Why “drive audience growth and profitability from a ‘mini-publisher’ perspective” is Table StakesDouglas K. Smith, Quentin Hope, Tim Griggs, Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative,
Drive growth and profitability in your chosen target audience segments and key publishing platforms by developing cross-functional “mini-publisher” teams and team leaders who use a general management perspective and strong sense of ownership and accountability for performance. Expand the scope of these teams’ responsibility beyond content creation, content distribution and audience development to include revenue generation, financial contribution and brand development.
The term “mini-publisher” is drawn from the tradition of the publisher being the person in a news enterprise where the editorial and business sides – and the revenues and expenses – all come together. It may be that in your organization the term mini-publisher could be problematic – for example, carrying negative, unhelpful meanings that get in the way. If so, pick a different term. Several media organizations, for example, use product manager. But whatever term you choose, make sure the meaning of that term is clear: the person in this role along with her/his team is accountable for the P&L, audience, brand and other performance goals that, in turn, require the team to blend together all – not just some – of the needed functions.
Why this is Tables Stakes
Mini-publishing responsibilities are the logical extension of the prior six Table Stakes
Several critical accountabilities emerge from the previous six Table Stakes, including responsibilities for:
- Serving target audiences (Tables Stake 1)
- Using key platforms (Tables Stake 2)
- Continuously publishing (Table Stakes 3)
- Converting random users into habitual, paying ones (Tables Stakes 4)
- Identifying/pursuing a wide range of opportunities to earn revenues from the audiences developed (Table Stake 5)
- Partnering with others to grow capabilities and capacity while lowering costs and making them more flexible (Table Stake 6)
This seventh Table Stake blends these responsibilities together in the role of a “mini-publisher” and mini-publisher team. There are two types of mini-publishers: mini-publishers for audiences and mini-publishers for platforms. Mini-publisher audience teams drive the work of Table Stakes #1 while mini-publisher platform teams drive Table Stakes #2. Both work to make Table Stakes #3 happen.
Mini-publisher audience teams coordinate with mini-publisher platform teams to implement Table Stakes #4 and #5 – namely, delivering the best possible financial contribution to the enterprise by generating revenue from target audiences and platforms in concert with managing and getting the most out of costs. Finally, mini-publisher teams work with senior leaders and others to optimize the use of partnering (Table Stake #6) and to extend and enhance the enterprise’s brand(s).
The competitive challenges confronting metro, local and regional news enterprises demand general management perspective and skill across the newsroom.
As the table stakes – and the experiences of Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami and Minneapolis – make clear, metro, local and regional legacy newspaper organizations must do things new and differently to get in the game of 21st century news and information. None of that will happen in the absence of significantly more general management thought and action throughout the newsroom.
For decades prior to the 21st century, news enterprises were operationally and functionally excellent. Strong, functional leaders provided what was needed in terms of journalism, printing, distribution, marketing, finance, HR, technology and customer service – as well as continuous improvement. Which was fine because few if any of the challenges confronting news enterprises throughout the decades prior to the 21st century demanded a ‘whole enterprise’ perspective.
Consequently, news enterprises did not have many true general managers – leaders accountable for the performance of the entire enterprise or ‘whole businesses, products or services’ within the enterprise. Indeed, the publisher was often the sole true general manager.
Today, though, newsrooms are in fact accountable for essential aspects of the entire news enterprise: journalism of course, but also in key ways marketing, ‘circulation,’ distribution, technology, customer service, product management, and new product and service innovation.
Moreover, newsrooms must ‘connect all these dots’ in the face of unprecedented disruption, financial pressure and risk.
Meeting such intense challenges simply cannot happen in the absence of more folks understanding what general managers do – and getting a whole lot better at that.
The idea of the mini-publisher, then, comes directly from the concept of the general manager – a leader who is responsible for blending together all aspects of a business (or product or service) in ways that optimize results for the enterprise as a whole, not just a function.
In classic industrial businesses, general managers oversee product development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, sales, and customer service. This contrasts with functional managers who lead only one slice of the business such as a VP of Manufacturing or Head of Sales. Unlike functional managers, GMs bring an integrated view of how all aspects of a business (or product or service) can best deliver results against a focused, defined segment of the market (e.g. Gap vs Gap Kids) – and do so at a more agile and manageable level than the entire enterprise as a whole (The Gap as a whole enterprise versus Gap and Gap Kids).
Though news differs from, say, clothes, cars or cereal, there are direct, informative parallels between a classic GM’s scope of responsibilities and those of a mini-publisher.
Illustrative comparison: responsibilities of a “Classic GM” roles and a mini-publisher
|General Manager responsibility||Audience based mini-publisher||Platform cluster based mini-publisher|
|Market research||Paying attention to emerging needs, interests of audiences and the problems audiences need solved||Paying attention to users, uses and user experiences arising in new platforms as well as new features and functions of existing platforms|
|New product development||Identifying and experimenting with new ways to use content, experiences and/or story forms to serve audiences||Identifying and experimenting with new approaches/new uses of existing and new platforms that better attract and serve audiences|
|Product manufacturing||The core work of using targeted content plus data and analytics to attract, serve, retain and monetize target audiences through producing and publishing continuously||The core work of publishing on the platforms used by target audiences – including platforms you own, platforms owned by others but that send audiences to you, and platforms owned by others where audiences stay
Using data and analytics to optimize results on all three types of platforms
|Distribution||Figuring out the best/optimal ways to make sure target audiences see and have access to content at the time and places they want. Audience teams must coordinate with platform teams||Figuring out the best/optimal ways to make sure target audiences see and have access to content at the time and places they want. Platform teams must coordinate with audience teams|
|Marketing||Shaping, articulating, and communicating the value proposition for the targeted audience: what benefits the audience receives and what actions (including payment and provision of data) they are expected to do/make. Put differently: shaping the give/get of what you give audiences and what you get from them||Managing platform delivery on the platforms you own to optimize results from the range of value propositions shaped/articulated by the audience teams
Maximizing value your enterprise derives from (1) increasing audiences who come to your sites from platforms owned by others that send audiences to you; and, (2) optimizing brand and other value from audience experiences on platforms where the audiences stay
|Sales||Using the funnel of TS#4 supported by data and analytics to convert random users into habitual and paying loyalists
Working with advertising/sales to maximize revenue from advertisers seeking the valuable audiences being built
|Coordinating with audience teams in funneling random users into paying ones – all supported by data and analytics
Working with advertising/sales to maximize revenue from advertisers seeking the valuable audiences being built
|Customer service||Using data and analytics to coordinate/work with technology and tool makers to optimize the user experience through (1) meeting minimum standards of what audiences expect (e.g. acceptable load times); and, (2) exceeding audience expectations in ways that surprise and thrill audiences||Using data and analytics to coordinate/work with technology and tool makers as well as target audience teams to optimize the user experience through (1) meeting minimum standards of what audiences expect (e.g. acceptable load times); and, (2) exceeding audience expectations in ways that surprise and thrill audiences|
The competitive challenges confronting metro, local and regional news enterprises demand that senior newsroom leaders rebalance their focus and effort away from day-to-day matters – otherwise, serious medium-to-longer term challenges will go un-led
Too many Executive Editors, Managing Editors and other senior newsroom leaders spend far too little time and effort on the most critical aspects of their jobs: transforming their newsrooms – and news enterprises – to get in the game of 21st century local news and information. It is no longer the primary job of senior newsroom leaders to get the paper out – or even to get the digital report out. Yes, of course those must happen. But transforming metro newsrooms requires senior leaders to focus much more of their time and attention on:
- Guiding newsrooms to put the table stakes in place
- Reshaping work and workflows to the audience-first, digital and platform optimal* approaches demanded for success
- Ensuring newsroom folks overcome gaps and shortfalls in skills, behaviors, attitudes, and working relationships
- Teaming up with technology folks to do the best possible job of providing newsrooms the tools needed for success
- Working with other senior leaders in the news enterprise to make the enterprise financially sustainable through generating revenues, lowering costs and making costs more flexible, and investing in/finding innovations.
Squarely put, senior newsroom leaders must themselves transition from being functional managers to general managers.
Yet, this cannot happen if senior newsroom leaders are forced into day-to-day matters as a result of too few newsroom general managers – too few mini-publishers – on whom senior leaders can depend and to whom they can delegate the day-to-day work.
* Note the phrase “platform optimal.” One unfortunate misunderstanding in too many newsrooms lies in the contrasting phrase “platform agnostic.” You do not want to be agnostic about platforms. Instead, you need to understand what different platforms do well versus not so well for audiences – and then optimize your efforts accordingly.