When asked what value a newspaper has to hotel guests, the audience of newspaper executives skeptically murmurs. Yet a hotel chain’s research — breaking down the individual pieces that come with a hotel room — surprisingly found a newspaper worth US$5 on its own — 500% more than the typical newspaper price. Subsequent research asking the newspaper’s value if it helps find a person a job found recipients said it was worth as much as US$2,000.

Paul Wang punches the air with numbers and ideas, exhorting the room of newspaper executives to see the customer’s view of value.

Value equals uniqueness + relevance + authenticity, the Northwestern University professor tells the Emailvision Roundtable audience in Vail, Colorado, on this late August morning.

He goes on, with a marketing politician’s wish-list:

  • I want a database where people want in.

  • We want to unite people to our storytelling.

  • Database marketing is becoming less a chess game and more a ballroom dance.

  • News publishers should become “contribution brands” that answer the question: What value can I add to my community?

As a room full of marketers, researchers and sellers sat mesmerized at Wang’s reminder of the basics of marketing, I couldn’t help but think that this is the kind of oxygen our industry needs.

We need to step back as an industry, think less about the past, and apply basic principles to the present. I got that, full-on, at the Vail Roundtable and the PANPA Conference in Sydney a few weeks earlier. I’m curious what my view will be after INMA events in Utrecht, Cascais, Las Vegas, Bogota, Bangalore and São Paulo over the next 12 weeks.

What I discern from these first forays into Conference Season is that to reposition from newspaper publishers to multi-media “newsmedia” publishers, companies must implement a series of skill sets that are counter-intuitive to today’s generation of newspaper executives:

  • Next-generation data analytics.
  • Deep understanding of consumer behaviour.
  • Integration and cross-selling.
  • Fast product development.

The painful teaching of new cultures to old warriors is not working. Too many people believe these skill sets are not needed for a company whose content and sales must succeed across platforms.

We cannot teach old dogs new tricks fast enough.

An Australian publisher put it this way to me in recent weeks: We will not go through the painfully long process of converting existing staff to the new culture. We don’t have time as the market is changing too rapidly. Existing employees will have one opportunity to adapt, or we will bring in new employees.

This is especially true of newsrooms and advertising sales departments.

We may be done talking about transitioning to multi-media and transitioning to the new culture that will support it. We may be about to witness its rapid implementation, damned the consequences.

Are you prepared?