The importance of capturing ideas from media’s year of “yes”

By Vivian Warby

ANA Publishing

Cape Town, South Africa

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As media leaders, 2020 was possibly most defined by the word “yes.”

During crisis management, there was no time to say no to potential ways of saving our businesses. We tried everything, even if something would have seemed outrageous a year before.

Don’t publish even one print supplement — the lifeline of your business — for more than three months? Yes, done.

Stop all freelance work to save full-time jobs? Yes, done.

Work 18-hour days? Yes, done.

Use Artificial Intelligence to write stories? Yes, done.

Merge businesses, cull divisions, halve salaries? Yes, done.

Kill printed glossy magazines and go digital? Yes, done.

I could go on.

Sharing skills and learning from colleagues in different departments was paramount for media companies in 2020.
Sharing skills and learning from colleagues in different departments was paramount for media companies in 2020.

Last year, our staff could not afford to only be content creators for our readers. We had to become business strategists too. We listened to their suggestions, and some were great.

2020 was probably one of the most innovative and creative years for media companies. For instance, our digital magazine department, which only had one magazine under its wing before the pandemic, now has more than 20 titles and more than 700 published magazines. It gathered hundreds of thousands of extra magazine readers in a time when print readership was dropping, and, in some instances, where print magazines have sadly died.

Also, new divisions started. For example, we have gone big on environment, with a dedicated digital magazine and a print and online presence that’s already gathered tens of thousands of followers that were not part of our buying cycle before.

The flavour of 360-degree offerings is now common practise in sales pitches. Print-only sales staff are now selling online and through social media.

Expansive energy has been required where “yes” was necessary.

If we had had an innovations department, something I believe all media houses should now consider, it would have been very busy. No longer did ideas remain scribbled on napkins and forgotten on top of desks, possibly even later used to clean a face and then thrown away. Last year was a year in which ideas were not only generated but many were put into action.

But, who is recording this journey? I believe media houses should record departments’ innovations in workbooks stored in a vault so we don’t repeat trying new things. And, within our own businesses, we have a fluid process for sharing skills. Organisations such as INMA that offer skills-sharing workshops and other free online courses are vital because sharing skills is more urgent than ever before.

Having a central vault accessible to any team member with an idea is also important for our individual businesses. On our side, we have a weekly meeting with our IT department staff where we learn a variety of skills such as UX writing, microcopy, SEO writing, and tagging. We hear what innovations have been tried and failed. We swap ideas. These need to be recorded and available to all so we can go on with our business. Departments that have had success in growing online audiences, for example, could write workbooks or create videos to store in the company’s vault, so they can be shared with every single area of our business.

It would be great to see every new idea go through an innovations department with an eagle’s eye view on everything new that is generated. This is where innovations could be documented so any staff member in any department could type in an idea and have access to all the pros and cons as well as the “how to” of putting ideas into action. When people leave, as they do, their knowledge would remain behind in the vault. It would also serve as a time capsule, where we record how we grow.

Innovation must serve the whole. Communication and skills sharing are imperative in a space where we don’t have room for error learning. Most importantly, we must build of a vault of Ideas and how-tos (and also how-not-tos) of tried and tested ideas. It would be an asset to any media house.

About Vivian Warby

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