Learning from digital transformation in media

Digital Transformation in Media

Digital Transformation in Media

Which media organisations have made the best digital transformation? And what can other businesses learn from the actions they have taken?

Here’s my summary of the big digital and technology trends, and six key steps that successful media businesses have taken to adapt to the new environment and make a successful digital transformation.

Rapid change in digital media behaviour

The rate of change in technology and reader behaviour has accelerated over the last few years. Globally, print is expected to shrink to 15% of global advertising by 2018, while internet advertising will grow to 38%: 22% mobile and 16% desktop. However, most of the mobile advertising pot now goes to global tech platforms like Facebook and Google, leaving traditional media businesses starved of ad revenue.

Mobile now accounts for 70% of internet use, and the younger half of the world’s population are completely smartphone addicted. Social media is now the biggest source of news, mobile video is growing rapidly, and the explosion of messaging apps is changing how people communicate.

How media organisations are faring

News media are particularly challenged, with print circulations collapsing, print ads declining, and new digital entrants taking share.

B2B media are making the best transition, as they can develop premium digital subscription propositions to niche audiences who value their content highly.

Consumer media are struggling to replace declining print subscription revenue with digital revenue, and online ad rates continue to fall, with ad blocking causing further misery.


What media businesses have had to do


Faced with this existential crisis, media organisations have had to reconsider all aspects of their business: these are the main themes…

1. Reinvent business model

Media orgs have refocussed attention on their audience and the commercial partners who want to reach them, and considered what other products and services they can develop. They are experimenting with digital paywalls and a range of subscription packages. Consumer publishers are moving into e-commerce: for example Dennis Publishing is selling cars online, using its motoring magazine reach. B2B publishers are developing conferences and exhibitions, and all media owners are becoming more inventive in developing sponsorship and new forms of advertising.


2. Develop new content types

Editorial teams have to move beyond the standard print article, and produce content in many different formats, as audio, video and graphics, for social media, smartphones, desktop.


3. Learn from tech firms (and partner)

Amazon bought the Washington Post and has started to treat it like a tech business, hiring developers, setting up better content publishing platforms and tracking analytics, and adopting the rapid test and learn culture common in software businesses. Media owners who have stayed independent have focussed on hiring in senior people with strong tech skills, or partnering to develop digital products.


4. Update content & customer management systems

Content has to be re-used on multiple channels, so media owners are building centralised archives, and adding structured tags to facilitate search, plus making it easier for staff, freelancers, and customers to add content from wherever they are.

Encouraging users to log in makes it much easier to track their behaviour on the website and tailor content to suit their needs, plus manage outbound email marketing.


5. Change workflow and editor’s role

Editors now need to consider all the potential content types they can generate from a feature idea, and plan carefully to create it all efficiently, from staff and freelancers. Social promotion of content and interaction with readers once it is published is all part of the editorial role. New content management systems and the need for accessing archive and repackaging content means the entire workflow has to change.


6. Rethink advertiser relationships

Media owners have learnt that they can generate longer term and more profitable relationships with advertisers by collaborating and jointly creating bespoke campaigns, plus monitoring metrics carefully. There is a delicate balance to be struck however, to ensure client’s objectives are met without compromising editorial integrity


What have media businesses learnt through digital transformation?


  • Content is an asset, archive it and re-use it
  • Talk to your customers (and prospective customers) regularly – consider hiring some into the organisation (eg AJ Plus did a University tour in the US – all staff are <25)
  • Carefully monitor customer behaviour – spot the trends early and act on them
  • Watch for the disruptors – maybe partner with them. Eg Hays decided to partner with LinkedIn to share data on candidates. Or buy them eg Google bought Deep Mind.
  • In order to effect change, will need to bring in senior people who have NPD or technology expertise
  • Support teams through digital transition: no-one is untouched – editorial, marketing, sales.
  • Make data available to everyone, be transparent, encourage feedback, dissent, criticism


The digital transformation journey has barely begun, but already there is plenty to learn from the media organisations that are learning to adapt and evolve, and, with luck, survive.

If you’d like to talk through how your media business can best adapt to the digital revolution, I’d be happy to chat through some examples in more detail over a coffee.


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.