Media’s digital transformation is following these 10 steps

By L. Carol Christopher


Pleasant Hill, California, United States


Going virtual was something people had to do more in 2020, which has turned into a major opportunity for many organisations. As an industry, media has never been this close to clarity about its business models and what our companies are doing on the planet, Robert Whitehead, head of the INMA Digital Platforms Initiative, said last week.

Whitehead, leading a session on digital transformation and Big Tech at the INMA World Congress of News Media, listed “10 steps to great” to “demonstrate the confidence emerging in this business .... It starts with the very top with the business model and involves value creation, value capture, and examining the operating model,” he explained before diving into his list:

1. News companies turned media platforms. “That’s quite a step from being a publisher with a handful of products … to a media platform to use journalism and other creations to bring in audiences. And then we will use those same advanced skills to monetise them against a range of opportunities,” Whitehead said. “And they can be disconnected as different priorities come and go.”

2. Tech stack and smart data at its core. “The physical manifestation of our audience obsession sits in the organisation as a tech stack and smart data, he said.

Robert Whitehead, the lead of INMA's Digital Platform Initiative, shares his "Ten Steps to Great."
Robert Whitehead, the lead of INMA's Digital Platform Initiative, shares his "Ten Steps to Great."

3. Strong core value proposition. “Only businesses with strong personalities are going to survive,” Whitehead said. Revise your value proposition into something meaningful that resonates with your audience. Then you have a chance of succeeding. Media companies need to be at the top of their specialty. Being a general news business isn’t enough; specialise in locality or your field of niche content, but most importantly, be strong. “How you represent that is demonstrated every single day in your journalism.”

4. Audience-informed journalism attracts target segments. Value creation consists of two things: A strong core value proposition, which is critical, and audience-informed journalism, which attracts target segments, Whitehead said. 

Audience-informed journalism “is not something to be scared of,” he said. “Having data around the types of stories that generate registrations, engagements, ultimately conversions — if you’re into consumer revenue and membership models, they are the things that editors have lacked for 200 years. We’ve had volume data in the last 20 years, now we have value data.  We can put that together very smartly in our tech stack. Those pipes will take meaningful, actionable data insights back to the producers and creators and editors to say we are doing the best possible journalism. It is essential that journalism now is driven by a deeper connection with what is working.”

5. Smart product optimisation: “It is important that every single product we put out there is constantly optimised and fine-tuned,” he said. It isn’t just about design thinking to come up with new products.

6. Smart consumer revenue optimisation: “As part of value capture, being able to do the same thing around smart consumer revenue. Onboarding means it is not hard to get people to register and pay and get through their first 100 days.” 

7. First-party advertising, native content, attribution, e-commerce optimisation: “The really smart change in our thinking is that we are going to use all of our smarts about consumer revenue and inject them back into the commercial side [first-party ad, native content, attribution, e-commerce optimisation]. All the things that can flow from monetisation once we have a tech stack and smart data sitting in the middle of our new business.” 

8. Automation transforms cost base and scalable opportunities: “The best advantage that we can possibly bring is automation to transform at cost base and get scalable opportunities,” he said. “Use automation for what it does better than humans, and transfer some of that human resource back into the creation and other aspects of the journalism that we are going to be able to monetise.”

9. Premium first-party alliances for scale: There will be opportunities over the next six to 12 months in the post-cookie world, he said: “We will create our own walled gardens, ability to scale, alliances with premium players, and connections with industry players and other things that will be opportunities.”

10: Community-first or franchised network strctures vs. large groups: In many countries, corporate players are putting together large networks, Whitehead said: “Have we hit peak for those kinds of maneuverings? I think it will be interesting whether we try to scale through using other forms of ownership. They could be more powerful and important than who actually owns you.”

About L. Carol Christopher

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