Collaboration and Culture Go Hand in Hand, Experts Say

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Company culture—something Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group, emphasized in last year's SIPA Annual 2018 keynote—matters greatly in buyers' minds. Eight in ten said that being clear about what the company stands for and believes in can be game-changing for the business—"especially if the company's core values and beliefs can be encapsulated in some form of marketing asset."

"You need your staff to collaborate to create products that can grow platforms," Hartman said. "Create a culture to build trust and collaboration, and breaking down silos... Think ambitious experiments and trust each other. If you look around and don't see that, you have a problem."

In her 2017 book, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, Heidi Gardner, PhD and distinguished fellow in the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, said that collaboration can be a scary process. (Credit goes to a FIPP story this week for her quotes.) For people who aren't used to operating like that, there is a lot of perceived risk, whether it is giving up control, learning a new jargon, or making themselves vulnerable.

"There are a lot of risks, that are perceived up front, and some investment of time and energy in terms of learning how to do this properly, whether it's using the new technology, to communicate with people who aren't co-located, all of those sorts of things, getting the routines put in place is often quite time consuming," she said. "So, we see the investment happening up front, and the problem is that a lot of the payout doesn't happen instantly. There can be a time gap where you've been investing, but it still isn't paying out, and that's the really risky time then because a lot of people, frankly, just give up."

Business and editorial must work together today in most situations to max out dollars from various enterprises, be it events, sponsored reports, webinars, podcasts, etc. And yet, most people drenched in editorial responsibilities do still adhere to some type of church-state division. Maggie Miller, content marketing director for a division of Informa called KNect365, told me last year that they prefer to use freelancers to write copy for their sponsored reports to keep their editorial staff pure, so to speak.

Process-improvement expert Kilian Schalk led a webcast last year for the American Society of Business Publication Editors in which he suggested ways to achieve better communication between editorial and business. He conducted 13 off-the-record conversations with publishers and said it led him to three conclusions:

  1. Advertising as a threat to editorial integrity is still a problem;
  2. Church and State may no longer be the best way to handle this problem; and
  3. There are a few alternate ideas out there, as well as a willingness to try new things.

Wrote Schalk in an ASBPE post: "A new ethical system could describe, among other things: how branded content should be handled; how financials could be shared; and how to manage sales calls—not to mention how to deal with the moving target of readers' expectations for each new channel, and how that impacts content creation."

Gardner agrees. Collaboration between journalists with different perspectives, or a different way of conducting their work, could result in innovations, she said. Collaboration on production could result in operational efficiencies or innovations. Collaboration even between companies could result in innovative revenue streams or a new business model.

"There are lots of ways you could think about what kinds of benefits will arise, when you start getting people teaming up, to address these issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective," Gardner explained. "The opportunities there are multiplied when you start thinking about collaboration across organizations or across different kinds of experts outside the company."

In their report released a couple years ago, The New York Times wrote that "the newsroom and our product teams should work together more closely... Each group needs a better understanding of what the other does." For niche publishers, that would also make for a sensible place to start.

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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…