8 Principles to Complete Your Digital-First Transformation

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"An editor once told me: 'Our readers have to make 100 decisions every day, and we help them with almost none of those decisions.' So one thing we have done along these lines is to launch NYT Cooking, because we believe we are in a position to actually help our readers make their food decisions on a daily basis. NYT Cooking has attracted up to 10 million users who can choose from 17,000 recipes featuring beautiful illustrations."
Michael Golden, vice chairman of The New York Times (as reported by the World News Publishing Focus)

Sure enough, a friend of mine just posted her dinner last nightrum chicken and Spanish riceadding, "Thank goodness for online recipes." Earlier this year, Golden spoke at a conference in Dubai, and delivered the eight principles that transformed The New York Times. Here is a SIPA-fied look at them:

1. Have the willingness and ability to change. "I've been in the oil publishing business for 30 years, but it took me until 2008 [to decide] we should really just go for it and become an international pricing provider," said OPIS CEO Brian Crotty (pictured). "Not to do the bold things can be a big mistake," said Don Pazour, CEO of Access Intelligence.

2. Focus aggressively on digital. Said Golden: [Your people] need to rethink: what is a story on web? It has to include photography, video and infographs. Consumers today expect that. It is what they want to see, it is what they respond to." Here are three digital tools from ASBPE that might help: Timeline: Add captions and photos into the provided Google spreadsheet and the program generates a timeline that can be embedded on your website. Juxtapose: Compare two images that highlight changes over time—perhaps for then/now and before/after stories. SoundCite: This tool embeds sound within the copy of an article.

Interestingly, when Ren LaForme, interactive learning producer at Poynter, was asked how to best learn these tools, he advised "just do it." So we have a theme here.

3. Serve readers what they want, when they want. The when could be almost as important as the what. In their 2016 Webinar Benchmarks Report, ON24 wrote that Tuesday (23%) is the best day to send a promotional email followed closely by Wednesday and Thursday (22%). Saturday/Sunday came in at 5%, but that's still 5% of your audience that you may not be reaching.

4. Try to be cool. The Times distributed 1 million Google Cardboard devices (headsets) with their Sunday circulation. Jess Tyler (pictured), show director for Access Intelligence, said they have taken the traditional passport program and gone further. Attendees still get stamped by exhibitors and get prizes, But now it's done through a mobile app. Leaderboards are put up, trivia questions are given. "You can get very creative," she said. "We had five people who got every single point. That included 160 sponsors and 10 questions." (Tyler will be speaking at the upcoming BIMS conference in Fort Lauderdale.)

5. Use data and information to drive your business. SIIA member Penton was sold today to Informa for $1.56 billion. (Here's the release.) Part of what drove the price is that "Penton has been significantly transformed from predominantly a print business into a preeminent professional information services company." Jeffrey Litvack, managing director at Xcel Advisors, spoke earlier this year about taking unstructured data and giving it structure. He said at ALM they took data from the Department of Labor, structured it, created algorithms, and then sold it back to the Department of Labor. "Don't limit yourself as a publishing company," said Litvack. "Think of yourself as an information company."

6. Transform the product experience to make it an essential part of people's daily life. For the Times that means a product called "Watching" to help readers wade through all the entertainment choices, or "Well" for health and wellness. Kiplinger has just created a new product called Kiplinger Alerts: Intelligence for Your Business Success. It's an "email and online service that covers economic and political topics critical to your financial well-being and business success." They're offering free, 30-day trials.

7. Serve advertisers in the same way we serve our readers. As publishers take on more webinars and events, your relationship with advertisers and vendors becomes increasingly important. It might be easy to take them for granted. In the same way that you want to keep things fresh for your audience, you need to do the same for advertisers and sponsors. "We have developed deeper relationships with some of our advertisers who are also strong in content," MDM President Tom Gale told me last year. "They've become speakers for us because they know a lot on the subject. But if it looks like an advertorial or infomercial we're done."

8. Be relentless. SIPA's important new 2016 State of the Industry Report—available now to members on the SIPA website—includes this quote from one publisher: "[What we do today] is much more labor intensive, and managing the many business models, skills needed, and time required with a small staff is challenging."  Golden stressed the importance of everyone working together to find new and better ways to take on that challenge.

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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…