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The Business Forum Journal

 

Newspapers Turn to Innovation to Keep Up With The Times
 

By David J. Gardner

 

As a newspaper executive, what do you do when advertising revenues are tied to declining circulations and undermined by the impact of the Internet and social media? Well, you could crawl up in the fetal position under your desk or you could look to innovate your way out of this dilemma.

Innovation is exactly what many major United States' newspaper organizations—organizations such as Hearst, Gannett, McClatchy, The Washington Post and others — are doing again. Again? Yes. How many readers are aware that Cars.com, CareerBuilder.com and Apartments.com are all innovations driven by newspaper industry consortia?

The newspaper industry is about to lead another paradigm shift in consumer advertising and promotion of products and services. I write “coming change” because this effort, being led by ShopCo CEO, Ben T. Smith IV, is just getting underway. Smith and his team are still very much in the ideation phase. When we last spoke, they did not yet have their Silicon Valley office.

There are many reasons why the newspaper industry needs to continue to engage with consumers:

·         Newspapers are in the business of creating and supporting communities; newspapers are a part of the fabric of our society — each newspaper is a trusted brand.

·        Major retailers have proven that there is a strong, mutually-beneficial relationship between members of a community and their local papers. Retailers have seen that a newspaper's ability to influence a consumer is second to none.

·         Retailing is a weekly event — shoppers look forward to seeing what specials retailers are offering during the coming week.

·        There are more deals being offered by retailers than consumers can possibly be exposed to due to space limitations in printed advertising —  ShopCo can help overcome that issue.

·         Consumers like to shop — they like to be exposed to new products and services and rely on advertising to help them gain a new understanding.

·         Digital shopping experiences aren't about the media — they are about connecting to viable, thriving marketplaces.

·         Social media is a key driver in today's consumer marketplace — retailers need a way to connect to consumers in a manner more consistent with social media.

Why do not consumers merely rely on Internet search engines?  The simple answer is there is no relationship. The newspapers, retailers and consumers collectively benefit from a nationwide, coherent solution exposing them to products, services, promotions and deals they need to know about. The vast majority of the time, consumers know what they are looking for — they simply need a place to look to determine what is being promoted.

The newspapers initiated the ShopCo initiative for several reasons:

·         The retailers need a national solution — a regional solution isn't acceptable.

·         It is hard to reach for a new paradigm when you are part of the current paradigm—the newspaper industry needs new eyeballs and minds looking at how to solve this challenge — the innovation needed simply could not be developed inside the walls of the newspaper organizations themselves.

So, just what will the ShopCo solution look like? It is too early to tell. The journey has just begun. There is no timetable for launch or an articulated solution at this point.  Smith tells me, “Our goal is to ultimately provide our advertiser partners 50 million unique visitors who are engaged in an exciting shopping experience. We will be looking at a wide variety of new features and options on our roadmap, but we will continue to focus on enhancing the user experience and traffic growth as well as launching new web, mobile, social and tablet enhancements.”

As ShopCo is a holding company financed by the newspapers, Smith maintains considerable autonomy about the nature of the solution he and his team create.  Smith's toughest challenges are building the right team, maintaining a tight focus on consumers and advertisers, and dealing with the explosion of new opportunities.

While it would easy to believe that the newspaper business is stodgy, old and not very engaged in the 21st century technology and social media trends,
nothing could be further from the truth.  Get ready.


I appreciate the following people for allowing me to interview them for this article: Ben T. Smith IV, ShopCo CEO, Steve Hills, President and General Manager of Washington Post Media, Lincoln Millstein, Senior Vice President at Hearst Newspapers, and Jack Williams, President at Gannett Digital.


David J. Gardner is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and held senior management positions in Product Development, Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Product Management.  He joined Tandem Computers in 1979 where he was responsible for Corporate Documentation Standards for Tandem's highly configurable and expandable computer systems. In 1983, he designed and implemented a Configuration Guide for Dialogic Systems instituting a process that greatly simplified a complex, modular product such that the field sales organization and international OEM customers could easily define their order requirements. This methodology satisfied the product definition needs of sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, customer service and finance. David founded his consulting practice in 1991.  He is a graduate of San Jose State University (BA) and Santa Clara University (MBA). David is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Consulting (SAC) and has been Board Approved in the Area of Configurable Product & Services Strategy and Implementation. In 2010, he was inducted in the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame.  Out of over 1,000 consultants who have completed Alan Weiss’s mentoring program, only 26 have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.


Visit the Authors Web Site  ~  http://www.gardnerandassoc.com

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