What do Successful Media Do That Others Do Not?

Getting hundreds of news executives to answer questions about the state of their businesses is like herding cats. They may want to answer, but the attention demanded from running those businesses, especially in today’s media environment, takes their attention elsewhere.

So kudos to François Nel and Coral Milburn-Curtis and the other partners in the Innovation Research Group for getting nearly 250 media executives from 68 countries to respond, and to analyse the results for the World News Publishers Outlook, the annual report they’ve been compiling since 2009.

With 250 participants, the 2017 report doesn’t pretend to be statistically representative of the global newspaper industry. It does, however, provide insights into what successful companies are doing that others do not.

World News Publishers Outlook, published by WAN-IFRA, paints a mixed picture of today’s news industry, with nearly three in 10 of the respondents reporting increasing revenues. Thirty-five per cent are treading water, while revenues are shrinking for the remainder.

When asked what posed the greatest risk to their businesses, one quarter of respondents cited “a reluctance to innovate.” The second most common risk was thought to be he challenges of finding successful new revenue and new business models.

But the researchers, led by Dr Nel, Director at the Journalism Leaders Programme at the University of Central Lancashire, and Dr. Milburn-Curtis, Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College at Oxford University, found a correlation between organizational cultures “in which innovators flourish” and success – including financial success.

Innovation – along with resources, processes, values, behaviour, climate and successful role models – were the “building blocks” that were used by the researchers to determine how companies reporting success differed from those in decline.

And that is where the report becomes useful to the rest of the news industry.

“Executives can benchmark their own personal, team, firm, executive and board decision-making against those of their peers,” said Dr Nel. “They can ask themselves: ‘how are we performing in each of the areas that are necessary for innovation flourish in my company?’”

The researchers identified five areas where companies with rising revenues differed notably from those with declining revenues:

Investments in new products, with new revenues outside the media sector, both in separate digital media businesses and – even more likely – developing products outside the news media industry.

Investments in new competencies, such as data journalism. “Furthermore, firms in our study that are both reporting increases in over­all revenues and are perceived to be successful by their own managers, are significantly more likely to prioritise investment in a training budget than leaders at poorly performing companies,” the report said.

Investments in partnerships, both providing business-to-business services to other media companies, engaging with Google and Facebook, and prioritizing partnerships with digital technology platforms in future.

Investments in new technologies to meet the need of new content – video, audio, etc. (Though interestingly, the researchers noted that those investing heavily in video should be aware of studies that show users prefer text for news for its speed and simplicity).

 – Investments in workforce diversification, which was not seen as a priority for many in the survey. “In fact, it was only at the top of the agenda for 11 percent of those surveyed, making it the lowest priority of all the 62 investment options available in our survey,” the researchers said. “However, it is a pressing issue for the leaders at high-performing firms, who are significantly more likely to prioritise investment in a diverse workforce (age, gender, ethnicity) than their counterparts at firms that are reporting financial losses and perceived by their own leaders to be less innovative than their peers.”

The survey was conducted in the third quarter of 2016. Twenty-two questions were posed in an on-line survey available in 11 languages. Half of the respondents worked for privately owned companies, and 6 per cent worked for government owned companies. The rest came from private trusts, public service and non-profit, conglomerates that included media holdings, cooperative ownership by workers, and political media.

More on World News Publisher Outlook here.

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