Shaping your digital business for 2010

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What struck me most about the AOP’s forum was the gentle patter of realism.

Similar digital publishing seminars and conferences in the past have often boasted what might best be described as “digital extremists” who argue that traditional media is doomed and digital business should be built from scratch. At this event, speakers from the FT.com, Deloitte, WAN-IFRA and Auto Trader focused on the challenges for any traditional media company trying to increase the percentage of its digital business. But they also argued that this current, hybrid state was not just inevitable but appropriate.

The best parallel came from Deloitte’s Howard Davies. He pointed out that a hybrid car like the Toyota Prius was absolutely essential until cheaper rechargeable batteries or recharging points became widely available. He then argued that traditional media similarly had to “run a mixture of models for a while” because “the digital motorway still did not run everywhere in the UK” and its take-up was slowing.

I’ve copied my Twitters (and expanded some of those that are less than comprehensible!) from the event below.

FT.com’s Head of Product Management Mary Beth Christie

  • All attendees to the forum were invited to draw smiley faces on a flipchart – FT realised its employees had as diverse views of the web as the variety of smiley faces drawn by the attendees of the forum.
  • FT’s solution to the conflicting demands of journalists, protective of the value of their content, and management focused on revenue was pay wall for each user after 10 free stories a month.
  • FT’s advice: make all those impacted by a launch (journalists, sales or operations) make the time to find out about a new launch. No one (CEO to reporter/sales exec) is too busy. Or don’t complain after launch!
  • More expensive to make a traditional business digital than from new – like rewiring an old house than building new.

Deloitte’s Media Partner Howard Davies

  • Don’t just push yourself into an exclusive digital space because everyone else appears to be there; the boundary between traditional and digital media is an area not a wall.
  • “The digital motorway does not go everywhere.” In fact the numbers for digital conversion are slowing leaving the percentage of those using traditional media at a considerable number remains substantial (only 84% on mobile, 76% have a PC and only 62% are on broadband).
  • Just as the electric hybrid car, the Prius was produced because it was just too early for pure electric cars, so media will continue to run both traditional and digital media for a while.
  • Good leaders see digital’s frequent failures as part of the learning process.
  • Take some breaks from your digital journey.
  • Few publishers value the Long Tail any more (a reference to Chris Anderson’s book which argues that the web allows retailers to sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities), claims Davies, since who has resources to cater for the visitor who comes once a month.
  • Digital forces not just a change of behaviour but also culture. And you cannot change culture, you can only build it.
  • Why resistance to digital? Lack of vision, goal, structure, support, communication, information and involvement lead to a climate of fear.
  • Most problems with change management occur because people are expected to implement without explanation and adopt without support.

WAN-IFRA’s Dr Dietmar Schantin

  • Digital forces a change to a company’s culture, not just behaviour. Yet you cannot change culture only build it.
  • Why resistance to digital? Lack of vision, goal, structure, support, communication, information and involvement from team leaders create a climate of fear.
  • Most problems with change management occur because people are expected to implement without explanation and adopt without support.

Trader Media Group’s Digital Publishing Director, Edwin Ulak

  • Historically, the Trade Media Group set up its digital business as a national one to compete with its existing 13 print businesses.
  • When the company’s digital revenue overtook print revenue there were only 250 employed on digital and 3500 still on print.
  • Incentivise and motivate sales team not just on revenue but also profitable growth.

Runcat Consulting’s Tom Turcan

  • Don’t underestimate the value of a good party to help relieve stress during a period of change.

Here is the AOP’s own report on the forum.

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