The CEO of a newspaper chain recently asked my thoughts on separate staffs to manage digital ventures, and whether his publishers could effectively manage those digital staffs. It was the second such query I’d received in the past week. My response below applies to any type of traditional media company, and I thought it would be helpful to share.
Your publishers are dumb as punk and will never “get” all this digital stuff.
OK, now that I have your attention….. I lied. Your publishers are smart — really smart. I’ve met them, and I can tell. They’re so smart, in fact, that they are likely to go out of their way to knock the ball out of the park in print sales while using their heads to score a goal off a corner kick in digital sales.
I didn’t mix metaphors on accident. How common is it for an athlete to be at the top of his or her class in one pro sport, and also in another? Never happens, right? They might be pretty good, but never great in both. That’s the situation facing publishers across the country, and the reason we haven’t seen fantastic, much-needed print innovations over the past six or seven years. We’ve drawn our print managers too far into figuring out how to conquer the digital space to the detriment of the product that generates more than 90% of our revenue. Crazy.
Remember “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen? He took great care in saying that he studied the failure of “great firms” — not weak or mediocre ones — when it came to seizing a competitive opportunity. In every case, smart managers were unable to embrace two competing opportunities without screwing up one of them — or both. It just can’t be done.
If you want your company to succeed in the digital arena, your traditional-media managers need to reach a critical point in their minds. It’s the point when they arrive at the realization that they might be more of an impediment to the discussion than an asset. The result is a shift in thinking from, “We need to move this effort forward, faster,” to, “We need someone to lead us.” It is at that moment when they realize that their chief role is one of support, not leadership or control. Have you hired great people to lead you in digital? Many newspaper, TV or radio companies have, but have mitigated that great leadership by putting those people under newspaper, TV or radio management. Hence, your “leaders” are actually the publishers or GMs, not the leaders you thought you hired.
Here’s the way I see things forming at successful “media” companies that happen to own newspapers:
1. The publishers report to the CEO. They are in charge of the newspaper, its website and related sales. EVERYTHING they do digitally is supportive of print goals; nothing strays from that mission.
2. The digital managers report to the CEO. They are in charge of the digital product set. They are charged principally with building a new business.
3. One doesn’t report to the other, but #2 usually takes on #1 as a client.
One more thing. Anyone who works for #1 and shows up to work with purple hair or lip rings should be immediately transferred to #2.