dwarfs online opportunities. News reporting is a service to the public good, not always an activity for chasing profit. Reading between the lines, it seems that Wood Mackenzie failed to monetize its loyal readers by failing to understand the symbiotic relationship between GTM editorial and GTM events, reports, podcasts, and other components of the monetization mouse trap. Perhaps they could have tried harder to extract value from the readership beyond the subscription-based GTM2 news site. Simple ideas include breaking down advertising options to make them more affordable for companies and making up the difference in volume. They could have extracted value from the data on its readership demographics or asked for a modest sum to read more than three articles a day. Even simpler, they could have made a healthy margin on branded merchandise. For one, I would have happily purchased a GTM t-shirt or baseball hat and worn it proudly. Even the simple act of asking readers to donate to the organization could have saved the outlet. Beyond these ideas for expanding the margin for its news desk, Wood Mackenzie could have considered converting the editorial side of GTM into a non-profit, opening up more opportunities for financial and in-kind support, and removing the pressure to turn a profit.
Moreover, perhaps we, GTM’s “loyal” readers failed to support the organization monetarily. Maybe more of us could have sponsored its content. Perhaps more of us could have shared more of our marketing budgets with an organization that helped us succeed through the information, knowledge, and insights it provided and from which we benefited.
The demise of GTM’s journalism arm is a lesson to all the companies active in the energy transition attempting to gain exposure with potential customers. It’s dangerous for the energy transition as a whole when companies pass their Series B funding rounds and continue to believe that earned editorial content is the only way to build exposure. Companies have a responsibility to support the outlets that gave them the exposure in their early days. Companies with matured balance sheets have a duty to carve out marketing budgets and support the organizations that gave them the notoriety when they desperately needed it to survive and thrive. This is precisely why Technica Communications sponsors an energy jobs column on PV Magazine USA’s website and recommends targeted ad buys to our clients (GTM being one of them). If companies continue to believe that they do not have a role to play in supporting the media outlets that cover them, we will continue to see media outlets wither and die.
The energy transition will continue with or without Greentech Media. Just as new restaurants spring up when others close, other news outlets will thrive in the vacuum GTM’s editorial division leaves. The quality journalism that GTM was known for will reemerge in different forms and at new and existing organizations. With some luck (for us content consumers), the voices of the people we’ve come to look to for news and information will reappear elsewhere in the cleantech news ecosystem. With a little more luck still, we will learn the lesson that good journalism is not free and that great journalists don’t do their work as a hobby. It’s up to us how we move forward, and I hope that this GTM news out today moves you to new action to support journalism in your industry as a whole.
Lisa Ann Pinkerton is founder and CEO of the award-winning Technica Communications, founder and Chairwoman of the non-profit Women In Cleantech & Sustainability, an international speaker, moderator, and documentary filmmaker. She was named a PR Executive of the Year by the American Business Awards (2020), Female Entrepreneur of the Year for Advertising and Marketing by the Women in Business and the Professions World Awards (2020), and a Woman of Influence by the Silicon Valley Business Journal (2017). She got her start as a public broadcast journalist covering environmental science for PBS and NPR in 2001.