Digital Transformation Expert Offers 10 Ways to Succeed

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dietmar1“This is the best time to be in media,” Dietmar Schantin told me last month. “You can’t succeed anymore with [a] vanilla [approach]. Good, relevant content will always succeed. Every journalist should be happy about this; now it is about being new and creative.”

However, the transformation to this new and creative is not easy, Schantin said. He should know. He has spent the last 10 years working with media companies on digitalization and newsroom transformation—first as executive director of WAN-IFRA, the world organization of news publishers and then for the company he founded in 2012, the Institute for Media Strategies in London.

He called a month ago at about 10 pm for him. For someone so accomplished—he also has a Ph.D. in Economics and Technology—he’s very nice and to the point. Here’s some of what he urged that night with a mix from hisexcellent blog post on the Seven Pitfalls of Digital Transformation.

1. Explain the why. “This is very often not done,” Schantin said. “[The message is] we have to change and do it differently.  When we work with companies, we explain the why and then how. The transformation project looks completely different if you do it in that sequence.”

2. Choose clear goals. “Rather than picking out clear goals and then working towards them, a lot of organizations try to avoid the sticky problems by coming up with a vision,” he wrote. “As the old joke goes, ‘If you have visions then go see a doctor.’ Far too many ‘visions’ are actually marketing slogans unrelated to attainable goals.”

3. Choose leaders carefully. “The biggest surprise for me [from visiting media companies] was the extreme lack of management leadership skills,” Schantin said. He saw good section heads and journalists “get promoted for skills they don’t need to have” in the next position. “Transformation comes down to leaders,” he said. “Some leaders don’t want to accept help. The role of decision-makers changes profoundly during transformation.”

4. Attend—and send people to—conferences and training. Schantin strongly believes in events like last week’s SIIA summit in London where he spoke and the upcoming Business Information & Media Summit in Fort Lauderdale. (Look who’s attending.)

“Training, education, coaching, job shadowing and, yes, even counseling are as much a part of the process [as] rolling out new digital products,” he wrote. “Training costs money, but it costs a lot less than the wastage and losses that result from stressed and confused staff trying to work out what [leadership has] ordered.”

5. Identify the people who want to change. “You have hugely qualified people in your organization; it would be a waste not to develop them in the right direction. It’s important to find out if they want to change and develop,. Don’t waste time. Identify people who want to be part of the future, support them whenever is possible. They need to be given a chance.”

6. Don’t judge by age. “It has nothing to do with age; it’s a pure mindset attitude,” he said. “People younger than me, in their 20s, often have more trouble to adjust.” He said that older people might embrace the new—after doing the same-old for many years—and that young people may believe they know everything and aren’t as willing to listen.

7. Take advantage of the opportunity to put on events. Be the one running the events—that’s where the benefit is. “We should create our own event organization unit. It’s crucial to build the right contacts. As far as I know, the more virtual that our life becomes, the more people want to have face-to-face contact again. We are social creatures. The social factor of interactive will never change. This is a huge opportunity.”

8. Take a fresh look at everything you do. “We see plenty of examples where the editorial conference is kept at 10:30 a.m. simply because that’s how it was always done when it was a print-only process,” Schantin wrote. “Except that doesn’t make sense anymore in a digital environment where the first usage peak is at 8 a.m…. You need digital natives in your company to change climate and culture.

9. Provide the necessary tools. Asking journalists to create rich media content without providing adequate smartphones and suitable data contracts only causes frustration,” he wrote. “Talking about keeping an eye on real-time digital behaviour without investing in professional analytics tools beyond freeware dwarfs good intentions and concepts.”

10. Get out of [a strictly] publishing mindset. Schantin offered one other good line, for when your digital transformation isn’t going as well as it should. “Why?” he asks. “It all looked so good on (e)paper.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…