Why media businesses must innovate, and how to make it happen

The media environment is moving so quickly, we have to innovate and launch new products and services or be left behind.  But this can be a challenging shift in emphasis for established publishing businesses.

Here’s some smart advice from the keynote speakers at the Digital Media Innovation Conference earlier this month, which I programmed.  Delegates heard from former media CEOs Colin Morrison and David Gilbertson, Simon Alterman of Outsell and Tim Arthur, CEO of Time Out….

What new products and services to develop?

  • Customers are more savvy and demanding than in the past: they know they have a choice and have high expectations of functionality.
  • Media is now a live service not a distinct product – we have to develop a continuous flow of ideas and information on multiple platforms that solves a customer’s problem.
  • Sometimes style can beat great content – speed, great functionality and thrilling delivery can count for more than just good content.
  • Concentrate on building customer loyalty – identifying a community and providing them with a range of useful and engaging services is the route to renewable revenues – subscriptions or ideally membership.

How to make it happen?

  • Hire and inspire great talent and give them a stake in the business: try to behave like a start-up even when you are an established business.
  • Innovation is harder when you have something to lose – while heritage print products deliver steady revenues, it’s tougher to take a risk on a new project. But disruptive new entrants have no such qualms.
  • CEOs have to behave as if innovation is welcome. Lofty words alone mean little. Staff watch how innovation projects are treated: if obstacles are removed quickly and teams are recognized, more ideas and talented people will come forward.
  • Assess and accept risk. Be brave but not reckless. Analyse the risks and be prepared for some projects to fail.
  • Steal ideas from successful businesses in different markets. Time Out lifted ideas on enhanced listings from Yell, user content from Trip Advisor, bloggers network from Huff Post, viral content from Buzzfeed, but did it all in their own style.
  • Engage the whole business – and celebrate failure. Don’t hide innovation projects away – share the results and reward the people who take risks. Learn from failure and move onto the next project.
  • Have a structure to manage projects – and measure activity. Sanoma has a well planned digital accelerator programme to incubate new ideas.
  • Ask the audience – engage your community for new ideas. Time Out has a core group of advocates who test out new services and help them refine ideas quickly.
  • Buy in talent and new skills and keep them inspired – worth acquiring smart start-ups to bring in talent. Provide resource and interesting projects and celebrate successes.

Some smart ideas for encouraging a culture of innovation in publishing and media businesses and improving your odds of success.

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan has launched, grown, acquired and sold media businesses across print, digital and events.  She has programmed conferences on digital publishing and advises publishers on their digital strategy.

If you’d like a chat about how you can reinvent your publishing business for the digital age, please get in touch.