Yesterday I attended the Clickability Digital Strategies Event as a panelist yesterday in NYC – while we covered a lot on the panel Executive Best Practices: What Must Media Executives Do Today to be a Force in the Future?"– time prevented us getting to all the questions so here are some fuller answers.
Q 1) What will your company look like in five years and what are you doing NOW to prepare?
A. 5 years is a remarkable short period of time – esp. when we think that even with the speed of change in the Internet space many companies are still debating some of the transitions – the impact of search, social media, disintermediation, syndication. It takes a long time – often retirement or death is needed to change attitudes!
While there are major disruptions – there are a number of obvious trends – these are not new – we’ve observed them for a couple of decades. Analogue to digital – everything is going to digital (even if the final output is analogue) we’re seeing media complement each other – plus there’s a movement to digital + analogue. Major themes and trends include engagement of communities and social media, content curation and filtering, hyper-local, targeting, mobility – personalization, LBS.
Over the next few years, I think most media companies will be more comfortable with both the uniqueness of their print, online and mobile products – the specific benefits each one offers but also how they can all work together – there will be more integration across organizations.
What works best in print does not necessarily translate well online and similarly replicating a web site on mobile devices is a poor idea!.
Organizations needs to flexible, have an agile approach, some of the wisdom that comes with experience has to be meshed with youthful innovation and a willingness to experiment. So one of the most important investments a company can make is in its people and their training.
With the economic challenges of today – there will be a tendency to reduce perceived short-term risk – to be too conservative – when in fact there is a real danger that in-action will jeopardize the future. Unless companies properly plan for the medium and long-term – when the economy improves – they could find themselves at competitive disadvantages from new more agile entrants – those who can utilize the latest technologies and approaches. Keep hiring yoiung!
Certain job functions will be seen as critical – audience development, data analysis, social community interaction, content curation rather than just a focus on original content, UI and UX expertise. The new generation of content creators will need to be more comfortable with creating enhanced content environments using multiple media formats. That will take time.
We’ll see more pragmatism –
consolidations, partnerships, and joint ventures – the current approach of many
companies is to win a Pyrrhic victory – the devastating cost of winning is so high it’s not
worth it. The media industry is
notorious for its egotism, siloed approach and un-cooperative tactics – I’ve
had experience in running a successful JV between two of the most competitive
organizations – IDG and Ziff Davis – it was the right thing to do at the time
and everyone benefited – the owners, the advertisers and the readers. JVs are
not long-term institutions but can work well for a short period.
Q 2) Where/how are you investing now for the future?
A. My advice to companies is to invest in a number of areas – first people, education and training. We operate in a very fast paced dynamic environment - it’s largely a people business so you need the right skills – even if money is tight – there are a lot of very bright college kids who are willing to apprentice through intern programs. Use alternative resources – for example work with local colleges to have classes analyze new business models, design new web pages or iPhone apps – great training for the students and not only can you get great ideas but also some talented future employees.
Plumbing – analytics and metrics and research are critical – data is the new oil – you have to know how your audiences are engaging with your content. Conduct ongoing research on customer satisfaction.
Outsourcing certain technologies I’d think very hard about outsourcing some (not all) technologies to the cloud – especially in the commodity areas and keep internal those that need flexibility, customization and are considered mission critical. Rent don’t buy today’s equivalent of the “printing presses”.
User data collection and audience development - Databases are critical assets and are competitive barriers to entry. Of course, taking into careful consideration, the appropriate and transparent issues of privacy and TOS – collect email and mobile numbers on opt-in basis. Build ways to constantly engage with your audiences.
UI / UX - print generally is designed extremely well from a UI perspective – we’ve had a lot of experience – however, well-designed websites and mobile environments are the exception not the rule. Try reading the digital replicas of newspapers on your laptop. Try to navigate a web page that scrolls for 10-20 pages crammed with links, ads and anything but the content you want or a mobile app that overwhelms you with features. What are your user satisfaction scores and how are they trending?
Q 3) What emerging business models are sustainable or simply transitory?
A. I’m a supporter of the theory of evolution –all business models evolve – they have to, nothing stays the same nor should it. Competition drives innovation – and the weaker species become extinct. The advertising models of traditional print publishing (esp. newspapers) are under huge economic pressure due to technological shifts. Publishers in the US in particular have for too long been dependant on advertising as the principle source of revenue – undermining the value of content – training users to expect it for free rather than emphasizing it’s value. Looking ahead advertising has to be positioned as a real customer benefit not an unnecessary interruption.
What’s hot what’s not!
-The status quo is not sustainable – agility and
experimentation is We’re in
unchartered territory - Going forwards we’ll see massive amounts of experimentation
– you have to be willing to fail – even fail spectacularly – the wipe-out is an
education, a learning experience!
There will be different advertising and paid content models, different paid services – the winners will be those who are agile, willing to experiment and not be satisfied with the status quo. There is no panacea – no “right” answer – the paid models of WSJ and FT may be totally inappropriate for local newspapers. The economics of markets, audiences, content varies considerably – you know your audiences – what works for them? You have to have a customer centric not publisher centric philosophy. Observe, learn and adapt keep close to your customers and understand your markets.
There has to be a better balance between advertising and paid content and services than we’ve seen over the last few decades. Keep a close eye on the tests coming out of News Corp. They are very serious about paid content models.
- Generality is less sustainable than specificity - The specific pushes out the general– so we’ll see more and more a world of “hyper-local” – geography, topics and audiences.
- Free alone is not sustainable but free to paid can be – I think Chris Anderson, gets somewhat misunderstood – free is a driver. Free can be a catalyst to drive to paid products – online can drive to a paid print product – especially if the product benefits are clearly articulated.
- Interruption is not sustainable – customer engagement is. General online CPM advertising will remain under pressure – targeted advertising, behavioral, customer interaction and engagement will gain traction. Privacy issues will continue to be a concern and publishers must be extremely transparent about what data is being collected and how it is used.
- Ownership of (most) products – books, magazine, music, movies is not sustainable (except in niche categories) rental and subscription models are. Apple may disagree but Pandora gets my subscription when it could go to an Apple iTune subscription.
- Push only models are not sustainable – pull models that involve the audiences are - importance of social media will only increase – engagement, attention, recommendations and trust are key issues
- Anonymous posting are not sustainable, personal reputation and strong user centric identities are.
- There is a new mass media and it is mobility – whole range of mobile devices are on the way – (btw I don’t see the e-reader as mass market mainstream device) the smartphone is defining a new mass media. Mobile Social, Mobile Search, LBS services (Yelp as an example) will be key drivers. Publishers should to be developing mobile strategies.
- Physical or digital alone is not sustainable - The physical and digital world will link via “augmented reality" through the in-phone camera
- Cost of developing certain original content has to reduce – the digital economics will not support the current models – publishers will have to focus and differentiate – As noted by Jeff Jarvis - do what you do best and link the rest. Great content is expensive and hard to produce – all the more reason to price it appropriately
Q 4) What are the international and global opportunities for media?
A. Given previous years of experience at IDG – I’m a huge supporter of an international strategy for media – but it has to be managed carefully. Think global but act local. Many sites in the US see 30-40% of their traffic coming from outside the US – that can be viewed as “wasted traffic” that is hard to monetize – or it can be viewed as a great opportunity – for example a B2B company in the US – collecting lead generation information from most US visitors could partner with a European partner to find a way to monetize the traffic
Q 5) In the
next 5 years where do you see media consolidation?
A. Across the whole industry – there is just too much commodity content that cannot be monetized –but I also see more fragmentation as self publishing becomes easier and the promotional power of the social web is better utilized for marketing, search and discovery
Q 6) As leaders, how do you quickly evolve companies that may be entrenched in outdated paradigms?
A. It takes a long time to change a culture.
Focus on the people – understand where they fall – from the early adopters to the laggards and even potential (often unintentional) saboteurs. Push continuous training and education and keep getting a perspective from outside your company – even from outside your industry can be stimulating.
Q 7) Describe the digital executive of the future?
A. I don’t think the leadership qualities of a digital executive are really any different from any other good leader. I’d look for a customer and market focused visionary and strategist,who embraces knowledge from multiple sources, synthesizes it and then clearly lays out the destination ahead.
An individual who understands the value of the human talent in the organization and is willing to properly invest in the best and the brightest but is also quickly willing to move aside thosewho resist appropriate change.
Someone who places a very high value on the product that is being produced
Someone who runs a very agile and efficient organization- who pushes the organization to take some risk but mitigates that risk by a deep understanding of customer and market needs – even when the customers may not be able to articulate it themselves.