The stodgy stuff of reinventing business models and how best to use data is consuming the world’s top media executives in 2017.
The new shiny toys of immersive reality and 360-video are receiving plenty of attention and funding, but for the most part big media is focused on getting its house in order.
That is about returning to purpose and applying a traditional sales funnel approach to convert window shoppers into fully-fledged subscribers and then maximising revenue per user. Joining the dots between data and customer conversion is critical.
Funnels? Data? Boring, huh? But for media today these are the smarts, along with amazing tech, helping companies emerge from a fog of uncertainty.
I got up close and personal with the latest global thinking by spending two weeks in New York, the self-appointed epicentre of media today.
I took a study tour of iconic media organisations, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Google, along with lesser-known but impactful start-ups PlayBuzz, Navito and Lotame.
The tour was a prelude to the International News Media Association world congress held at the New York Times Centre, attended by media executives from 40 countries, and book-ended by a workshop that built a playbook for print.
The message from New York: start spreading the news, media is fighting back. And I will address that in more detail in another blog.
For those of us in the business of communications, I identified nine themes to absorb and which will help you better understand the landscape as is stands.
1. Data, data, data: There is the science of collecting, warehousing and understanding data. Then there is the art of applying it. Big players like the Wall Street Journal are successfully putting data at the centre of their business. For everyone else, success will depend on being able to simply connect the intelligence gathered with operational day-to-day communications conversion - and to do that consistently and simply. What? Yep. There’s a lot to it.
2. Funnels: I saw more funnels than a storm chaser ever would on Tornado Alley. Once upon time, funnels were just about sales - in newsrooms, we spent money and did our own thing. Today, editorial operations, goals and outcomes are deeply embedded in the transaction model of most businesses. Communications is at the base level, introducing audiences to what you do. The aim is to move prospects through the front door and for them to become premium purchasers of products and services. This takes elegant technology, an awesome offering and patience.
Mobile journalism is a perfect model for the DIY Newsroom and any comms team wanting to emphatically move to a digital footing.
3. Mojo: Speaking of tornadoes, meet CNN senior reporter Yusaf Omar, picture above - a one-man outfit who took INMA by storm. Mojo (mobile journalism) is taking journalism back to the streets, all powered by the mobile phone. Supported by an array of cheap apps and gadgetry, the mojo has a nimbleness fit for the ages. It is a perfect model for the DIY Newsroom - and indeed any comms teams looking for a way to emphatically move to a digital footing.
4. Mobile: If you are not designing your operations around mobile you will be running a very poor second, if at all. Even the Old Gray Lady, The New York Times, is glamping it up. NYT President and CEO Mark Thompson told INMA delegates the battle for audience would be won or lost on the smartphone - “the first screen” for audiences. It was a point reinforced by Dow Jones Chief Innovation Officer Edward Roussel who enthused about what new smartphone releases would bring users. Editorial analytics firm Chartbeat reported that 78 per cent of referred traffic from Facebook to media platforms comes from mobile - and it was about 50 per cent for Google. We could dazzle you with more stats. Suffice to say, mobile is going to continue to weave its way more into our lives. For comms teams, do not factor mobile in - become mobile first.
5. Branded content: Newspaper advertisers have for long seen value in “advertorial”, dressing up content about products and services in a more appetising news-style. The world has discovered this and everyone is talking branded content. Now it is teched-up and analytically driven. Nativo is at the forefront of using technology to serve distributed content across media. The company told us 80 per cent of Chief Marketing Officers believe content is the future for how they distribute messaging, and branded content studios are becoming the norm in the US. This should encourage comms teams in their endeavours to create compelling content around brands. It is a concept that sits strongly in the DIY Newsroom™.
6. Search and social: Okay, Google and Facebook. Becoming more apparent is their distinct roles in our businesses. News-wise, Chartbeat has found that search rules immediately after a big event, while social actually takes another 24 hours to peak. That is worth knowing and particularly their roles in how we frame and distribute content. We were told to consider: “is this a search story or is it a social story?” (And in case you were wondering the jury is in: the number of Likes and Shares does not equate to a post being well read.) Meantime, what is not settled is whether Google and Facebook are friend of foe. In New York, there was a growing sense that publishers could and should act collectively, such as on programmatic online advertising. As you may know, Facebook and Google take 99 cents in each dollar of new digital advertising revenue. The scraps seem hardly worth the fight thereafter. Facebook’s man told INMA the organisation was keen to work with publishers. That is the other view; that it makes more sense to partner.
7. Subscription/membership: Whether you are a news organisation, a university or a local government, creating a community around quality content is going to be critical to achieving business objectives. Publishers can no longer rely on advertising revenue. Hence, the funnel and need to build a loyal base of members. In the case of local government, for instance, sign-ups to a weekly newsletter provides the organisation with a ready data-base of engaged residents. That is gold for tailoring services or as a launch pad for other “member” initiatives.
8. Amazon: Australia, when it comes to disruption, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Amazon has announced it is coming Down Under and it will shake retail like never before with purchase and delivery of stock across all categories. It is a threat to retailers, but a big part of its business growth has been in cloud services. Last year, Amazon generated $US136 billion in sales. In New York, Amazon is mentioned in the same breathless tones as Google and Facebook. With the company also operating an expanding business in digital devices and media, watch this space.
9. Video: Every comms team and DIY Newsroom ought to be producing killer video. Some mixed emotion out of New York, though. Facebook, which addressed the conference, sees itself as a video-first platform. But research and anecdotal evidence is showing some news outlets are not getting the bang for their buck from creating and producing video. Chartbeat’s analytics show there is a distinct video and non-video audience - and those who are into video, have an insatiable appetite for it. Where does that leave us? In the world of comms, persist and keep serving up tasty video snacks.
The other theme almost superfluous to note - but I will - is that change is only going to quicken. So, whatever you are contemplating, best get on with it. And do it at a New York gallop.
* Stuart Howie is the executive director of Flame Tree Media and member of the International News Media Association. He is a former editorial director of Fairfax Regional Media.
Stuart Howie is a Canberra-based communications consultant. He is the author of The DIY Newsroom, which won Social Media Book of the Year at the Australian Business Book Awards. Stuart has worked in media, publishing and communications for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.