Pete Conti and I traveled to the ivory tower of Harvard last week to talk to a guru. We needed his help. We needed to understand why so many media companies see the Internet as a convergence play and put “new media” responsibility in the hands of their traditional managers.
Our key question was, Why do smart media companies have such a difficult time investing in new staffing and doubling down on the Internet—a medium that has shown such reliable, consistent growth? Our own database of 4,400 media companies’ Internet revenues has zeros all over the column headed, “number of online-only salespeople.” That’s pretty damned depressing.
The guru was Clay Christensen, whom I’ve known since the late 1990s when I worked at Landmark Communications. His groundbreaking book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, formed the foundation for what I believe will be the next new wave of local media innovation – companies that “get it” and invest heavily in new people, new systems and new processes. Frankly, I’ve been frustrated as local media companies have eliminates new-media staffs and folded them into their existing operations. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
Clay will be keynoting our 2011 Local Online Advertising Conference next month in New York. If you’d like to jump right to my interview with him last week in Boston, click here. Here are the highlights of what Clay told me:
- Local media is actually in a boom. (Huh?) Thinking about it, he’s right. The amount that people are spending for information is 10x more than the amount that advertisers are spending. They want more cable. More Internet. More subscriptions to websites. The BIG problem is that traditional media companies continue to see the Internet as a way to promote their own products, whether it’s broadcast or print.
- The big opportunity is figuring out “the job to be done.” The job is providing news and information, not providing more viewers or readers. What are consumers “hiring” local media to provide? Examiner.com, Patch.com, Craigslist.com, and Autotrader.com are being hired to provide information and are thus becoming successful. Meanwhile, legacy local media companies are focusing on preserving their existing business models, not on the job that their customers are trying to get done.
- Innovation doesn’t come from existing managers. Existing managers have been trained to protect and grow the existing business model. They will necessarily squelch or retard opportunities that Facebook and Twitter might offer, or at the very best try to mold them to the needs of the core product.
Clay is right – we need to focus on the job that media consumers are hiring us to do. Providing information about news and information – and not define that as narrowly as what the City Council or School Board did yesterday, or how the high school lacrosse team did. Information extends to things like big sales in the market, or little things like marriages, births and bar mitzvahs.
I’m looking forward to Clay’s keynote at our conference next month. I’m very eager to see local media companies make the transition, and I’m convinced that they’re going to need his help to make it.