Globe and Mail shares top 3 print, digital transformation lessons

By Adrian Norris

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

One Friday afternoon, Phillip Crawley, publisher of The Globe and Mail, called me into his office and said, “As of Monday, you’re redesigning the print newspaper, its first major overhaul in seven years. You have six months.”

A redesign was no surprise. Like many media groups, The Globe and Mail is fighting decreasing print ad revenues, and the consequent reduction in number of pages supported by ads. We were also in the middle of redesigning all of our digital and app products. The print product would need to reflect the new, streamlined look of our digital environment.

A recent print redesign at The Globe and Mail was largely driven by wisdom and discoveries made on the digital side of the business.
A recent print redesign at The Globe and Mail was largely driven by wisdom and discoveries made on the digital side of the business.

The entire company was in the process of transformation and the revitalised print edition was the culmination of the changes, demonstrating our commitment to print and showcasing our award-winning journalism. And there was no doubt in my mind, with the talented team, we’d achieve the December 1 launch date.

The experience was exhausting, inspiring, and exhilarating. It was also an incredible learning experience. Here’s what we discovered:

1. Data matters.

Our emphasis on using information derived from our reader data made our transformation better. The Globe’s propriety data tool, Sophi, is used on our digital properties to understand real-time and historical engagement with our content. We can promote the stories our audience wants, when they’re seeking them, and on the platform they prefer. Sophi confirms the gut instincts of our editors.

Through Sophi, we discovered that our audience values original Globe content, and in particular, our news and insights. Using this knowledge, we created a new Opinion section in the Weekend Globe, collecting insights and commentary together for an evocative, and sometimes provocative, read. The section has garnered positive reviews since launch.

2. Platform performance is key.

We know our journalism draws in readers, but we need to support that content with fast, stable platforms. People simply were not waiting for stories that took three seconds to load. In 2016, The Globe and Mail partnered with The Washington Post to become the largest North American media company to use the Arc technology platform.

More than a content management system, Arc is a tool for high-quality digital storytelling. Underlying our Web, tablet, and mobile sites, as well as our apps, Arc means that our audience can access the full breadth of Globe news and insights. We’ve increased engagement more than 30% and decreased Web site page-load speed by almost 50%.

We’ve used the same idea for the print redesign. We wanted a simple, elegant design that made vivid images pop from the page and showcased our journalism. We wanted the design of our print platform — the newspaper — to reflect the quality of The Globe’s reporters, columnists, and data journalists. We brought in more flexible grids and layout options to give editors more choice in how to display stories in the most engaging way.

3. Launch doesn’t equal done.

After the launch of all our products, we commit to a period of assessment. What’s working for our audience? What can we tweak to improve the experience? With the print redesign, feedback led to further adjustments with our puzzle section, sports, and business agates; some design elements; and how we choose images for the newspaper.

I expect that more will come as readers become more comfortable with our new look, and we begin to explore how we can use the newspaper best to showcase Globe journalism. The same philosophy underlies our digital products, which we upgrade frequently to ensure the fastest, most stable experience.

Like all complex, long-term, multi-team projects, the redesign was not without its challenges. When we reached an obstacle, we returned to our core goal: How do we make this better for our readers? As an audience-first company, we always knew focusing on the audience would lead us to the right choice.

About Adrian Norris

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