October 7, 2014 Last Updated 9:43 am

Tuesday guest column: Three priorities for news media CEOs

This week TNM has invited a series of guest columnists to contribute stories on new developments with their companies, platforms, or other topics related to digital publishing

Here are three topics with significant top-line potential that should be high on the agenda of news media CEOs:

Personalization of User Experience
The standard homepage is dying. According to the latest digital report from The New York Times, ‘only a third of viewers read it and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages in 2013’. In the world of information abundance, readers increasingly ask for relevancy and selection.

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Davide Ruggiero

In an article on media job site journalism.co.uk, Josef Pfeiffer, director of product at Gravity, described the new homepage as a mix of editors’ picks and personalized stories. And this trend is not limited to the homepage, of course – each reader will be presented with a customized version of the full site.

But it is easier said than done. To achieve this, media companies must make a significant investment in the underlying technology and manage to effectively break down, store and display different versions of their content depending on the specific context (ie mobile versus desktop). Interviewed by Fortune, BuzzFeed CEO and Founder, Jonah Peretti stressed the importance of combining the medium with the content and getting real time data feedback to see what people really like and better serve their needs.

From a revenue standpoint, better personalization means:

  • Improved revenue-generating metrics (ie total traffic and time on site)
  • Targeted traffic to revenue-generating features
  • Increased unit value of ad impressions

Last but not least, personalized content has a positive impact on brand awareness. In his recent TED talk, Shane Snow, CCO at Contently, affirmed that ‘The newspapers and the magazines have historically had the biggest audiences and the most loyalty and the most trust of any other kind of business and that is because they tell consistent stories.’ What’s more, it is with the web that news media brands can and should establish a much deeper and broader relationship with their audience.

The key activities are:

  • Define the balance between personalized and standard content
  • Define content and user data structures
  • Acquire or develop a scalable technology

Brand Extension

The web has lowered barriers to entry, creating a much larger pool of media outlets and fragmenting advertising spend. As futurist Gerd Leonhard points out in his visionary speech about the future of media, most users can afford not to pay for (most) content because they have a large number of options to choose from and limited available time. As a result, earnings from traditional sources have declined, especially for media businesses with run-of-the-mill content and time-sensitive news.

On the other hand, the digital environment has unlocked a game-changing opportunity. To fully capture the value they create with editorial content, news media firms can now extend their brands more quickly and efficiently than ever before, monetizing cross-selling opportunities.

As a first step, executives should define the brand positioning and break down the target audience. Once they have obtained definite user profiles, they can identify cross-selling features. I think the crucial point is to select only what is highly relevant to segments of the audience and ensure a seamless user experience. Classified products relating to real estate, travel or cars have often been the first to be featured as a natural evolution of what was initially offered via print. Gaming and, in particular, educational gaming also seem to be highly suitable for a media environment. Other features can generate revenues via affiliate or licensing programs.

Non-editorial features can have a considerable impact on media’s profitability, but so far very few established brands have been able to offer a stand-out experience. In an upcoming post I will be analyzing how a news media firm can structure itself for success.

The key activities are:

  • Define money-making features
  • Take “Make or Buy” decisions
  • Experiment and launch

Advertising Services

At Disrupt NY 2013, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff mentioned that worldwide advertising spend stood at roughly $250 billion in 2012, 60 to 65 per cent of which went into brand building as opposed to direct response advertising. However, on the web the total spend was around $25 billion, 80 per cent of which went into direct response. It is reasonable to predict that, as consumer attention shifts to web media, online brand dollars will grow. Vox Media has then launched Vox Creative a new team that, leveraging internal capabilities such as design, storytelling, production and technology, creates beautiful advertising to help clients communicate with their respective audiences.

Content and advertising are the two principal components of a media product. However, these days digital ads tend to be more disturbing than engaging and rarely tell compelling stories. Media CEOs can leverage the core skills of their organizations to reach a dual objective: help corporate clients communicate with their audience and improve the overall quality of their media product. It is a win-win relationship provided that the integrity of the editorial team is preserved.

The key activities are:

  • Foster a collaborative culture
  • Review the organizational structure
  • Define appropriate tactics and processes

Davide Ruggiero is a former entrepreneur with a management consulting background. When he is not deeply engaged in the digital media industry he can often be found playing with his two kids or skiing off-piste.

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