Every media product manager should master these 4 superpowers

By Mathieu Halkes


Stockholm, Sweden


When I started working in news media in the Netherlands way back in 2005, my title was “project manager.” I was responsible for driving everything except for the editorial parts of our newspaper.

Later, I became a “product manager. At that time, I think I was one of the very few with that title working on building digital products in a Dutch publishing house.

Few people around me had any idea what I was really doing, similar to the well-known meme below.

Luckily, the field of product management has evolved significantly since then. Most media companies nowadays understand what product management really is and why it’s important. With that understanding comes the knowledge of what is needed to excel in the role. And with that in mind, here are the four “superpowers” you should really emphasise when developing or becoming a product manager.

1. Empathy: Understand your users and stakeholders

First and foremost, I believe a product manager without a strong sense of empathy will have a hard time succeeding. To truly understand your users’ needs and desires, you must be able to place yourself in their shoes. Empathy is also crucial for building a deep understanding of stakeholders and navigating different points of view about the product you are responsible for. You will need it for all types of product work, from creating a product vision and strategy to crafting user-facing text.

Even if some of us are naturally more empathetic than others, empathy is a skill you can and should develop to unleash your product management superpowers. It starts with being a careful listener and learning what incentives people really have to succeed in their daily life and work. From there you can start working toward the right problems to solve.

2. Curiosity: Be the expert, but stay hungry and foolish

Empathy alone won’t get you there; you also need a healthy dose of curiosity to succeed as a product manager. Dealing with different types of people, departments, and areas of expertise requires a naturally curious mindset. In the context of news media, I often joke that curiosity is what bonds product managers and journalists the most: We never stop asking questions.

When I was managing products used in the newsroom of a Dutch business news radio station (BNR), I spent a significant amount of time working in the newsroom to learn how it operated, and how our content was created and distributed. This helped me truly understand the problems and ideas during the digital transformation from being a pure broadcaster to offering a more personalised online listening experience. And, I did the same with our commercial departments responsible for subscriptions and advertising sales.

Even when you consider yourself an expert, prioritise curiosity over expertise most of the time. As Steve Jobs said: stay hungry, stay foolish.

3. Endurance: Optimise for impact and healthy deliveries

In product management, we often face tight deadlines, resource constraints, and unexpected challenges that force us to reprioritise. Shipping things quickly and frequently can be beneficial, as small improvements in the short term can lead to significant value for your end users.

In the media context, this is sometimes even more important, because newsrooms mostly think about what is happening now. However, there’s always the risk of focusing too much on random short-term wins and, with that, demoralising product teams.

To really thrive and succeed, you need to stay focused on your team’s product vision and strategy, and connect most of your work to it in some way. This level of focus and commitment takes thorough preparation, hard work, the other skills mentioned here, and endurance.

As an avid runner, I compare this to finishing a long-distance trail run. Here’s a nice article written by a fellow runner delving deeper into a nice running analogy about working with agility. I recommend it as a read for all “product athletes” out there.

4. Storytelling: Communicate your product and ideas to the world

Whether it’s conducting product discovery work, engaging with stakeholders, shipping products, crafting a product strategy, or driving your personal development, being a good storyteller is crucial.

If the world outside your product team is unaware of your hypotheses, ideas, research, features, and impact, much of the value you bring will likely be missed. As we all know, being a product manager is not about being the manager and chef of everything; it’s more about influencing and supporting those meant to succeed.

Therefore, storytelling is a skill you should always strive to exercise and improve. Practising by telling stories to your friends and loved ones, finding a mentor who excels in this area, and engaging in specific training can help you develop this skill.

May the product powers be with you!

Of course, there are more than just four superpowers to uncover, and many other ways to present them. At the core, though, I believe focusing on the aforementioned set of skills can help any product manager working in media have more impact in their daily work.

I am also pleased to see we have covered some of these skills in the product career framework I recently helped to create within Schibsted. Having a product-specific framework like that is something I recommend for any big media house to invest in. This ensures that we develop the very best product managers to tackle the complex problems in our intriguing industry.

About Mathieu Halkes

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