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Can you exploit a 150-year head start in the media decathlon?

18 September 2011 · by Steve Nilan

Newspapers have excelled at the slow but steady pace of the media marathon. But now that the rules of the game have changed, the race has evolved from a predictable marathon to a frenetic real-time decathlon and newsmedia companies have to exploit their 150-year head start.

At this summer’s World Masters Athletics Championships in California, I expected to see ex-athletes trying to relive their past glory in track and field. Instead I was awestruck to see 90-year-old men and women competing with the grit and muscle of true athletes.

It was inspiring to see the competitive fire driving more than 4,800 athletes from 93 countries to world records in age groups from 35 to 101 years old. They are champions and deserve our respect yet they could not compete head-to-head with world class athletes who are in their prime. These World Masters would need a huge head start to have any chance of medaling.

Our industry faces a similar competitive scenario. Newspapers built a big lead with a century-old brand and a dominant competitive spirit. Some would argue that we’ve squandered our head start to a generation of upstarts. Still, in most local markets, the daily newspaper maintains a market share lead over other media outlets. The market challenge remains: how can we build on our advantages and dominate?

If media competition could be compared to an Olympic event, what would it be? The marathon? The 100 meter dash? The decathlon? We have excelled at the slow but steady pace of the media marathon. After all, most dominant newspapers were founded more than 150 years ago and have enjoyed a long and profitable run. Now the rules of the game have changed forever.

Our audiences turned into fragmented, time-slicing multi-taskers. Our media dominance was challenged with the never-ending proliferation of new media platforms. News media companies must now compete in multiple events across multiple venues to attract multiple audiences. The media race has changed from a predictable marathon to a frenetic real-time decathlon.

In the media, here are five ways for publishers to exploit a 150-year head start in the race for audience engagement and market dominance:

1. Act like the market leader.
Sell and market aggressively and relentlessly. Define success metrics on your terms. What other single competitor can deliver more to your local audience? Your 150-year-old brand equals market leadership.

2. Define yourself as a multi-media company that also prints.
Don’t let one-trick-pony competitors define who you are in the minds of your advertisers. They will never match what you have. You are a multi-media company who also knows how to do print.

3. Know your audiences better than anyone.
You have audience relationships that pre-date Google as a company. Your century-old brand is trusted because you have maintained your trust over generations. Google may know people’s IP addresses but you know people where they live, work and shop.

4. Personalise to engage audiences better than anyone.
As you know more about your audiences, you can deliver even more personalised content and experiences. Personalisation is a smarter media strategy. The more you personalise, the smarter you get about what your audiences want. The smarter you get, the more competitive you become. Lead the revolution from mass media to mass personalisation.

5. Be brave.
It’s not the time to burn the presses but it is time to re-invent who you are. Media has become a brave new world. Take chances. Experiment. Take inspiration from those World Masters athletes who aren’t afraid to put it all on the line and risk failure. It’s time to apply decades of experience to not just compete, but to win the gold.

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