Newspapers are “not dead yet”


Some of my contemporaries may recall the 1975 comedic film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Set in the Middle Ages, it is a parody of the Arthurian legend. I bring it to your attention because there is a disturbingly morbid scene depicting the gathering and disposal of the dead during the plague.

Actor Eric Idle plays the “dead collector,” who is asked to take away the body of an unwanted elderly man who is protesting that he is not dead.

All too often I feel the newspaper industry has been cast in the role of the unwanted elderly man. But we are not dead either.

We are allowing ourselves to be miscast as the media equivalent of the dinosaur; we’re perceived by the undereducated to be extinct in modern times, despite the fact we are surrounded by descendants of dinosaurs.

Birds, the most diverse group of land vertebrates on Earth (10,000+ species), are both a testament to evolution and the longevity of the dinosaur. In my opinion, like the dinosaur and the bird, our media organisations have a future.

But success may lead us to find ourselves looking like a very different business.

In previous blogs, I have referenced the damaged brand of newspapers, as well as the need for us to evolve rapidly in response to the changing market. I have also called on newspapers to position themselves as winners and embrace their role as multi-media solutions providers.

Well, I am encouraged that the leadership of the industry is realising that, while things may be different, they are not over. Today I plan to briefly discuss one “MUST DO” component of the successful future of our media organisations that many media companies are embracing robustly and strategically – “investment.”

In the past, savvy newspaper leaders made strategic investments in new color presses, productivity-enhancing digital technology, packaging and distribution infrastructure, etc.

Investments were predominantly of a “capital” nature: facilities, equipment, etc. Recognition that our human resource infrastructure also required renewal and retooling, on the other hand, was rare.

The most encouraging aspect of the current environment that I see is the recognition that we need to invest in people. And not an “out with the old, in with the new” approach. Although new talent is always welcomed, there is a new commitment to bring existing employees along on the journey.

I realise it might sound ludicrous to those who point to layoffs, payroll and benefit cuts, and/or furloughs. But I am referring to the fact that leaders at many properties I have visited now recognise more than ever before that they need to invest in the ongoing professional development/education of their remaining employees.

Cost-cutting is in the end merely a short-term survival strategy, not the pathway to success.

I could point to examples of this commitment in any department, but the most germane to my column is advertising.

There is recognition that we cannot just sell harder to make up for losses in traditional print revenue. Just as technological developments render aging systems obsolete, the skill sets we are sending into the competitive sales environment are also out of date.

For decades, we armed our “sales mechanics” with the biggest hammer/audience we could and sent them out to “fix” the advertisers’ problems. But not every problem calls for a hammer these days.

Today, if we are doing it right, our sales mechanics are carrying a well-stocked toolbox, with ratchet wrenches (targeted impression campaigns), screwdrivers (email), pliers (SEM/SEO), etc. But do they (account executives) know how to use all the tools? And have they been taught how to diagnose the clients’ needs?

That’s where I am most encouraged. From “Web Wednesday” weekly training programmes to two-day monthly training retreats, I can bear witness to the investment in the knowledge and professionalism of front-line sales teams. I can also testify that clients are responding, and success is emerging in the marketplace.

I know for a fact our traditional broadcast competitors cannot resource this effort as well as we can, and that our new competitors in the pure-play and niche digital arenas cannot be both as broad and as intense in what they bring to market.

What are you doing to renew/resource your sales teams? Please, comment and contribute your thoughts!

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