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  • feedwordpress 01:40:04 on 2014/05/19 Permalink
    Tags: Business, , Innovation Report, Jill Abramson, Leak, ,   

    The New York Times Innovation Report is Both a Manifesto and Warning For Entrenched Organizations 

    "To improve is to change; to perfect is to change often"
    ~Winston Churchill

    There are few documents, articles or any media for that matter that capture and illustrate the complex yet efficient nature of disruption than the New York Times 2014 Innovation Report. Recently leaked, presumably in some connection with the dismissal of executive editor Jill Abramson the 91 page report has been somewhat eclipsed by the debate around Abramson. But while that story has been garnering the most attention in the media—it is the innovation report which needs to be read cover to cover by anyone whose work includes a digital media component. 

    Scratch that—anyone who works should read it. And you have no excuse—I'll make it easy for you. You can download the PDF from here. Print it out or save it to your iPad/tablet but just READ IT. After spending a few hours with it myself over an evening, my conclusion was that the document, while not earth shattering in the recognition of disruption nor the recommendations to combat it—it paints an eerily detailed portrait of an entrenched organization struggling with itself to adapt, change and succeed in a world that no longer recognizes the New York Times as king of the hill. If you read between the lines as you digest the information, it is astonishingly insightful. 

    I don't think I can do the entire document justice, but I'm going to try to capture a few reoccurring themes that stood out for me. I'll also include quotes from the report—but again, please do yourself a favor and make the time to read it yourself. 

    Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 8.42.00 PM
    Page 32: "Launch efforts quickly, then iterate. We often hold back stories for publication, as we should, because they're "not quite there yet"...we can adopt a more basic form so that we start getting feedback from users and improve it over time"

    Agility in some form or another is a constant theme in the report surfacing as a response to the reason it was being championed; disruption. In fact the entire report is essentially a response to the disruption from competitors who move quickly and seem to have an intuitive understanding of customer media behaviors from mobile to social and beyond. The notion of agility highlights initiatives such as Snow Fall but also promotes a systematic approach to both experimentation and innovation highlighting setting goals and tracking progress. 

    Page 38: "At The Times, we generally like to let our wok speak for itself. We're not ones to brag. Our competitors have no such qualms, and many are doing a better job of getting their journalism in front of new readers through aggressive story promotion".

    I could not help but feel the tension in culture in nearly every page of the report. Old vs. new, editorial standards vs. attention grabbing techniques, silos vs. open collaboration—you could almost feel the palpable struggle of an established organization grappling with itself. One of the areas where you could feel culture at play was in the section where the report discusses "connection" and puts forth the idea that journalists like Nick Kristof, David Carr and Charles Duhigg—all journalists who promote their own work are doing it right and these skills can be taught. it remains to be seen if the organization can stomach a small army of staff who have built personal brands at scale and leverage them for mutual benefit. Ultimately the document evangelizes a "digital first" movement to be embraced in all corners of the organization, de-emphasizing the front page, print and other hold outs from a previous era. Some would question if it's too late—but that's where the report is rooted. 

    Customer Centricity
    Page 60: "The many business-side development and roles which we refer to as "Reader Experience" throughout this report —need to work more closely with the newsroom instead of being kept at arm's length."

    I debated on elevating this, but I think it's a macro theme in the report and it's not unusual for any organization, especially a large one that has enjoyed dominance in market for a time to lose sight of how their customers think, act and behave as it relates to the world you have in common. There are numerous areas in the report that reference how the NYT's competition have seemingly mastered timeliness, relevance or features which media consumers can't get enough of. The report also goes into some detail about the silos the organization needs to work through as an impediment to serving the modern needs of customers. it seems elementary, but there's enough evidence to support a concerted effort to make "Reader Experience" a top priority. 

    Page 88: "I looked around the organization and saw the plum jobs—even the ones with explicitly digital mandates—going to people with little experience in digital. Meanwhile, journalists with excellent digital credentials were stuck moving stories around on section fronts"

    There were numerous references to the type of talent The Times had at their disposal from analysts to design to technology, product, R&D and more but it wasn't toward the end that you got the sense that there was a struggle to ensure that the right talent was retained. Digital talent by definition can be fickle, impatient and drawn to emerging trends (as digital media typically is always evolving)—but you got a sense from the report that there was a concern for today's departures becoming tomorrow's competitors. 

    Summary: Disruption Happens
    The NYT Innovation Report provides a glimpse into an industry under tremendous pressure and illustrates what it looks and feels like for a large, established organization with a rich heritage to come to terms with a world that looks very different than it did when tried and true formulas worked. It should be required reading for any executive or professional whose job it is to make sure their business is resilient enough to thrive in spite of change. In short, being an entrenched organization or a business resistant to change is no longer a viable strategy. 

    Also: See Scott Monty's excellent take on the same subject. 

  • feedwordpress 02:55:31 on 2013/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: Business, ,   

    What Comes After Social? 

    Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 8.57.11 PM

    Social media has been good to me. It's re-defined my career, opened new doors and enabled me to make connections that would have been impossible had the Web not gotten connected. I started blogging in 2006 and in less than a year found myself in the pages of BusinessWeek. From there things only got more interesting, not only for me personally but for the business world at large. One by one, brands, organizations and even governments had to come to terms with the connected Web and subsequently the rapid evolution of mobile. It all makes me wonder what's next—and I've been thinking a lot about it. Here are a few not so random thoughts. Many of them fall under the lens of marketing and communications, where I spend a lot of my professional time. Consider it thinking aloud: 

    Social Increasingly Becomes a Paid Game
    The early days of social under the broader context of the marketing function was organic by nature. Facebook, Twitter etc. weren't even thinking of monetization models—for them it was about building an audience around the platforms. Today, it's increasingly difficult to reach an audience through your social channels without leveraging a paid component. 

    Content Isn't Enough Anymore
    The problem with content is that it can be anything. Text. Photos. Video. It's not enough. People don't share content but they do share stories which resonate with them and their friends/connections. Telling really good stories is hard. Today, we have to be able to do it in a single Instagram sized image and in a six second Vine. We also need to be able to make marketing feel like something bigger—something with a larger purpose. It's the reason we see Dove and Guinness and instantly want to share the story. This is not content—it's a narrative. Narrative which stops us in our tracks and breaks through the noise to earn our attention.

    Integrated Marketing Becomes Mandatory
    One of the stories I love to tell about Oreo is how they launched Instagram. "Dunk In The Dark" is a diversion—a one hit wonder, but Oreo is a masterful integrated marketer and incorporated social and digital into their Superbowl advertising, leveraging paid dollars and creativity to build a sizable audience on Instagram literally overnight. Why this story doesn't get told more is beyond me. Smart integrated marketing is the future, while social one hit wonders will become a thing of the past. 

    Art Director + Copywriter + Social Engineer: The Creative Team of Tomorrow
    As someone who works in the "Public Relations" industry, I can reflect upon how we were quick to hire social savvy individuals who knew how to manage and grow communities. Now we hire creatives and planners who must figure out how to partner with these social savvy individuals. Madison avenue was built on the duo of art directors and and copywriters. Tomorrow's creative team will be a trio at the core (and don't forget analytics).  

    ROI Becomes An Efficiency Play
    The early days of social revolved around proving out a specific ROI (did you sell more X?) for example. But in the maturation phase that we are in today—under a marketing lens, it becomes about proving out that metrics like reach and impressions were achieved at a cost reduction, or even better, cost reduction combined with qualitative benefits like better targeting (did you reach the right people?). 

    Yesterday's disruption was digital. It created a new economic model and dominant players (Google, Amazon, Apple, etc.). Social came next followed by the infusion of mobile—we consume information and participate on demand, anytime, anywhere. But none of these things can be viewed in isolation. I've talked about the responsive marketing model recently and some even talk about the responsive organization. Even marketing in an iterative and more agile fashion has to be a connected part of a bigger machine. I believe what comes after social looks more like the aggregate of many pieces vs. the single view of one or two which have dominated the industry discourse for years. It's time to elevate the role of digital, social and mobile as core elements of a bigger, complex and integrated machine. 

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