Product teams are not yet rooted in Latin American newsrooms, but need to be

By Mauricio Romero

Bogota, Colombia

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A news media companys product department generates synergy and communication among the other things, thus becoming the intersection of all areas involved.

In addition, the product department ensures the different divisions meet users needs, providing excellent experience and staying aligned with business objectives.

According to Felicitas Carrique, director of innovation at SembraMedia, product is derived from the technology area, which in digital media has been understood not as an accessory or an additional cost, but as the core of the business itself.

Felicitas Carrique, director of innovation at SembraMedia, shared her thoughts on product leaders and teams at a recent INMA Webinar.
Felicitas Carrique, director of innovation at SembraMedia, shared her thoughts on product leaders and teams at a recent INMA Webinar.

Speaking at a recent INMA members-only Webinar, Carrique gave her perspectives on how to create a product department within the company, a trend many newsrooms have jumped on.

Carrique, co-creator of Propulsorio (a guide on product development focused on Latin American media), pointed out that the accelerated and reactive pace of technological advance from the 90s produced a disconnect in communication and knowledge imbalances between the areas of content, technology, design, and commercial when trying to connect with audiences.

“At that time, different roles appeared, which in times of crisis generated some tensions and friction between teams and people,” she said.

According to Carrique, The Product Discipline — as we understand it — comes from the tech industry, where technology is conceived not as an accessory or additional cost, but as the core of the business itself. Digital media can also adopt this mindset.

This technology is necessary to provide a good user experience and make such users pay for the companys products or feel attracted to them. From there it is possible to capture the attention of brands and advertisers to reach those consumers through the media outlet.

“Focusing on the needs of audiences and building on that is key,” Carrique stressed.

Therefore, the officialisation of a product role within the organisation is done through a product manager, who is the owner of the product and is responsible for defining the strategy, vision, roadmap, and functionalities of the product.

Then, the team assembled by the product manager should be interdisciplinary, that is, with people from all areas of the company, such as content, design, business and technology — always with content as a fundamental pillar of the project.

4 challenges a product manager faces

  1. The value that his or her department will bring to the audience.
  2. The viability of the business.
  3. The usability of and pleasant user experience.
  4. The feasibility of its completion with the technological resources of the organisation, strongly supported by the design (user experience) and technology (feasibility of technological resources) teams.

The day-to-day life of a product manager includes investigating new formats and functionalities, analysing competitors, establishing the strategy on the viability of the business, and coordinating whether it is possible to carry out the project in the scheduled times.

The product manager must also coordinate and communicate with the different teams involved in the product, prioritise and implement the features that must be built first (according to the value it brings to users), analyse progress based on metrics (know what works and what does not), do followups and paperwork with suppliers, and manage the product budget.

What product teams should ask themselves

  • What kind of comments and feedback come from users?
  • Are they aligned with what we want to give them?
  • How does the team describe your product? Does it match the description of the rest of the company?
  • Does the team question the product manager?
  • Do they get involved in the conversation?
  • Do they come up with improvements as you go?
  • Do you receive requests for changes or new functionalities for the product?
Implementing a product team happens in phases.
Implementing a product team happens in phases.

Phases to implement product team

  • Identify people who are product-oriented within the newsroom.
  • Make the product role official.
  • Involve the product area with others within the organisation.
  • Evangelise the newsroom and the rest of the company.
  • Optimise existing products or create new ones.
  • Create a product culture within the newsroom.

What should a product manager know?

Even though sometimes it might seem like it, a product manager is not an unicorn that should know a million things.

Among the skills this professional should have: being knowledgeable of the technology and media business, but also being able to communicate; listen; be aware of strengths and weaknesses; be passionate, curious and analytical; and, above all, knowing how to negotiate.

Carrique emphasised that products are designed with people in mind, and they should be implemented with the same mindset. 

In contrast, when there is no product manager, there are no clear priorities or roadmap, there is a disconnection between areas, there are no data-based decisions, there is no progress analysis, there is no experimentation, and users are not thought about.

Carrique cites an INMA survey revealing 40% of the surveyed media say they have implemented a product team in the last four years, whereas 23% of those who implemented it have done so in the last year.

She pointed out there is a process between creating the role of the product manager and generating a cultural change in the company in terms of having a mindset to create, maintain, and improve one or more products in a consistent fashion.

The strategist warns that in Latin American countries, the product area is not yet rooted within the company although its effectiveness should depend on that.

Regarding the profession of the product manager, Carrique believes it can be a person who has had a role in audiences, technology, or marketing, even if years of experience may vary.

Even if the company has a checklist of candidate requirements, applicants may not meet them all, Carrique said, and that should not be a problem. A profession that could work, without being decisive, is that of a journalist, since this person can be listened to without much resistance from the different areas involved.

About Mauricio Romero

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