I should be in the gym right now instead of writing this blog post. Like most people, I suck at keeping my New Years resolutions. That doesn’t stop me from telling other people what I think theirs should be.
So here they are, the 7 New Years resolutions newspaper execs should be making in 2010. I've saved the hardest one for last.
Resolution 1: We will talk to our advertisers.
Sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how little communication there is between newspaper executives and the people who pay the bills. In talking to advertisers directly, instead of through the sales team (if you actually bother to do that), news execs will learn that advertisers are completely focused on return on their advertising investment and that the more they know about what drives ROI, the less likely they are to be advertising in a general news environment.
Another interesting thing about advertisers is that the smart ones often know your readers better than you do. Marketers know that it is better to study who a person is rather than ask them what they want. It’s their job to know their consumers. They spend a lot of time and money understanding the interests, lifestyes, needs (and yes, purchasing behaviour) of consumers during various stages of their lifecycle.
And who are your readers? Yup. Consumers. Knowing them better could change your content strategy.
Resolution 2: We will not rely on banners and big boxes for our online ad revenue.
Two words – ad blindness. My theory is that this is a much bigger problem online than in print due to the templated nature of most websites. When you see the same layout on page after page, you’re more likely to start ignoring the ads. Dismally declining click-through rates support this theory.
Online advertising needs to become a lot smarter. There needs to be more cooperation between advertiser, sales rep and editorial department so that custom advertising products such as sponsorships, content integration, events and exclusive access promotions can be created.
Resolution 3: We will create vertical sites.
Context drives engagement. Engagement drives ROI for advertisers. It’s such a simple formula. Don’t let content farms like AOL’s robo-content management system and Demand Media win in this space.
Use your data. Analyze audience and revenue trends in your market and then build vertical sites to serve them. Create high quality environments that readers love and advertisers love more by including a mix of news, information, data, listings, maps, advertising and e-commerce.
Resolution 4: We will become the Complete Community Connection in our town or city.
In Steve’s words:
“For consumers, we will be their essential connection to community life – news, information, commerce, social life. Like many Internet users turn first to Google, whatever their need, we want Eastern Iowans to turn first to Gazette Communications, whatever their need. For businesses, we will be their essential connection to customers, often making the sale and collecting the money. We will become the Complete Community Connection.
Resolution 5: We will start blogging and Twittering.
Don’t tell me you’re too busy. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian does it. Kai Keikmann, head of Bild does it. Arianna and Tina do it. It’s now a basic requirement of your job. When anyone with a keyboard can be a publisher, you can no longer afford to hide behind your (dwindling) staff.
Listen to your audience and just like your advertisers, they will tell you important things you didn’t know.
And, appoint a community manager if you don’t have one. It’s 2010 for God sake!
Resolution 6: We will not erect pay walls where we are not providing unique value.
Think very carefully about the value you are supplying and how easily it could be replicated by a lower cost organization. Yes, I know, it works for the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. That’s because financial sites provide value that is difficult to replicate and directly impacts a user’s wallet. It doesn’t hurt that the audience for financial sites are wealthier than the population at large and work for organizations that pay their subscriptions for them.
Where’s your value? Put up a pay wall without finding it and you will assure your own quick demise while enabling new competitors to enter the market.
Resolution 7: We will get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Integrating your print and online organizations feels good. It looks good on paper. It makes you look like a take-charge leader whose eyes are on the future as your feet are planted firmly in the needs of today. It keeps the print people from feeling that they are forgotten, left to manage decline as their skill sets become obsolete. It makes the digital people miserable, but who cares about them? They think they’re smarter than everyone else and that’s really annoying. Besides, they’ll get used to it soon enough.
Know what else feels good? E-readers. They allow you to essentially duplicate the print experience online in a controlled, closed environment that looks an awful lot like our traditional printed product but with videos and photo galleries. And, there’s no need to link to other sites or allow readers to comment or interact with us in any way. Perfect. Never mind that that’s not really how people use electronic media.
Ooh, and it’s also comfortable to tie most of your online revenue to classified advertising and then tie that to print revenue. You can call it “leveraging our core assets”.
There’s just one problem with comfortable solutions. In the online world, chances are, if a solution makes you feel comfortable and in control, it’s probably not radical enough to work.
That’s also why when the online industry as a whole saw the beginnings of an advertising recovery with a Q309 increase of 1.7% over Q209, newspaper online advertising still declined 4.6%.
Stop trying to feel comfortable. You are not in a comfortable situation.