The challenge of transitioning an “old print media group” from a classical print publisher to a digital publisher isn’t a small one. Styria undertook an extensive benchmarking exercise to see how its brands stack up in key digital areas.
During the first day of INMA’s Product and Data for Media Summit, Styria Media’s Chief Digital Strategist Niksa Gopcevic shared how the organisation took a deeper look at how each brand under the Styria umbrella was performing. Thursday’s module also featured a discussion about top data trends by INMA Smart Data Initiative Lead Ariane Bernard; top product trends by INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton; Kimmy Bettinger, lead for responsible data ecosystems at the World Economic Forum; Arjun Moorthy, co-founder of The Factual; and Niksa Gopcevic, digital strategist at Syria Media Group. Registration continues throughout the summit.
“We had the idea during the first wave of COVID, and made a list of some of the questions we wanted to answer,” Gopcevic said.
Those questions included things like:
How strong are our digital products?
How many subscribers can we get vs. how many do we need to make revenue?
What tools do we have? What tools do we need?
What people (competencies) do we need, and do we have them?
What does our organisation look like? What do we want it to look like?
What does quality journalism mean to us?
From the outset, Gopcevic emphasised this kind of benchmarking isn’t about the people. The goal was to “build a sustainable tool that could help us support our digital business and make our budgeting process easier” in the sense that the exercise would highlight weaknesses. Those could then become strategic areas for improvement, where Styria could allocate budget and resources in the future.
It was critical to set the right tone from the start, he said, so people would participate fully. Styria, founded in 1869, currently operates in Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia with more than 3,000 full-time employees.
“Especially during a pandemic, when people already had so many worries, we knew we needed to create a comfortable atmosphere and tone,” Gopcevic said.
To do this, leadership explained why they were doing this exercise and how it would be done, at every level of the organisation, ensuring everyone understood there weren’t “right” or “wrong” answers — it was all about learning where the brands are. If that kind of explanation is skipped, Gopcevic said, people are apt to go into the project without knowing the big picture, making them more reluctant to participate.
They looked at five key areas — product, data, journalism, advertising, and subscriptions. During the INMA Summit, Gopcevic focused only on product and data. For each business area, they went with a “hypothesis first” approach, basing each hypothesis on market trends and dynamics determined by “the best in the business.”
The overall goal with the product area was to make the products better. This meant looking at the “delivery vehicles for quality journalism,” as the vehicles (Web sites and apps) must be “at least as good as the content if we want to be relevant.” Gopcevic also said that, for Styria, product is both content and user experience.
The product hypothesis, then, was better user experience and design. This means:
Put more emphasis on the core experience of Web sites and apps themselves.
Publishing in general has a lot of basic catching up to do on ease of use, customer service, etc.
The benchmark are worldwide digital services.
News organisations must learn from digital-pure players and the consumer industry how to add value through design
Global digital services like Amazon and Netflix are the benchmark because “our users use those services and have expectations based on those services, so we need to be at least as user-friendly as they are,” Gopcevic explained.
He added that he agrees with a recent INMA newsletter by INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperson that said the news media industry “doesn’t always need to innovate,” and that there’s much this industry can learn from purely digital organisations.
For the data side, Gopcevic said that “we are becoming more and more data-infused,” which means having greater insights into readers and user habits than ever before.
Following guidelines taken partly from INMA and partly from colleagues, the data hypotheses Styria laid out was that:
Data is converting newsrooms into science-based engagement engines.
Data allows us to rewrite how we speak, how to benchmark and define success, and is fueling the rise of “product and tech” culture.
Data is pushing the advertising ecosystem away from the “reach” model to the “each” model (personalisation, hard, or soft).
Publisher-held first-party data is rising in importance for advertisers (a world with no third-party cookies).
Tool and results
Since the goal was to have wide participation across all levels of every brand, the team created a tool that made it easy for employees to answer. There were five levels, depicted as pie charts with descriptions about what each means, for respondents to choose from. They intentionally made one end of the scale a zero, Gopcevic said, because they wanted a really honest picture of not just what they do have but also what they don’t have.
There were about 20 questions per category, and each question went a bit deeper than the last. The structure enabled Gopcevic to turn each category into a story — a format that resonates well in the media industry.
Gopcevic detailed the benchmark priorities, timing, and key takeaways for summit attendees, one being:
“We deliberately took a storytelling approach,” Gopcevic said, “a journalistic approach, because it made everybody feel more comfortable. Of course, you can do it more scientifically, like a simple Web form people need to click on to answer. But then people will start to wonder why they’re doing it and whether they’re being fired. You need to approach it on a human level.
“If the goal is to see how good your organisation is, that boils down to how good your people are. So you have to make it about the people.”