Skyword recently sat down with Julia Wallace, Market Vice President at Cox Media Group Ohio, to discuss her experience with the key trends transforming the media industry and her views on how media companies have an opportunity to re-invent themselves to thrive in the digital age. Julia, along with Mark Jurkowitz, Associate Director at Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, recently participated in Skyword’s webinar New Digital Strategies for Increasing Audience and Loyalty, featuring an important discussion about new strategies that traditional news organizations are using to accelerate innovative digital business models.
During the New Digital Strategies for Increasing Audience and Loyalty webinar, you talked about utilizing an approach “using all of the brands together.” What does this concept mean?
When our TV, newspaper, and radio companies were combined into one company three years ago, one of the first questions the management tackled was whether or not we should become one brand. The answer was a resounding “no.” Each brand has great strength and loyal audiences. In our new company, we needed to understand the power of each brand and use that power. In content creation, it meant being smarter about how we deploy our journalists. For example, when there were three companies, you could have five journalists at a basic city council meeting or press conference — one print reporter, one radio reporter, one TV reporter, one print photographer, and one TV videographer. Think of all the stories going uncovered because so many people were covering that one story. Now, we reduce that number and have more folks available for other stories.
Cox Media Group Ohio offers a host of digital products such as an electronic, tablet-ready edition of their print newspaper, that satisfy readers’ needs for compelling digital content and presentation.
This is critical at a time when the competition to provide local information is increasing exponentially. We need to provide more quality content. The more we can reduce duplication, the better off we are. We also have significant advantages by using the marketing power of each brand. Every week, we reach 93% of the market. Now, we promote our content everywhere. TV has sweeps four times a year, where we produce special content and promote it heavily. We took that concept, and now we use it for newspapers, digital products, and radio. Almost every month, we’re promoting one of our platforms deeply. That has allowed us to grow audience, exposing existing customers to some of the different products we have.
On the advertising side, it is about changing our thinking. It’s no longer about selling a specific platform. Now, it’s about understanding the advertisers’ needs and selling them the right mix of products. When all is said and done, it makes us more customer-focused. What does the customer need? And how do we serve them based on our many products? These are the questions we are answering.
How has Cox Media Group Ohio innovated around content to create new sources of revenue?
I’m not sure I’d call it innovation, but we are jumping into a world where a newspaper subscription is more than just a newspaper subscription. If you are a subscriber to the Dayton Daily News, you will also receive a host of digital products available only to subscribers. These include an app that is an electronic replica of the newspaper and a website that — in both content and presentation — has much more appeal to newspaper readers. This is a response to what we heard from our readers for years. They told us that the newspaper websites, which compete in the rough-and-tumble free world of content, are not satisfying their needs. It’s going to be interesting to learn what these longtime print readers really want in a digital form.
Why do traditional media have a competitive advantage?
We start with a huge audience built over generations, and we have talented and deep staffs that can do work that is remarkable. In the recent tragedy in Boston, everyone became a journalist, with photos, videos, tweets, and posts from everyone and everywhere. But ultimately, the traditional media — The Boston Globe, WBZ-TV — took all of that information and made sense of it. It was the traditional media who used their sources and their knowledge to provide context and depth to what was unfolding. The work was spectacular. People around the world quickly found it because of the history of excellence. In an increasingly noisy, complicated world, these are significant assets.
What does it take for a traditional media company to change its culture and people to prepare for digital transformation?
Like any company, it needs to start with clear goals. Who are we and what are we trying to accomplish? At Cox Media Group Ohio, we no longer see ourselves as a newspaper, TV, and radio company. We see ourselves as a media company, with expertise in those platforms and the need for deeper expertise in digital. Once we understood that change, it was important to focus on structure and process. If we didn’t make it easy for folks to succeed in this vision, the culture barriers would pop up faster. None of this is easy, particularly for traditional media companies.
On goals, the temptation is to bolt on new goals and not really prioritize and think of what needs to go away. On structure, it’s hard to change years of tradition. So many people have their career ladder set. When a structure changes, those ladders are broken. And there’s nothing particularly fun about mapping process and figuring out workflow. When Cox Media Group Ohio was brought together, there were two major concerns on the advertising front. How would advertisers feel about the combined company, and how well would salespeople do selling multiple platforms? These have not turned out to be the big problems.
What we are still unraveling is the complexity of producing and placing ads into various products. It’s computer systems that don’t talk to each other, different and complex pricing structures, the needs for different kinds of creativity, etc. Three years into it, this is still a source of pain and frustration. When the hurdles are smaller, it’s easier to tackle the culture.
There’s been lots of ink devoted to lamenting old media culture. And there clearly are some folks who are unwilling to adjust to changing times. But I’m also inspired by how many people I’ve seen rise to the occasion. We need to give them the right tools and training to do great work.