Cover of INMA report entitled News Audience Engagement Initiatives You Can Use.
Cover of INMA report entitled News Audience Engagement Initiatives You Can Use.

When I visit INMA member newspapers worldwide, I have a standard question: “Of what initiative are you proudest?” That answer is very different in 2012 than it has been in the past, and the answer has bearing on new product development in our industry.

Over two decades, the question’s answer has varied greatly yet usually comes in waves. For example, in 2003-2004, everyone was thinking about format change. In recent years, everyone was thinking about integrated advertising sales.

Yet something strange began to surface in the past 18 months. The result was the recent INMA report “News Audience Engagement Initiatives You Can Use,” available for free to all INMA members and at a charge for non-members.

Beginning in 2010, the “proudest” initiative became new clubs and communities that were tightly defined and either were engagement devices or non-traditional consumer revenue-generators. Moreover, the clubs and communities — at least at the concept level — seemed very transferrable to other INMA member companies.

These clubs and communities weren’t brain surgery:

    • A wine club.

 

    • A weight loss club.

 

    • Subscriber loyalty programmes.

 

    • A football community.

 

    • A sports bar.

 

  • A travel club.

No doubt the brain surgery was less in the concept than in the execution.

Looking for the right venue to bring these stories together, INMA put together the new report “News Audience Engagement Initiatives You Can Use” — a repository for the stories I picked up while traveling.

I’ve sprinkled some of these stories into presentations made recently to North American newspaper executives. The feedback has been amazing.

There is a new and insatiable desire for new rules in product development in the news industry. While loving the stories, audiences in Toronto, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Birmingham recently peppered me with questions, such as:

    • How many new product initiatives should be in the pipeline at one time?

 

    • Should a publisher have one or two big initiatives working, or perhaps 10-15 small initiatives?

 

    • What is the time frame for determining success or failure? Is that measured in weeks, months, or years?

 

    • Should there be a different success/failure time frame for print ventures versus digital ventures?

 

    • Should the editorial department be in charge of all “product” ventures, or should product ventures outside of news be the domain of another department or unit?

 

    • Mindful of limited marketing budgets, should each new product be launched loudly or developed with quieter methods such as social media?

 

  • What percentage of new products succeed versus fail in the news industry?

Heady questions, to say the least. And questions that have no standards. Not yet.

In the months ahead, INMA will ask the product innovators for answers to these questions. It is important to be inspired by great ideas yet, to create a culture of innovation, it would be helpful to have benchmarks and standards for everyone to benefit.

INMA wants news publishers to become incubators of consumer and advertiser solutions.