So what exactly is a media business supposed to look like in 2016? There has been a continuous evolution over the last few years from words, articles, and products in a defined market, funded by display ads, to a multi-channel, rich content intelligence and information service for a defined audience, funded by subscriptions and lead generation and content marketing solutions.
Which ideas should guide your thinking about how your media business develops? Here’s my top ten for the next year, gathered from some of the more inspiring discussions I have heard over recent months….
1. The new native: advertising grows up
The digital ad revenue party is running out of steam; maybe publishers were a little bit too greedy and inadvertently encouraged the growth of ad-blockers. Native advertising, sponsored content and content marketing are smarter ways to bring an advertisers message to an audience. And advertisers are becoming cannier in measuring lead generation and engagement rather than just reach. A media business is perhaps principally an audience specialist, adept at crafting content that captures attention and helping commercial partners communicate with readers.
2. Media as a Service
Rather than a collection of products, a media brand should consider itself as a provider of a suite of information and intelligence services to a specific audience group. From a marketing perspective, there is much to be learned from SaaS services: integrating marketing for lead generation, nurturing those leads and converting, then monitoring customer engagement to spot renewal risks and upsell opportunities.
3. Print becomes a guide to a digital library
In many markets, people still really rather like print, but replicating print publications in digital form under-sells the benefits of both media. The print incarnation of a media brand could perhaps reinvent itself as a guide to a deeper library of digital content, from video and audio to data-sets and interactive discussions. Print can still grab attention, with strong well-researched stories that get readers talking, powerful graphics and signposts to greater depth online.
4. Data & tools key to premium subscriptions
The prize in subscriptions isn’t in providing news or articles, but usable, actionable data, tools that save time or money and have an appealing, intuitive user interface. Centaur has cracked this with products like Celebrity Intelligence and Fashion/Beauty Monitor, reinventing the traditional directory as a powerful digital tool and cranking up prices confidently to double sales revenues over the last three years.
5. Embrace the big platforms
Like it or not, Facebook Instant, Snapchat Discover and Apple News are important new distribution channels for publishers. Yes the power of the big platforms is galling, but perhaps the answer is to use them to learn while avoiding dependence on any one. The Economist takes a sensible approach, creating free content and distributing it liberally across a wide range of platforms to generate new leads, which they then aim to convert to subscribers.
6. Enable professional development
Many business and professional publishers are offering CPD services, in partnership with associations, sometimes involving face to face training, but increasingly delivered online, such as TES short courses for teachers or RCNi’s Portfolio service for nurses to log professional development activity. Meanwhile consumer publishers are serving the growing freelance and self-employed market, with Guardian’s Masterclasses a notable example.
7. Encourage reader contributors
Most audiences include plenty of well-informed and occasionally opinionated experts – from “prosumers” in consumer hobbyist markets to experienced practitioners in many business and professional sectors. Encouraging a wide range of voices provides variety and authenticity to a media brand. Worth picking up tips from the success of Huffington Post, as shared by Carla Buzasi: nurturing its blogger community, providing them with easy tools, offering a personal touch and delivering effective promotion.
8. Follow the clock
People are in different modes during the early morning, their commute, their daily work routine and their unwind time. So content has to be adapted to suit their information priorities in each time segment, according to Adam Freeman of Bloomberg Media. Dedicated morning news apps, such as Economist Espresso, have understood their reader beautifully.
9. Build virtual global scale
No market, however niche, is immune from global competition, so even small publishers must stay alert to international trends and explore how to cater to a global audience. If resources are limited, “virtual” international scale can be built through careful partnerships and alliances.
10. New skills, new culture
Future media businesses will need data journalists, audio-visual producers, account managers, commercial editors, analysts, mobile developers and many other new skills. CEOs of media businesses who have led successful digital transformations agree that the hardest job is changing an existing culture, and that possibly the best approach is to hire in “disruptive thinkers” as described by Adam Freeman of Bloomberg, or people with NPD skills, according to Kieselstein, CEO of Penton, where half of the top team have joined in the last two years.
So it’s by no means an easy task, morphing a publishing business into a multi-layered, segmented suite of intelligence, information and practical tools that span a range of platforms and international markets. But with a strong focus on the end customer, strong content creation, data analysis and technical development skills, plus a fearless approach to change and NPD, it is certainly possible.
If you have a story to tell about how you are developing your media business for the future, I’d be interested to hear more.
And if you’d like to have an informal chat about some of these ideas in more depth and how they might apply to your media business, feel free to get in touch.
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 sector publishers and events.