Seven ways to reinvent your media business in 2014

Just a few years ago, media and publishing seemed simple.  Create great editorial, wrap it up into a magazine, send it out to your readers and sell some advertising.  Digital media felt like a bit of a sideshow – it was fine to dabble a little, but it wasn’t a big profit generator.

But now many established media brands are moving away from print altogether – for example Lloyds List has just successfully gone 100% digital, AutoTrader published its last print edition in June.

And with this shift to digital media the landscape changes: everything is apparently measurable, and the definition of the purpose of a media brand is more blurred: instead of just creating content, are you advising people on buying decisions, helping business people gain advantage, fostering networking in an industry or community?

From enjoying a protected market, media organisations are now competing with government, consultancies, retailers, agencies, brands, trade associations and self-organised communities.

So how can the organisation formerly known as a publisher reinvent itself and thrive in 2014 and beyond?  Here’s seven core principles that I believe will enable a smoother transition.

1. Know your audience

Media businesses used to be about excellent content; now they are about having the attention of a defined audience, the more closely targeted the better.  You earn that attention through deep understanding of their needs and providing relevant information in the right forma and at the right time.  Develop ways to track how the needs of your audience change and you’re on the way to future-proofing your media brands.

2. Invest in data

Digital media are fabulously measurable: not only can you discover what is read, you can find out when and where, and learn how to evolve to be more relevant and useful.  This can uncover new seams of interest that were just not on the editorial team’s radar, like Stylist’s books coverage.   And being able to track who your audience are, and segmenting their usage patterns as individuals is vital to maximizing renewals.

3. Think mobile first

Over the holidays 51% of emails were opened on mobile devices, and in the UK 24% of ecommerce will be mobile in 2014.  Designing your content to work well on the move is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity.  Real-time updates, geographic or sector relevance, simple searching and visualisations all work best on mobile, and they also translate easily to desktop.  So start with the mobile edition.

4. Experiment with content

People expect content to be visually appealing and interactive, even for data-driven b2b information.  WGSN’s INstock is 100% data but looks like an online fashion store so is far more intuitive and pleasurable to use.  The growing discipline of data journalism means that readers can explore data-sets for themselves through interactive tables, charts and maps.  And video is perfect for capturing interviews, events and debates.  So for content, form is increasingly valued over pure function.

5. Align with your advertisers

Advertisers are less concerned with the aggregate reach of media brands, and far more interested in their ability to engage and enthuse audiences to sample their products and services.  So media sales teams have to operate as marketing advisors, building multi-layered campaigns that deliver quantifiable results.  One of the revolutionary ideas adopted by Fergus Gregory of Lloyd’s List is commissioning sales teams on the results they drive for advertisers rather than the revenue they generate.

6. Extend from your expertise

Digital media breaks down boundaries – allowing new entrants to compete on your territory – but also making it possible to build new services for your audience, capitalising on a well known brand, proprietary data and sector knowledge.  Many media businesses have expanded into events and training within their industry; some, like Wired, are now offering their expertise as business consultants.  Others, like Immediate Media, plan to move into e-commerce.

7. Be borderless

Websites and digital editions offer a low-cost test-bed for international expansion, and the English language provides an unfair advantage.  Future have learnt which territories have potential through their music radar and bike radar sites, and then added local content and advertising.  But be flexible on the right business model to adopt in new territories to accommodate spending power and tech constraints.

Carolyn Morgan is Programme Director for SIIA Europe, putting together live events fro publishers.  This article previously appeared on the SIIA blog.

Check out the SIIA Europe website for our inspiring monthly Issue Briefs – free to members but open to non members for a fee.

And save the date for our Digital Media Innovation Conference 8 April 2013 – with a series of Roundtable debates taking place on 7 April.

Carolyn Morgan has launched, acquired, grown & sold specialist media businesses in print, web and events. She launched the Specialist Media Show in 2010 and grew a community of ambitious publishers keen to grow their digital activity. SIIA acquired the Specialist Media Show in 2013 and Carolyn is now Programme Director for SIIA Europe. Carolyn also advises individual publishers on their digital strategy via her consulting business Penmaen Media