Data is a tool, not a strategy, as news publishers become user-centric

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Many publishers are at ground floor on their data journey, building data warehouses, finding the right talent, and working on training.

“It still seems to be a long journey for most publishers,” said Greg Piechota, INMA researcher-in-residence and head of the INMA Smart Data Initiative. But they can learn from those who are farther along on the journey and have blazed a trail for them.

Piechota kicked off the second day of the INMA World Congress of News Media, a day focused on three data case studies.

“What this transformation is really about … it’s not about data because data is an asset, Piechota said. The data is just a tool that helps us shift our focus to being customer-centric.

Some key learnings from experts he shared were:

  • Focus on customers, not on data or other assets.
  • Let insights gleaned from data drive performance.
  • Use AI to redfine your company’s operating model.

Data has helped businesses grow in the past decade because it helped publishers understand their customers better and translate that understanding into advertising revenue. Piechota pointed to The New York Times, which refocused on end consumers and saw subscriptions lift.

Through data, media companies also changed their resources, staffing, operating models, and even the company culture to improve their performance. For Norway’s Amedia, that translated to beefing up its data team: For every 100 people in the newsroom, it now has 12 engineers and two data experts.

“If you’re looking for new benchmarks, we find that increasingly companies change the structure of the newsroom, growing the tech and data part.”

Then, with these new skills and offerings, publishers can regain a greater advertising share. “And actually, this innovation can happen very quick,” he said.

When companies put data technology at the centre of their ecosystem, it provides the backbone for a digital business to emerge. At the top of the stack are services such as subscriptions, e-commerce, and advertising services that attract consumers. The data and technology platforms then allow them to perform such functions as data and consent capture, segmentation, predictions, and targeting — all leading to more monetisation opportunities.

 The data also allows for publishers to know their audience better, which leads to being able to automate recommendations and create new advertising offer. They also can collaborate with others to broaden their reach and enrich their data.

 The big question facing most publishers is how to accelerate this essential transformation. Many U.S. media and marketing companies have strategised such a solution but have yet to implement it. And half of Latin American publishers haven’t even strategised it yet. But it’s something that every publisher needs to begin thinking about, Piechota said:

“The next big thing in the shift to reader revenue is innovation in advertising thanks to new tech, data, talent and skills. It’s about how to tie your data strategy to business objectives and start building the foundations.”

The World Congress continues Tuesdays and Thursdays through May. Register here for future and recordings of past sessions.

About Paula Felps

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