Like so many other dads on Father’s Day this year, I had an opportunity to kick back, relax and enjoy a day with family. This particular event is unique in that it’s a large group with multiple generations partaking in the festivities. As always, it was a blast and it’s an event I look forward to every year. This year, though, I made a special observation.

What does this have to do with media audiences, you might ask?

Well, indeed there is a link. I was particularly taken by the use of technology at this year’s party. It truly reflected the generations in attendance. Today’s multiplicity of technology choices and how that technology is used did not necessarily play out across the generations as you might have expected. In fact, the oldest dad at the party could not put down his new digital toy.

The technology choices made throughout the day were interesting to watch. Of course, we had newer technology such as smartphones, an iPad, and a Blackberry Playbook. In addition, though, we had a CD player that played Jimmy Buffett all afternoon. That’s right: Jimmy Buffett CDs, one after another for the entire afternoon. But hey, it was a pool party. Finally, we had a baseball radio that one of the dads had received earlier in the day and was proudly showing everyone.

I find this interesting from an audience perspective because it shows not only the use of new media, but also that many people are slow to change habits. We had dads at this party in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Many of them still have strong print habits. In fact, the host of the party gave me one of his favourite baseball books (yes, the same guy who had the radio). He’s a big print guy and will likely be for some time to come — and he wasn’t the guy in his 60’s.

There can be little doubt that media companies, especially those with newspapers as a major component of their revenue make-up, need to focus on the emerging digital audiences. I believe it’s equally important to serve the audiences you currently have in a way that encourages them to hold onto old habits while developing new behaviours. There is little benefit in the near term to convert profitable print customers into less-profitable digital customers. But if we can encourage them to do both, then we are on the right track.

I often wonder if newspaper executives today are thinking hard enough about what audiences they are trying to attract. Newspapers have an opportunity to develop audiences across the various platforms and increase time spent with the brand overall.

We should not be happy having readers who just read print, or who just access our Web site during the workday coffee break, or just on their tablet before shutting down for the night.

We must be attacking our marketplace in such a way as to encourage readers to use us throughout the day. Print over coffee in the morning, breaking news throughout the day, headlines on a smartphone during their commute, and entertainment on the tablet at the end of the day.

This starts by first understanding your audience, who they really are, what they need and when they need it. A few questions you should be asking about your audience include:

  • How does media play into their daily routine?

  • What type of content is consumed and does it change by time of day?

  • Why people choose the media they do?

  • How does platform (print, tablet, etc) play into their daily routine?

  • What do they/will they pay for?

The list can go on and on, but the idea is really to think harder about what audiences need and how we might meet that need.

It’s an exciting time to be in newspapers — challenging no doubt, but exciting nonetheless.