It has to be one of the most exciting times our industry has been through. Certainly difficult and immensely challenging, but exciting nonetheless.
Even the great contrarian investor Warren Buffett is seeing value in daily newspapers.
The newspaper industry has been weakened. And many of those who have felt victimised or vilified by our publications (in the public interest, of course) are now coming out to sink their boots into our battered carcasses.
Something is happening though. Our staff, which was initially taken aback by a fall from grace, are now showing signs of understanding just how important our pictures, stories, and advertising are to our communities.
Instead of giving our stories away free on the Internet in a daily database dump of information, we are starting to think about how our stories are sub-edited and presented in a more valuable way on many new platforms.
The advertising possibilities are changing rapidly with the equivalent of full-page ads appearing on digital formats with animation, video, colour, and hypertext links. Amazing.
We are beginning to see green shoots from executive encouragement of risk taking and creativity. Senior executives and even company chairman have been heard to mutter “be bold.”
But how do we make sure we don’t miss the opportunity to grasp this momentous chance for transformation and success?
At The Chronicle, an APN News & Media newspaper, we have seized many such opportunities:
- Niche publishing: Our features/telemarketing team developed the “Black Book,” a small publication with targeted distribution to support the advertisers that advertise escort services in our publications.
“Black Book” utilises our existing resource and is aimed at a distinct target group with special editorial that would not run in our community newspapers. Staff members have tested various advertisers and are finding a group of new advertisers that value this audience.
- Custom publishing: Our retail team approached the state branch of the Country Women’s Association to custom-publish a magazine for the group. We write and sell the advertising, using our state newspaper network to promote the publication four times a year.
The aim of the magazine is to present a contemporary view of the organisation and attract new members to the CWA. It has provided us with the opportunity to work with advertisers outside our market. We have also been fortunate enough to publish the group’s unique cookbook, which has already sold around 30,000 copies.
- Newspaper-inserted magazine: Our staff members have taken ownership of our Style magazine. Through their passion and commitment, they have built up a strong monthly magazine that allows us to secure advertising from a new market that does not traditionally use the newspaper.
As part of the magazine’s promotion, staff took the initiative to organise a charity race day. To date there are 200 tickets sold at A$90 a head, and the town is buzzing about the event.
In all three cases, the initiatives have been driven by staff members and benefitted from their unique insights into the market and our customers.
We cannot all be Steve Jobs — one person with a vision that transforms an entire industry. What we do need are leaders who can encourage the small glimmers of creativity present in so many of our staff at so many levels of our business.
Our leaders need to provide the experience, resources, and support to help turn that creativity into innovation that goes straight to our bottom line. We don’t need one idea that leads to an innovation but hundreds of them.
Our businesses, after all, are made up of hundreds of parts. And the whole is worth much more than the sum of the parts.
In our industry, the appetite for risk has been poor. With so many hurdles put in place to prove a case for a new venture, ideas go terminal just after (or sometimes before) a business case is constructed with ROI and payback periods, etc.
Sometimes you have to have faith in people to follow through on ideas they are passionate about, making sure you provide the guidance and support to ensure that financial disasters are avoided and the political barriers are removed.
It is often the case that a big idea launched with a lot of fanfare (and a mandatory project name) can do harm if it goes off the rails, because no one pulls up early. Precious time and resources are tied up keeping the project alive when it would be better to do a quick side shuffle and kick start another project.
Lessons learnt and acknowledged can be used to grow the organisation’s experience curve and make for better execution the next time around.
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a number of executives innovating in areas of their own strengths and passions. It makes a lot more sense to have a number of people across the operation innovating across a number of platforms and industries.
We are a remarkable business. We have provided value for years with integrated product that presents a package containing cleverly designed and organised news, information, and advertising.
It’s time to encourage our people — mostly clever, passionate, and creative — to explore, borrow, and develop ideas with the support and guidance of the leaders within our business. The people who work in our markets know the markets and have the potential to develop one of the many innovations to move our businesses forward.
It’s the job of the leaders in our business to facilitate the development of an idea into an innovation and make a difference.