Controversial as this headline may sound, the challenging media and publishing scenarios witnessed the world over could do with some stark and drastic measures to help prop up bottom lines and unravel new and untrodden paths toward growth.

Not since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of mechanical movable type printing more than 570 years ago have we been more in need of a whole new rethinking of the business. 

The debate today is not about how we can sustain the newspaper “print” business in the 21st century. Most, if not all, published print titles are now available across a multitude of platforms and form factors.

The US$64 million question confronting traditional publishers and media owners in this day and age is: “How can we sustain our business going forward?” Period.

Here’s where the phenomenon of growth hacking cuts in. In the original context, Sean Ellis, who is credited with being the first to blog about growth hacking, says: “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinised by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

Aaron Ginn sees this person as working “within the parameters of a scalable and repeatable method for growth, driven by product and inspired by data. A growth hacker lives at the intersection of data, product, and marketing.”

Although this so-called new age higher being resides predominantly across digital domains, I believe it is very much to the advantage of conventional corporations to deliberately inject a new strain of cutting-edge resource into its management infrastructure.

Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor in their piece The Definitive Guide To Growth Hacking defines a hacker as “someone who is clever, original, or inventive.” They go on to qualify this by saying that “every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth. Every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative, is attempted in the hopes of growing. Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around.”

Growth hacking was born out of start-ups but does not need to only reside within these parameters. In another blog post by Sean Ellis entitled Growth Hacking is for Smart Marketers – Not Just Startups, he talks about traditional marketers referring to growth hacking as simply marketing.

He goes on to say that “rarely do I see any of them having a track record of building truly innovative, rule-changing programmes for driving growth. Most just don’t have the need or motivation to change the rules or innovate new channels. Unlike start-ups, big companies are rarely a magnet for risk takers who like to innovate.”

Some of you may refute this, citing the reason why the company you work for is not growing or growing as fast as it should be is not due to your lack of effort to innovate and bring new ideas to the table. And if I were to probe further, many of you would possibly put the blame on a staid corporate culture and a conservative senior management team.

Without a group of forward-thinking folks up there, including the board of directors, even the best of ideas will never get to see the light of the day. There is a tendency for legacy corporations to be overly protective of themselves and hence resist experimenting with new ideas for fear of cannibalising their current stash.   

All said, now is as good as any to look within our companies. The right questions need to be asked:

  • Do we have or encourage a culture of innovation at our workplace?

  • Are our teams regularly brainstorming for ideas outside our immediate line of sight?

  • Is our management team supportive of non-conforming suggestions?

  • Do we make it easy for our staff to toss across “wild” ideas without fear of mockery, judgment, or retribution?

  • Does our company culture support the positive embracement of failure as a stepping stone toward success?

  • Do we hang around with nimble start-up outfits to get a sense of what’s trending out there in the bigger world?

  • Are we in touch with the latest technology?

  • Is our Big Data strategy leading us to clear conversions?

  • Can we translate what we see and learn across the digital realm into concrete and actionable customer-centric solutions?   

I am sure we can all agree that the publishing business is under threat. Everyone seems to have crashed our party and helped themselves to the revenues we once exclusively enjoyed. As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his video How Resource Constraints Lead to Innovation that the “absence of advantage is what spurs innovation.” Sean Ellis talks passionately about how desperation leads to innovation. As a growth hacker in a start-up outfit, changing how the game is played becomes the minimum acceptable norm.

Innovating voraciously and testing relentlessly must be the living and breathing mandate for survival. When this stops, the company dies.

The same should apply to us. The fact that our business roots date back hundreds of years does not accord us the license to be complacent. The take-it-easy-sit-back-and-cruise mentality must be replaced by the highly-driven-lean-forward-and-step-on-the-gas attitude!

To compete with the world, we must be in the world and of the world. Growth hacking and a start-up mentality are the weaponry necessary to fuel success. As a publisher-of-choice operating in today’s challenging environment, there are simply no other options.

To embark on this new journey, leadership augmentation is imperative. The traditional chief marketing officer is Jurassic. The chief growth hacker is now the new chic.