Change or die: Why failure to act is not an option for news media companies

By Geoff Tan

Singapore Press Holdings Limited



I spoke at an industry conference recently and titled my presentation Innovate, Don’t Constipate. It drew a full after-lunch audience, all eager to take in what was behind this provocative declaration.

From the feedback I received from the folks who patiently waited in line to chat with me after my talk, the stern warning I issued from the podium seemed to have gone down extremely well.

My message to the legacy publisher community that formed the majority of the audience was delivered loud and clear: Change or die, which I simply referred to as the C.O.D. Protocol.

With failure not being an option for those of us who still see value in the power of print, the clarion call is to mobilise ourselves and forage into deep unknown territory to unravel the hidden potential in newspaper media.

Media companies must keep pursuing new monetisation verticals if they are to stay relevant.
Media companies must keep pursuing new monetisation verticals if they are to stay relevant.

Each and every one of us worth our salt should be looking at disrupting the norm, shifting the paradigm, and innovating like hell. The “walls” between sales and editorial, sales and circulation, and sales and production should already have been broken down, and these intra-departmental partnerships must positively result in new business models leading to new revenue streams.

Both vertical and horizontal monetisation strategies need to be employed to squeeze out every single dollar. Vertical monetisation strategies may include the birth of new advertising units, multi-sensory advertising options, code technology, paper and ink innovations, subscription bundling, etc.

Horizontal monetisation would include the likes of incorporating content on the iPad, Android, and iPhone; gamification; database marketing; content extension, over-the-top television; second-/third-screen augmentation; etc.

The orientation of the salesperson must change as well. Instead of selling features, we need to sell more benefits. Instead of flogging off inventory, we should be sharing ideas. Instead of pushing boxes off shelves, we should be pumping out solutions. Instead of being transactional, we should be more consultative.

Get an agency to train our sales folks. They meet with every conceivable salesperson across the entire media eco-system. Ask them to be honest with us and tell us how we fare against the competition. Then ask them to put themselves in our shoes and teach us how to sell to “them.”

We must realise by now that future-proofing our business is no longer uni-directional. It must be multi-pronged and omni-directional.

The conservative staid old culture that we are all too familiar with must be replaced with a start-up mentality. Timelines have to be drastically shortened. Launches need to be frequent.

Imagine that the organisation we work for has just been incorporated based on a hunch and, as founders, we take it upon ourselves to bootstrap so as to keep costs manageable. Due to the fact this cannot be sustained over a long period of time, the mandatory impetus is to move fast and treat everything with urgency, cognisant of the fact that if we don’t progress swiftly according to compressed timelines, the business will go down.

Leverage data science to throw light on new customer segments. Tap into behavioural targeting to match the right ads with the right people. Get into social listening to remain current. Respect the tripartite eco-system comprising the media owner, advertiser, and agency (creative, media, and public relations). Don’t neglect trade engagement initiatives that build stickiness with our B2B customers.

Let’s get real: Digital is not the only saviour qualified to rescue a declining print product. Reinforcements can come from a myriad of un-tried channels empowered by technology and more. New revenue streams can also come from old art forms infused with a fresh lease on life.

An example we at Singapore Press Holdings have had huge success with is relearning the art of origami. When innovatively applied to an advertisement, a flat piece of newsprint can be “magically” transformed into a three-dimensional Christmas tree ornament, simply with a few twists and turns.

This is certainly a fun way to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars from brand owners who are hungry for ideas that creatively amplify their product proposition.

I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again: Media should never be spelt in this way. With consumer-centricity in mind, our sales consultants must consciously work hard to bring ideas to the customers’ table. Media, in this day and age, should be spelt midea, because if your clients like your idea, they will surely buy your media.

When you spell it right, you will sell it right! When you innovate, you won’t constipate!

About Geoff Tan

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