Innovate Fast or Die Slowly – Same Choice for Media & Marketers

Depending on your outlook, experience and current reality it is either the best of times or the worst of times to be in the media and marketing industries. If your career has been built in a pre-digital world where control of distribution, news and marketing messages have been a key to success it’s a pretty scary time right now.

If on the other hand you and your company are riding high on the wave of digital transformation then its a golden age. Whatever camp you fall into, one thing is for sure you need to find a way to either innovate fast or accept the fact that your career and organisation will die slowly.

Media executives in particular have a hard task right now. Managing an ongoing digital transition whilst also maximising their “cash cows” whilst facing increased competition from media startups and technology companies. Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of one of Europe’s largest media houses Axel Springer put it quite well in 2014 when he said,

“The question is whether traditional content companies will win the game because they have learned how to use technology or whether the technology companies win because they learn how to create content. That is the great game today.”

Well two years later and although media companies across the world are running many different innovation projects I think we can safely say that the technology companies are winning.

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But all is not lost for media companies. If they can manage to innovate fast and redefine what it means to be a media house the future is very bright indeed. As the successful silicon valley investor Marc Andreasson has commented the future for the news business is very rosy as the digital and mobile revolution has meant that demand , in terms of the amount of time that we consume media, has increased by x100 whilst prices have fallen by only x1o so if you can take advantage of that equation the world is full of opportunity.

Content, Community & Commerce

Redefining what a media company is all about is a fundamental starting point in the  innovation journey. I learn this whilst working for UBM plc in the mid 2000s. At the time the company owned one of the UKs terrestrial TV channels, a national daily and Sunday newspaper and hundreds of niche print trade media magazines.

Under the leadership of a technology driven CEO David Levin, the company redefined what it meant to be a media company. Instead of talking about advertisers and subscribers Levin talked about bringing together niche communities of buyers and sellers in whatever medium was most convenient to them. During his time at UBM the company transitioned its revenues from 60% print to 60% digital and event revenues and reaped the benefits globalisation through entering rapidly growing markets like China and India which had previously been neglected.

Today companies like Houzz, the niche interior design and home improvement platform that focuses on content (9 million photos and 20,000 articles) community (1 million professionals eg designers / architects and 2 million discussions) and commerce (6 million – est – of products and services to discover and buy) are providing exactly the type of model which I believe modern media houses must follow.

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The Business Models

It will be a combination of business models which will support media houses going forward but one thing is for sure they will need to get away from the advertising and subscriber only funding that have sustained media over the last century. Its’ good to see so many experiments going on at media houses and I hope in time these hypothesis are proved or disproved and we will see a much greater variety of revenue streams in media businesses than we see today. Here are 10 business models which you should be experimenting with in your business today.

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Digital Transformation

The words “digital transformation” are thrown about by executives, investors, consultants and media on a daily basis. What I have lacked for some time however  is an understandable and useful framework to help executives navigate a transformation that leads to success.  Now however I believe we have one thanks to the work of the Boston Consulting Group (Fredrik Lind & Raj Sandu) and Google in their research the CMO Transformation Agenda.

Whilst is is targeted to those who are tasked with transforming marketing organisations I believe it is equally useful to those managing media organisations. After all audience development in all its forms which is a major task of any media executive today is all about multichannel marketing. The framework focuses on building the right team, organisation and culture as a foundation, funding the journey and creating medium term wins and developing the strategy.

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So you’ve had the thoughts of Axel Springer – a media giant, Marc Andreassen – a silicon valley media investor and innovator and Boston Consulting Group and Google – a first rate consultancy tech marriage. Now here’s my three quick ingredients for success on the digital challenge and these apply if you are a media exec or tasked with digital transition anywhere.

1. Talent

As Jim Collins, author of legendary business books – Good to Great, Built to Last and how the Mighty Fall,  is famous for saying “First Who, then What.” Building the right team is your first step. It is pointless to try digital transformation with the wrong leaders in place and I see this all the time.

If you are in the media game a good indicator of digital success is when you have more developers than journalists. This is a painful transition for most media companies who have been run by and often for journalists for years but as the  CEO of Wolters Kluwer, Nancy McKinstry told me a few years ago this was key in the digital transition one of the world’s leading legal and healthcare publisher. So more Mark Zuckenbergs and less Joseph Pultizers.

This inital team with digital at its core and an empathy and focus on the user (not just the reader) will create the right organisation, culture and strategy but without them you are lost.

2. Innovation Engine

The second ingredient in your toolbox should be creating an innovation engine. Recognising that innovation takes many forms and is not just centred on product development is key. Taking a lean approach to innovation and focusing on rapid ideation, co-creation, validation and prototyping is a starting point. Often a couple of days, some decent and focused minds and a credit card are all that is needed to build something great.

But your main focus as a leader of digital transition is to create a culture of experimentation. Whether its about creating a 90 day innovation engine in a larger organisation or a weekly growth framework in a marketing organisation where experiments can rapidly be developed, tested and hypothesis either proved or disproved is a key to success.

3. Change

Managing change effectively is the main skill set of any leader at the helm of a digital transition project. My last ingredient however is perhaps the hardest, certainly is larger organisations.

If you are heading an organisation that has had a long history of success with existing products and business models upon which careers have been built be prepared for a fight.

But there is a way to succeed and it lay in understanding and executing the most well know change management model of them all – Kotter’s 8 Steps of Change. Here it is for you but remember start with creating that sense of urgency… that is the key error I observe in most organisations that are struggling with digital transformation. Good luck.


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