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Did Yahoo! get it right?

24 March 2013 · By Adam Burnham

As news media companies centralise operations, outsource production and pagination, and close printing presses, they should consider stealing a page from pure-play companies’ remote-working model.

Recently, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer made a drastic change in her organisation by changing the pre-existing work-from-home policy. In essence, she is calling the sheep back to the flock, and now all employees must work from the Yahoo! offices.

As you might expect, this has sparked quite a debate.

Is this the right move? That is a question only Marissa Mayer and time can answer. Based on her challenge in turning around this troubled company, I think we all need to defer to her judgment here.

Time will tell, but this move is an interesting one from the standpoint of legacy media stalwarts.

I do not think this is a move backward. Quite the opposite. She is making a change. A radical change. Pure-play companies have developed a reputation for being more open, more fun, more exciting than other organisations. This type of bold move is something all can learn from, especially legacy media.

Change is not always a bad thing. Yet most fear it. Mayer clearly embraces it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “We can’t do that. They won’t let us. We have to do it the way we’ve always done it.”

I have never met this “they,” but I seem to hear about them at most companies. The reality is there is a lot to learn here.

As the market and economics of legacy media continue to change, bold moves will be required. And these moves will not be popular. Moves that can be made now that completely change structures and practices that have been in place for years. 

If I am running a newspaper, or any company with a local presence, I would make a move similar to Mayer’s. However, it would be an opposing approach.

Let them be free! Introducing Operation Trust and Freedom (everything needs a not-so-clever name in the newspaper industry).

Turn the tides on requirements that employees must work from an office. That they must start and finish their days at a certain location. Create an environment of trust. Give them the technology and the freedom to work remotely.

This does a couple of things. First, the need for office space is greatly reduced, which in the long run can save huge amounts of money. I fully support the need for a presence in the community, a place where you can interact with people. But what more do you need than a front counter, a couple of offices, a conference room and three or four desks for use?

In today’s cloud-based world, a sales person needs only a laptop, a CRM tool, and a mobile device. The same goes for content producers. (Just replace CRM with CMS.) They can work from anywhere. In-person meetings can take place once a week and daily meetings can be done via Skype or Google+ (both free services).

Secondly, this creates a completely different working environment, one that requires trust on both sides and empowers employees. Control freaks will not like this, but they need to adapt.

Proof is always in the results, and not every sales and content producer will succeed in a model like this. But the real question is, don’t you want people who can? People who embrace responsibility and freedom, which breeds success — success that can permeate an organisation.

I understand there are a lot of facets in play here and I am simplifying it quite a bit. All I ask is for you to challenge yourself in thinking differently than you have in the past. Move forward instead of looking back.

Many companies have already centralised operations, finance, and IT. They have outsourced or in-sourced production and pagination. Printing presses have closed or consolidated. The need for large buildings with thousands of square feet and huge data centers is so 1992.

I have a lot of respect for those that go against the grain. Change is good!

Until next time.

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The Innovative Advertising Solutions Blog looks at not only integrated advertising sales for newsmedia companies but the full spectrum of agency-level marketing solutions for advertisers: print, digital, package, and event sales; social media marketing services on behalf of advertisers; and behavioural targeting across a range of digital products.

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Greg Bobolo
New York, New York, USA
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Adam Burnham
Vice President
Affinity Express
Elgin, Illinois, USA
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Brooke Christofferson
Vice President of Marketing and Strategy
Republic Media and Gannett Community Publishing West Group
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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Darrell Kunken
Director of Research/Market Analysis
The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento, California, USA
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Suzanne Raitt
Vice President, Marketing and Innovation
Newspapers Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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