Thursday, June 14, 2012

A cadre of change agents for newspapers

Instead of merely talking about how much the newspaper industry has to change, the Inland Press Association has decided to do something about it – in a big and bold way.

The association has created the Executive Program for Innovative Change to provide senior publishing folks with the in-depth strategic perspectives and concrete entrepreneurial skills necessary to efficiently and effectively lead innovation in their organizations.

In other words, Inland is launching a boot camp for the change agents necessary to ensure the continued vitality of the industry. And I am pleased to report that I am leveraging my Silicon Valley background to partner with Inland as the director of the project.

You can hear more about the program in the video embedded below, but here’s a quick summary:

The association will admit up to 18 senior executives to the new program, who then meet as a group at regular intervals over 12 months to learn how to build the audience, revenue, productivity and profitability of their companies through transformational change.

Because the program is designed to deliver real-world results, every participant will be required to identify – and execute – a significant game-changing project at her or his newspaper that’s aimed at delivering a measurable return on investment. The projects, which will be selected by participants in consultation with the management of their papers, may address either legacy print products or digital initiatives.

Kicking off on Sept. 11 in Chicago, the program will consist of five onsite sessions throughout the year. The session next June will be held in Silicon Valley, where I will introduce participants to some of my friends at Google, Facebook and some of the up-and-coming companies most likely to affect the way we get and give information in the future.  

As interesting as the group get-togethers are bound to be, the most crucial work will take place in the weeks between sessions, as participants pursue their game-charging projects at their home papers. Because changing the game in a legacy organization can be lonely and challenging, the members of the group will support each other through ongoing collaboration and problem-solving via webinars and one-on-one calls. I’ll always be available to lend a hand, too.

Our work will be informed and supplemented by readings and guest speakers contributing everything from marketplace intelligence to management techniques.  Speakers will include not only effective newspaper executives but also academic experts and leaders from other industries.

Some of those who already have kindly committed to participate are Richard Gingras, the head of Google News; Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism; Martin Till, the publisher of the Easton (PA) Express; Jay Small, the digital chief for the Evening Post and Courier Co.; Jim Brady, the editor in chief at Digital First, and Owen Youngman, one of the digital gurus on the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Additional guest speakers will be added throughout the year, so we can keep the program as fresh as possible.  

The program is not just for Inland members.  It is open to all senior newspaper executives and publishers are welcome to nominate individuals who are being considered for eventual appointment to senior positions.  Applicants are asked to describe the project they want to pursue, along with a current resume and a letter of nomination from an officer of his or her newspaper.

The program has generated a lot of excitement since it was announced earlier this month to Inland;s membership and many applications already have been received. But there’s still time to go here to learn more and to apply.

In addition to the intrinsic value of the project delivered to each newspaper, the participants will gain the skills, confidence and motivation to cultivate cultures of continuous improvement at their respective organizations.

As the program is repeated over the years, it will build a growing network of knowledgeable and confident entrepreneurs within our industry. And that’s what newspapers will need to assure their strength and relevance for future generations.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Got a digital product plan?

Second of two parts.  The first is here.

With Main Street merchants diverting ever more spending away from traditional advertising to the online, mobile and social media, newspapers seeking a healthy share of local marketing dollars need to be selling way more than banner ads.

We’ll describe an effective digital product mix in a moment.  First, here’s why this matters:   

Although roughly half of local marketing dollars today go to newspaper and broadcast advertising, BIA/Kelsey predicts that only 30% of an expected $151 billion in local expenditures in 2016 will be spent on the legacy media.  Prior to the arrival of the Internet, Main Street merchants typically put 70% of their marketing budgets into print and broadcast advertising. 

Today, local businesses are investing in websites, social media campaigns, mobile couponing, search advertising, email marketing and other tactics that enable them to establish direct and sustained relationships with consumers. Even the best print, broadcast and banner ads can't equal the power of digital targeting to put the right offer to the right person at the right place at the right time.

To get competitive and stay competitive, publishers must offer a number of complementary digital marketing solutions. The good news is that these products represent an opportunity to build high-margin, recurring revenues that enable publishers to amortize their direct sales costs over many years. Here are the products and services you need in your digital toolkit:

Website design/hosting.  A merchant’s digital presence starts with her website, which must be constantly refreshed and maintained to not only sustain its relevance to consumers but also to assure high visibility on Google and other search engines.  

Search optimization. Because only 5% of consumers click past the first page of web search results, businesses must pay close attention to continuously grooming their sites to get them into prime positions on Google, Bing and other platforms. The task never ends, because search algorithms continuously change and the social media increasingly will influence search results in real time.

Reputation management. Beyond Google and Bing, there are millions of other venues on the web where a business can be mentioned. Reputation management services assure that information about a business is up to date wherever it appears. At the same time, such services identify unfavorable mentions (like negative reviews on Yelp) so a business can take rapid remedial action. Given the rise in location-aware mobile services, accurate information about a business is more vital than ever.             

Mobile-site hosting. While websites can be accessed via smartphones and the iPad, many of them render poorly on mobile devices – or not at all in the case of Flash on Apple products.  With nearly 50% of the U.S. population carrying smartphones and some 20% of the population using tablets, consumers increasingly are turning to these devices to make purchasing decisions. Merchants whose sites perform poorly on mobile devices run the risk of being overlooked and under-patronized.

Social marketing. Facebook and other social media offer appealing opportunities for merchants to make one-on-one connections with consumers – and to leverage these fast-growing platforms to generate viral (and cost-effective) word-of-mouth referrals for their products and services. Successful social marketing programs require constant attention to building audience, creating content and curating connections. Because these chores are a lot of work for the typical small business, there is an opportunity for publishers to do the work for them.

Direct marketing.  Merchants seeking to develop direct relationships with consumers need to assemble increasingly sophisticated databases of information about as many individuals as possible.  Newspapers can help them build, manage and market to customers via email, snail mail, the social media and other vehicles.

Deals and coupons. Several of the platforms described above make it easy for publishers and merchants to offer a wide variety of discounts and coupons, including offers targeted to select audiences or sent dynamically to users of mobile devices.

Search/social advertising. While the keyword advertising programs at Google, Bing, Facebook and many other websites are promoted as self-service platforms, the work of creating, managing, evaluating and fine-tuning a digital ad campaign is intimidating and time-consuming. Significant profits can be reaped from managing campaigns for merchants.

Rich analytics. Owing to the many complex elements of a digital marketing program, a key component of any program is a comprehensive and responsive analytics package to plan, monitor and measure each of the various initiatives – and to continuously reinforce for merchants the value of the services (including, yes, print advertising) provided by their local publishing partner.

Publishers shouldn’t try to launch all these initiatives at once.  The products have to be deployed in a logical, well-planned sequence. But you have to start now, because it's tough luring back clients who have committed to different digital marketing partners.

Just google “web hosting” or “social marketing” to see how many competitors you already have.

© 2012, Editor & Publisher