When I started this blog, in April, 2008, all I knew was that we needed to explore new ways to fulfill our mission of being the “information provider of choice”. After 21 months of exploration and experimentation we have a plan that needs to be executed.
There are many nuances to this plan, but the core of it revolves around a few concepts:
- We need to use all the tools at our disposal today, and the many that will be coming, to enable anyone in the various communities we serve to engage in the issues important to them and to ease their commercial transactions.
- Our products of today – newspaper, magazines, television, websites, shoppers – need to be recreated to fill a defined role in an integrated local information ecosystem. These packaged products will all have roles, but will not be able to meet all the information needs of the people we serve.
- To best define our products, we need to adopt the best practices of brand management as used in many consumer products companies today.
- To satisfy the information needs of our users, we need to create information in the first instance in such a way that it can be easily flow into products, or be accessible to anyone with the properly tuned digital device. The sources of that information should be transparent, and related information, and the context of that information should be easily obtained.
- To ease commercial transactions, sellers need to be able to reach audiences, down to an audience of one.
In order to pursue these concepts, we have had to make some big changes, primarily in reorganizing our legacy print and broadcast companies, although commercial printing, packaging and distribution have seen significant changes as we took on the work of printing two newspapers, and distributing one of those and another newspaper.
Last year at this time we were organized by product, with each product having its own integrated company – print, broadcast and commercial printing. Print and broadcast each developed digital products related to their core product. We were creating content in the first instance for the applicable packaged product – newspaper article or broadcast video. We did not have a digital strategy focused on the user experience. So, changes were necessary.
The biggest changes were separating content creation from product creation, setting up a separate digital products group, and creating one sales force designed to connect audiences with advertisers. We have only been experimenting with those changes for the last 8 months, and know we need to make further changes. Change management is critical. The first step in that process is understanding why changes are necessary.
Let’s start with the separation of content creation and product creation. We cannot pursue our 5 core concepts unless information is created in the first instance without regard to product or display. When I asked Becky Lutgen Gardner and Steve Lorenz to tackle that less than a year ago, many people in our company could not imagine such a split. How would the work get done, on deadline? Steve and Becky did a great job making that initial split, but our experience has shown that we did not get it completely right. The daily tensions between the two groups are not creative tensions, leading to a better system, but are the result of flawed expectations and processes. The products have not redefined their role in the local information system and content creation has not defined the core local information they will curate. So, I have asked Steve and Becky and their staffs to go back to the drawing board and create a better system.
Products cannot create their focus without understanding the user experience and the user’s core information needs. Our industry, and our company, do not have a history of strong brand management focused on the end user. So, we are looking nationally for a new leader of brand management. If we can find someone who will accelerate our development, that person will be responsible for all product management and marketing, and Steve Lorenz will focus on print product management.
Our print, digital and broadcast products each need technical production of their products. Print and broadcast each have a dedicated production staff. Digital production is currently housed within our Information Technology department. We are searching for a new leader of digital production, to partner with Shannon Booth, our leader of digital products.
For the last 127 years, our information has been designed for our products, and our products have defined our relationship with our communities. We have created deep emotional ties to our products, both within our company and within our communities. We need to begin to create emotional ties to an integrated local information ecosystem, and the multiple ways we can access that system. That requires a definition of a brand promise and a new way to talk about the system, without regard to our existing products, which all have strong brands.
I will write more on the branding process later, as well as our content creation efforts and audience focused efforts.
What do you think so far? What does not make sense?