Letter from New York: words of encouragement for those working in the world's most disrupted industry - media
If you are in media and feeling light-headed, take a deep breath - you have been working in the most disrupted of industries. You deserve a beer or something harder.
Now sit down. Because I have encouraging news for you - as well as same trends to consider from my recent sabbatical in New York.
What you do not want to hear is that the pace of change will continue as it has been. It won’t. It will multiply - that’s according to everyone at the forefront of change.
The good news for media is that clear paths have emerged.
The fog of uncertainty has lifted around paywalls, on how best to fund journalism and on where Facebook and Google fit into the media equation - well, sort of.
Media folk also have a lot to thank Donald J Trump for - because he has re-stoked the fires of quality journalism.
In short, for the first time in years, the media has reason to feel optimistic.
I spent two weeks in New York visiting established and new media players, as well as attending the International News Media Association (INMA) world congress. During an INMA-run study tour I visited iconic media, including The New York Times (NYT), Dow Jones, Bloomberg and Google. I visited start-ups Playbuzz and established digital companies such as Chartbeat and Nativo.
Some of the deepest insights came from talking with media executives. I spent time with delegates from the US, Germany, China, India, Latin America, South Africa, Finland, Norway, Sweden. Gee, even Australians and Kiwis.
What were the themes? I shared a bunch in a blog aimed at communications teams and those wanting to craft their own DIY Newsroom™.
Here I zone on what is of relevance to the news industry and those keen for solutions.
So let’s roll.
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.
I have an amazing doctor. He is terrific at his job, knows my history, communicates simply and, to top it off, is a good bloke.
Most important is I have confidence in the way he practises medicine. Which is kind of what you want when it comes to your health. Everything else runs second.
Similarly, when feeling the pulse of your business you want a no-nonsense, fact-based method that gives you an honest appraisal. Nothing beats a clinical, intricate look-see.
After decades of overseeing newsrooms and seeking to optimise their performance, I have found there are about 20 essential aspects for any health check of your communications to prove meaningful.
The object is to forensically understand your current state, from which you can then review and step-out a you-beaut communications/content strategy.
The declining fortunes of local media represents an unprecedented opportunity for local governments to step into the breach, set up a DIY Newsroom approach and go direct to residents with their message.
Today I learned of another “restructure” at one of Australia’s largest media chains, which is code for more staff redundancies and the lay-off of more journalists.
This spells another grim chapter for an already distressed traditional media.
In the regions, newspapers have greatly reduced the number of editorial staff, their circulation has plummeted and that has meant they have had to try to do more with less. The regional TV landscape is not pretty either.
When I was editor of a large regional daily newspaper several years ago, I had a staff of 80 full-time editorial employees. Today, there are less than 30 editorial staff.
Council insiders tell me that shrinking local media is making it harder for council messages to be heard.
Or, is it actually councils’ best-ever opportunity to engage with residents and ratepayers in new and profound ways by setting up a true DIY Newsroom?
That is right: if they were SMART, councils would see themselves as the primary destination and distributor of compelling, useful and relevant content for their local government constituents.
Any business serious about showing its best face to the world in 2017 needs to develop a monthly content calendar - one that converts to results.
As creator of the DIY Newsroom approach to content, my mission is to empower businesses to do it themselves.
Indeed, if you are a medium-sized or larger business, or any business with communication nous and resource, you should be controlling your own message rather than leaving it to external agencies.
Get it right and you could zoom through cyberspace from zero to hero.
But let us be clear. Crystal.
As the ultimate reference guide, the content calendar will make or break your level of reach and engagement with your target markets.
The content calendar requires considerable thought and should be utterly aligned to your business objectives. Content should embody who you are and what you stand for. It needs to be compelling, relevant and hit the target.
Critically, get the outline of a distributed content strategy right - and then start scheduling and sharing.
Yes, those likes, followers and connections beckon. Yes, you want to use that new fandangled tool to automate the delivery of your enriching blogs, inspirational quotes and insightful posts. But stop.
Pause and think about whether you have factored in these five essential steps that will underpin the success of your distributed content.
Communication units have learned a lot in recent years about leveraging social media, but if they really want to supercharge their messaging they should adopt the best behaviours of modern newsrooms.
Newsrooms have the attributes, processes and energy that power content for ultimate audience engagement.
Over 30 years, I’ve run or worked in dozens of newsrooms in Australia and New Zealand - the biggest and smallest. I’ve also seen how exceptional operations like The Sun and The Guardian in London, and the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe have operated. Each of those newsrooms have a personality and idiosyncrasies that exude their target market.
Like any organisation, no one newsroom does everything superbly.
But here’s 10 traits of newsrooms, compiled from the best of the best, that comms teams could use as a checklist when considering how to better position themselves.
Stuart Howie is a communications and media consultant. He runs Flame Tree Media, which specialises in setting up newsrooms for organisations wanting a better return on communications. Stuart has worked in media and publishing for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.