Key strategies to battle creative destruction
Key strategies to battle creative destruction
What's more important to publishers today, transformation or maximising what you have?

I'm getting a vague sense, this the third week of the New Year, that many newspapers are awakening to this question.

Newspaper executives accustomed to their still-generous holiday schedules – yes, some still haven't returned to the office as of this writing – are feeling the full effects of 18 months of downsizing.

Two and three jobs have been crammed into one, yet the same amount of work is expected to be produced. The New Year always produces a rush of activity in newspaper offices, and the 2010 rush is burying many offices.

Where do we get the mental bandwidth to squeeze in time to think about where our business is going? Or is that something we ponder in a serene moment during the next family vacation or overly generous holiday?

As precipitous revenue declines evolve into smaller revenue declines, I sense a retreat from transformation strategies at newspapers. Ask the CEO, and he'll engage you quite properly. But desperate times bred thoughts of new business models, new initiatives, a new way of looking at our industry. Time got carved out, even if much of that got centralised at corporate offices instead of using newspapers as ideas centers.

It's as if we've taken our foot off the transformation accelerator. Good times are returning soon, and we simply need to sell harder, market harder, work harder.

In the two most recent editions of Ideas Magazine, INMA members have been treated to two of the most profound looks at transformation – one with an eye toward the practicalities of transition and one with an eye toward how digital technology has turned upside-down other industries:

Advertising management: shared resources, local management, strategic partnerships
Advertising management: shared resources, local management, strategic partnerships
  • Smaller may be better, long-term: In the January 2010 edition, Guardian Media digital strategist Simon Waldman previews his upcoming book on creative disruption by applying the lessons from the encyclopaedia, music, software, and consumer electronics industries to newspapers. Yet beware: the happy ending is full of innovation and balanced business models ... and small companies.

  • New approaches to circulation, advertising sales: In the November/December 2009 edition, author James Gold discussed driving growth through strategic transformation. In short, he says newspapers aren't build for the challenges in today's market and instead require fundamental changes to their organisational structures and how different operations and company elements interact with each other.

I bring these articles to your attention because, while intriguing, neither are “sexy.” Transformation requires incredible brainpower and patience.

Waldman shines the brightest light on Encyclopaedia Britannica which was devastated by competitors on CD and the internet. Yet the company reinvented itself across platforms to become perhaps more profitable on a margin basis than ever before. From a 1990 sales peak of US$650 million, though, their revenue declined 80% to an estimated US$130 million. Can newspapers deliver value 80% smaller than they are today?

Gold's road to transformation trudges through resource allocation theories and, ultimately, practically applying these to new approaches for circulation and advertising sales. Yet his road is the closest thing I've seen to a “how-to” road map at making sales operations more efficient and effective – a process that most newsmedia companies are loathe to invest time in.

We can't give up our focus on the transformation of processes and business models that this industry is built on. We need it at the local newspaper level, the corporate office level, and at the press association level.

INMA will keep pushing. Will you?