In Time of Change, Experimentation and Learning Should Be at Forefront

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"...We learned from our initiative colleagues at The Seattle Times the cathartic value of holding a 'celebration of life' ceremony for products that fail."

That quote comes from Eric Ulken, managing editor for digital operations at the Philadelphia Media Network—which publishes The Inquirer, Daily News and—writing about change for NiemanLab. The idea—that you need "the discipline to stop doing things that don't produce sufficient journalistic or business value"—is one of five that has helped his media company transition to success.

Here are those five with some SIPAfication:

1. A mandate at the individual and team level to regularly review priorities and use audience insights to inform them. At our Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) last month, Kelly Parsons, CEO of OpsCat, spoke about the importance of creating a connected customer strategy. "Without that we couldn't have done it... It gives you a business clarity that helps you cut through decision making," she said. Melcrum chose two of those customers "to be my best customers and beta test" a product. "Know what your clients and members are thinking about and need," she said.

"One of our mistakes early on [in moving to events] was to not listen enough to editorial feedback." said Florence Torres, group show director, Penton. "The historical knowledge of your audience and readership is important. Listen closely to what they're saying in relation to what they want."

2. The beginnings of a culture of continuous learning and experimentation in pursuit of clear performance results. FDAnews experimented with live streaming and found a new revenue source. "There's an untapped market of people who can't go [to our event] but really want to hear what [a speaker] has to say," said Jeff Grizzel, director, quality and enforcement group, FDAnews. He advises to charge a little bit less to those people and then promote it from the beginning.

Many good lessons came out of The New York Times digital report earlier this year. This was one of the more lasting ones: "Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times."

3. The practice of reviewing the success or failure of every experiment and documenting lessons learned. At BIMS, Debra Walton, global managing director, customer proposition, financial & risk, Thomson Reuters, spoke about customer satisfaction ratings. From those they learned that the ease of doing business is the greatest driver for customers to recommend them to colleagues.

"We do a full identity reset for every event every 12 months," said Dan Hanover, Access Intelligence's VP, Event Marketing Group. "What worked last year? What can we do this year? We always want to improve."

Bill Haight, president of Magna Publications, told us that they now develop usage reports for all their products, and it started out of customer requests.

4. An end to the notion of indefinite ownership of rigid beats and roles. In niche publishing, this probably has most to do with breaking down silos. "I don't think a media or marketing company can flourish anymore burdened by silos," Whit Shaw, president and CEO of American City Business Journals, told me early last year. "Like many, we were comfortable for a long time having those silos, bunkers, so that communication was more controlled and channeled than it is now. But we've put a lot of emphasis on making sure that when our product development group talks about something new, people from marketing, content, ad sales, tech are all in the room. It has become a much more collaborative effort."

5. The discipline to put an end to projects that aren't working, journalistically or from a business sense. As the saying goes, there's no point to throwing good money after bad. I need to find out more about that "celebration of life" ceremony that makes this easier.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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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…