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.
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.
Keeping up with the information revolution is an exhausting exercise - but taking advantage of five forces will put smart operators at the head of the communications pack.
Never before have there been so many ways to communicate and never has it been so complex - lots of social media platforms, tools, apps and methods to send you bonkers.
Whether you're a business or a personal brand, cutting through the claptrap requires a simple, strategic and sustainable approach. Couple that with the right intel about the communications battlefront, and you're on your way.
Be it with our work with big media undergoing transformation or with small companies seeking to establish a DIY newsroom approach, some common themes are apparent.
Here's five of them - forces we believe will drive content success into 2017:
The trolls are coming, the trolls are coming - and, if they haven't already, they are about to take your social media, turn it back on you and blast you to high heaven.
Think of them as the Storm Troopers who hunt out easy prey and raze Jakku in the Star Wars epic The Force Awakens. Or the hulking Orcs who obliterate everything in their path in Lord of the Rings. Or the Dementors who suck the life and soul from the good hearted in Harry Potter.
You get the picture. They're nasty.
But it need not be apocalyptic. You can repel them, or in the least mitigate damage by observing five basic tips.
Running a business or organisation without an in-house social media policy is truly living on the wild side - you can bank on thrills and spills.
When I was a kid we lived at the top of a steep climb. I still recall with chilling clarity hurtling down that long and unforgiving hill on my bike only to realise, before it was too late, my brakes weren't working.
I smashed into a telephone pole just metres from the busy intersection at the bottom of the hill. My bike was a write-off. Fortunately, I was unscathed - but the valuable lesson for me was to always - always - take the right precautions.
Many businesses are focused on increasing their engagement with their customers through social media. But an area that goes ignored, akin to riding without brakes or driving without car insurance, is how their own employees use social media and talk about the organisation.
Basically, what are the rules?
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.