I’m reminded of this post I wrote, that really hit home with my many friends in the Newspaper business.
The story of Steve Jobs is beyond epic. There’s not many who could change the world of personal computers, music, phones and animated films in one lifetime. His character DNA was a mix of sheer genius, vision, tenacity and often disturbing habits that easily puts him in the same league as Edison, Ford and Tesla.
As I finished the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I wondered what would happen if Jobs, with his highly combustible yet potent management style had decided to become the publisher of a Newspaper, instead of being the king of Silicon Valley. It’s this kind of hardcore leadership, combined with brutal austerity measures that Newspapers (and Broadcasters) would certainly benefit from today. Introducing someone like this into your operation wouldn’t be easy. But as they say – if you want a great omelet, you have to break a few eggs.
How would Steve Jobs stop the bleeding? How would he re-invent the Newspaper industry, in much the same way as he did to rescue Apple from the brink of bankruptcy in 1996? With digital advertising on the verge of becoming the second largest money maker for media, what are some of the first things he would do as your boss?
Based on tactics I gleaned from the book, here’s a top 10 list of stuff that Steve Jobs would likely do if he was the Publisher of your Newspaper.
#1. Remove the bozos. You already know who they are. Internal poison. Clean house and get rid of B level players. Strive to have all A players since they prefer to be around A players, whereas B players surround themselves with C players. Dismiss those just putting in time while cruising towards retirement. Ditch those with little passion or vision for the future, or those who would prefer to protect the way it’s always been. Watch this short clip from a recent News conference to see the type of journalist you don’t want in your newsroom.
#2. Simplify. Identify. What business are we in? Apple dumped the word ‘computer’ from their company name because they saw it as limiting. Today, the word ‘newspaper’ is being replaced with ‘media’ at many news organizations. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. As Apple Computer morphed into a consumer technology company, Newspapers would be wise to stop seeing themselves as Newspapers with a website. Rather, they must become the dominant news, information and marketing source in their market…no matter what the format, product or service. What’s the #1 asset, a local media company has and should put primary focus on? Answer: relationship with advertiser. Lose that, and your great journalism will never see the light of day.
#3. Fix it or ditch it. Prioritize, then eliminate any distractions that are not singularly focused on core products and competencies. Identify the worst performing 50% of your website and take it offline until further notice. Ex: Steve Jobs trimmed the Apple product line, much to the horror of those who wanted more products. Do you have too many products to sell? Are your sales reps burdened with trying to be excited about all of them? Recommendation: direct all resources towards the best performing ‘top half’ of your web efforts.
#4. Break down the silos. Steam would be blowing out of Steve Jobs’ ears if he found out that some Newspapers created separate sales forces or so-called digital divisions. Well-known, research consultants have pushed this faulty tactic for years. On the other hand, smart operators like Morris Communications, are now bringing everything under one roof and moving to a plan that forces everyone to row in the same direction. A separate division for digital allows your traditional staff to get even weaker. It also silently conveys to a local advertiser, that their print rep can no longer be trusted to keep them up to date with all forms of marketing.
#5. Tell it like it is. No sugarcoating. As you’ll find by reading the book, Steve Jobs would either think your idea was great or a ‘piece of shit.’ No middle ground here. Is your online game plan awe-inspiring? Is it a cheap knock-off of what other publishers are doing, or what you picked up from a conference panel? Are you uncomfortable calling your editor or VP of Digital on the carpet about the lack of a realistic business plan associated with their cool new idea ? Do you hate your CMS ( content management system) because it’s ugly and tough to use? Do you have the guts to fire a respected VP Digital or sales manager that consistently misses their digital budget? Steve wouldn’t be.
#6. Play by your rules, on your own field. Steve Jobs hated the thought of being controlled by anyone, especially a competitor. That’s one reason why Flash animation never made it to the iPad and iPhone. Jobs didn’t want to make programing decisions based on someone else’s (Adobe) timetable or software. As a Newspaper publisher, Jobs would banish anything that allowed outsiders to meddle with the actual value of the product.
For example: Jobs would hate the online CPM model. He wouldn’t take too kindly to accepting a middleman’s valuation of his online ad inventory. He would also discourage journalists’ fanaticism in the placing of so much time and content on Facebook & Twitter. We certainly understand the need to leverage these platforms, but why build your business being highly dependent on a platform you don’t own? If you don’t having a well-defined business plan for social media, that’s an issue you need to deal with pronto.
#7. Cannibalize your business. Steve understood that the iPad could hurt sales of his line of desktop computers. But he knew it’s better to cannibalize your own company, rather than let someone else do it. That’s why any executive that fought against the future, and saw digital as a distraction, would be sent packing…pronto. Is your staff afraid that digital will cannibalize print?
#8. Impute. Jobs was heavily influenced by early Apple investor, Mike Markkula, who preached the concept of ‘impute:’ People do judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality and most useful software. If we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod, if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.
Let’s apply the concept of ‘impute’ to our printed Newspapers. The design and layout is executed with great care and precision. We have the most comprehensive news coverage, highest editorial integrity and substantial reach in each market. Now let’s compare that to our Newspaper websites. In this example, we see a visually confusing train wreck of text, images, navigation, poorly designed banner ads and other promotional muck. This reflects or imputes poorly on the integrity of our Newspaper’s journalism and marketing expertise. We would never put out a paper that looks and acts like this, but we accept it in our digital version. Why?
Impute can also apply to the sales effort. The sales team exudes passion and expertise in selling the benefits of the paper, but imputes negatively when it comes to digital. In terms of collateral and marketing materials for our Internet products, Jobs would not suffer fools if he saw substantially less professional collateral developed for Web, compared to the printed product. What do you think that tells a prospective client?
#9. Dump the market research. Jobs didn’t ask consumers if they wanted an iPod connected to iTunes. He simply connected the dots: he knew they loved music but didn’t want to rent it or be forced to buy the whole CD. The ability for them to carry an entire music collection in their pocket was icing on the cake.
Instead of staking the success of your media company on expensive 3rd party market research, your local staff should bone up on the lost art of the CNA; client needs analysis. Mandate them to have a solid understanding of the one customer that pays most of your bills: the advertiser. That’s simple business 101. If you’re delegating marketing research & analysis to an outside contractor, you lose that valuable face-to-face interaction with customers. Fortunately, that flawed model is already being phased out at many media companies today.
#10. Share best practices. Steve Jobs loved creating products that would literally change the world, or as he would describe it: ‘put a dent in the universe.’ As mortality crept closer, he put more into the challenge of building a company and culture that would survive long after he was gone. This is the reason behind Apple University; case studies to train future employees. Imbue them with fundamental Apple DNA. Some Newspaper organizations, like the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, have been trying to embrace this idea with online training tools like www.SNPAdigital.com.