Five practical ideas for digital media transformation

All publishing businesses are grappling with the challenge of developing new digital revenues for established media brands.  The experience hill they have to climb is as much about culture, organisation and skills as it is about technology. So the real world case studies on show at Publishing Media Expo last week were as interesting for their insights on how to effect digital change as they were for new tech advances. These are the smart ideas I noted from the day.

1. Design print and digital to complement each other and meet the needs of distinct audiences

Sarah Schantin of Institute for Media Strategies shared the experience of a Nordic news publisher in growing their digital revenues to 15% from scratch over two years.  They started with carefully defined personas for their key audience segments. Digital stories were targeted to specific personas and the magazine was redesigned to complement the web. A year long project including seven separate teams from across the organisation helped embed new ways of creating stories; comprising more types of content and greater reader engagement. Only then were readers polled to identify their propensity to pay for content.  And once paid content was introduced over 150 stories were analysed to understand what types of articles were valued, generating a 28 page brochure for editors to use as a guide.  What struck me about this story was the holistic approach – the publisher was rebuilding their entire business over a two-year period and enlisting the support of all departments, not simply addressing paid content as a stand alone project.

2. Use mobile to create real-time experiences, user engagement and potential m-commerce

We all know about the growth of smartphones, especially larger screens which are now overhauling tablets, and the demands of readers for instant, real-time access to relevant content.  Mark Challinor, formerly head of mobile at the Telegraph, painted a picture of an evolving “newscape” that is being remodelled by mobile.  Audiences now expect a real-time “experience” not just flat content, and want to contribute their own thoughts. Video is the universal interrupter – engaging audiences and providing commercial opportunities.  And a trend to watch is the growth of m-commerce: one-third of adults expect to be paying for goods and services through their phones by 2020.  So publishers need to interrogate the data they have on how their audience are consuming digital content, and evolve a strategy for mobile which is more about facilitating a process for customers than just providing a news feed.

3. Create events that deliver high value connections and integrate content with publishing

One-third of revenue for B2B publishers comes from live events, according to a PPA survey.  This rapid diversification can create its own problems, as the calendar gets crowded, marketing struggles to cut through the noise, and former exhibitors launch their own live events.  Luke Bilton, Head of Content at UBM, advises careful selection of opportunities: identifying transactional or educational markets, and focussing on delivering a high value niche audience.  Smaller format events are booming, facilitating fewer but higher quality connections.  It pays to secure partners early and involve them in the evolution of the event, and to invest in building data for the marketing campaign.  The smart move for publishers is to closely connect their publishing content with the event, creating rich websites to build interest pre-event and fuel email marketing, and then integrating the content generated by the event itself back into the core publishing brand.

4. Experiment with video: follow the audience – and the money

Dennis Publishing have built up impressive revenues of £4m from video in the last three years, and Pete Wootton shared some of their experiences along the way.  They started small, hiring or buying low-cost gear, and explored the potential in different markets, finding the biggest opportunities were in technology and motoring.  Not all editors have the presenter “x factor” and it is better to spot natural talent – or hire it in – and nurture it than try to push everyone in front of the camera.  Simple formats – like unboxing, or reportage caught on an iPhone – can be highly popular.  Spend 1-2 days editing for every day shooting; keep videos short and tight.  The best way to build an audience is on YouTube, so grow your community there, and embed the player back into your own website.  Watch the stats like a hawk, to identify when audiences drop off – and get your best editorial hooks into the first 7 seconds.  Pre-roll contributes only 5% of revenues; the real money is in native advertising, and creating smart editorially driven video content for clients.

5. Shift B2B media brand from content publisher to professional development & business intelligence service

Many B2B publishers are keen to develop corporate subscriptions, which typically enjoy 90% renewal rates compared to 70% for individual subs.  In a few years EMAP have grown corporate subs from 2000 to 17000, and Will Johnston, who heads up their corporate subs team, shared what they have learnt on that journey.  Corporate packages are bespoke, combining print, web and tablet access, and also a range of value-added services, from news alerts, seminar places to tailored online learning programmes.  So traditional brands like Retail Week and Nursing Times are subtly shifting from simply being a content publisher to providing a business intelligence and professional development service to their subscribers, building a far closer relationship with client organisations.  Will leads a highly focussed sales team, who are strongly supported with coaching, and offered significant rewards for success.

These case studies demonstrate that today’s publishing businesses have no choice but to embark on digital transformation of their organisation, which will demand greater focus on the needs of their audience and a flexibility in terms of what services they offer, the form they take and how they are delivered – whether data, text or video, on the web or mobile platforms, or as live events.  It calls for an experimental approach, continually learning both from data and from customer feedback, and which involves all parts of the organisation.  See this related article for the Agile Publisher philosophy.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media industry publishers and events. Follow Carolyn on twitter @carolynrmorgan

About the agile publisher project

The agile publisher is a research project dedicated to identifying examples of agile publishing and sharing best practice among specialist media businesses.  If you have an interesting story to share please get in touch – or follow @agilepublisher on twitter.


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