Now is the time for bold revenue diversification at media companies of all sizes


David Kelley, founder and chairman of IDEO, was one of the more compelling speakers at this year’s INMA World Congress conference.

INMA always does a nice job including several speakers at its events who provide a distinctly outsider perspective, and Mr. Kelley was a good example of this practice. 

Kelley explained his approach to creating an idea-friendly atmosphere by reacting to new ideas with an “I like” or “I wish” beginning to sentences. In that vein, in reaction to this year’s World Congress event, I would say I liked the ideas I heard from several news media groups. And I wish my small, independent media company had the wherewithal to aggressively mimic what groups here are already doing.

For our newspaper, and likely for many others out there, we have increasingly limited resources and must be very frugal with our time, both for new ventures and with respect to changing the way we do our daily work.

So, we have to pick our paths wisely and often, seeing what others are doing, adapting those ideas to our market, then further adapting (or abandoning those ideas) based on market reactions.

I believe strongly that, despite our resource challenges (and, indeed, because of them), now is the time for bold revenue diversification investment, not conservative over-analysis. 

We won’t get where we need to go as an industry by waiting around. 

It was roughly a year ago that we began to analyse our opportunities in the digital services arena. Around the time of last year’s World Congress, when, among others, The Dallas Morning News was sharing its progress with 508 Digital and its other new ventures, we were analysing our options for this space.

Seeing others have success in this space (including DMN a year later) and recognising that our future revenue growth opportunities within online display ads alone were not likely to be enough, we spent some time and investing in analysis for our market.

We spent most of our time looking at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, roughly the same circulation size as our company and more scalable than the mammoth Dallas Morning News. We will end up stealing much of what Santa Rosa has done with its digital services programme, including some of its staff (sorry).

At the same time, ours is a different market and our company offers different strengths and weaknesses.

 After months of analysis, we committed to hiring some dedicated staff and moving forward with a multi-year investment with long-term results in mind. We’re certainly not going to be among the first media companies to enter this digital services space, but we hope to learn from the mistakes and the successes of others.

During recent years of growth in our digital ad revenue programmes, we have heard from local businesses time and time again. They tell us they don’t fully understand their digital marketing efforts; in particular, they don’t know who their site visitors are, what they want, where they come from, or how any of these efforts connect to offline business.

Our aim is to provide a deeper suite of digital services to increase the local business acumen. In addition, we want to help local companies understand the tools that are available now and in the future to better understand the role digital marketing plays and to maximise efficiencies. 

There were several ideas at this year’s INMA World Congress that were worth stealing, including:

  • From Ekstra Bladet, of Denmark: Showing a higher level of creativity required to make a go of it in the mobile advertising arena. (I loved the eye-tracking tools provided for advertisers.)

OK. Steal away!

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