End of print media – the sequel

Those of you who are following my blogs will remember that a while ago I wrote at length about the demise of local media.  The undisputed decline of printed media is currently reflected in the 30% reduction of newsroom staff and the 50% downturn in advertising revenue. No industry can sustain such high levels of decline, so radical measures are required if good journalism is to be preserved.

This topic was the focus of a talk run by the PRCA in London on May 15th, presented by John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times who explained that faced by such crises many newspapers have adopted two strategies.  The first one, followed by the majority of the press, he defined as ‘cut and retreat’.  This approach is self explanatory, you cut your costs to the bone and retreat.  The problem with this approach is twofold.  On the one hand, in order to continue to survive newspapers have to chase public whims, rather than carefully curating high quality news content for the public interest.  Secondly, there are few commercial examples that a drastic ‘cut and retreat’ strategy has ever been able to create successful commercial organisations, at best just extending their demise.

The FT decided instead to take a different approach, one of quality and specialism, investing massively in high quality curation and retaining high levels of presence in key areas of the globe.  For example, in South Korea the FT office is now one of a handful of international media organisations present in that country, as opposed to being one of dozens a decade ago.  In addition to highly targeted quality content, its digital delivery has been pivotal to the success of the FT in recent years, contributing to its exponential growth particularly in overseas markets.

Mobile technology has further expanded the FT’s presence to the point where this paper has now close to 3.5 million App users alone.  But it’s in data management where the FT excels.  Its business model has been a clever one insofar as users can freely access a very small number of articles per month, provided they register.  This kind of data is highly valuable as it’s of high quality, as well as being ‘clean’ (unlike some social media data, for example).  Patterns of behaviour are constantly emerging from the data in question, enabling the FT to provide accurately targeted services in response to the needs of its readers.

From a marketer’s perspective this approach is music to one’s ear and really pretty basic stuff, like listening to your customers and prospects, meeting (as well as exceeding) the requirements of your market and carving a niche for your product or service, instead of being a generalist.

What is surprising is why other news providers have been so slow in adopting similar approaches, vying for the attention of fewer readers by appealing to their baser instincts instead of attempting to enlighten them through high moral principles and a public service ethos.

Whether this hubristic approach will result in the demise of even more titles remains to be seen but I am sure that if all the UK press had adopted a similar model to that of the FT we would never have ended up with a Leveson enquiry.

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Do you still do online surveys?

A couple of days ago I received yet another invitation to fill in an online survey.  To make it more appealing the organisation in question (a reputable web hosting company) was offering the incentive of a £1,000 prize draw.  I just gave it as much as a side glance and immediately deleted it, when it then dawned on me how valueless company surveys had become.

As I contemplated the reasons for my lack of interest I came to the realisation that for a number of years I had only ever bothered to fill in two types of surveys.  The first was the kind of simple questions often asked on web pages, requiring a mere Yes or a  No and for which the aggregated answer is immediately displayed, so you get know to which group you belong (are you a red, or a green, do you prefer apples or pears, and so on…).  The combined sense of curiosity, immediacy and speed makes these surveys still valuable and attractive.

The second kind is those by companies like YouGov.  I have been one of their contributors for years, but I have so far only ever failed to fill in a very small proportion of their surveys and often just because I am away and with no internet connection.  Why have I always filled YouGov surveys and not others you may ask?  Well, first the company’s reputation, then topicality and finally access to results.   As for reputation YouGov are right there at the top.  You know that your precious information  will be handled professionally, whether it is on behalf of a commercial organisation, or for the purpose of supplying public data.  Topicality also comes into the equation as you are often asked to fill in surveys on contemporary matters.  Finally, you can access (most) of their findings through their very comprehensive website, so you can see the results of your labour too.  Of course, if you are a regular contributor you also have a (modest) financial incentive, but this is so small and the efforts involved in order to get it are so gargantuan that it’s more like someone buying you a pint for having given them a hand with their week-long house redecoration.

I am not saying that YouGov surveys are perfect.  They have their faults and I have almost stopped filling in their inane branding surveys in which you are asked questions like ‘If you were offered a job by (there follows a list of mostly wholly unappealing brands) which of these organisations would you be proud to work for?’ The next page inevitably contains the opposite question (i.e. which brands you’d be embarrassed to work for).  In my case, as many of the brands are either totally unknown or have the same employment appeal as spending a week in a pigsty, I’ve got bored of those questionnaires and have therefore stopped processing them.  From time to time, you will get a poorly designed YouGov survey.  You must know the kind.  The one that starts by asking you a question like ‘Are you a nuclear scientist?’ to which you respond in the negative (unless, of course, you are one) .  Your reply, however, is ignored, as the following questions are of the kind only an expert in that specific field would either understand or be required to know. A quick exit by closing the browser’s window is therefore the only possible option.

But enough of YouGov.  The point I am making is that I now only ever process either the simple online surveys with an immediate summary of answers, or those that I perceive have a real purpose.  The latter also includes surveys from professional organisations, however, these have the tendency of being impossibly long and detailed, as well as mind blowingly tedious.  I suspect this is because they are designed by committees, or staff with too much time in their hands.

Like a lot of other professionals over the course of my working life I have probably filled in hundreds of surveys, yet I may have only seen an infinitesimal proportion of survey analysis in exchange for my time.  Of course, I am not naive and I appreciate that in many instances a survey is a thin veneer for asking you sales questions, or for making you part with some contact details.

And this is also, possibly, another reason why so few people these days take the trouble of filling them in, not just for lack of time, but for the inherent impression that someone, somewhere, is just after a little bit of your personal information, without as much as a thank you, or the opportunity to see the results of your efforts. Besides, with so much data now available thanks to social media networks one needs to ask whether survey data is really of much value.  Perhaps online surveys have had their day, just like platform shoes or flared trousers, or… (please fill in – no prize given though!).

Edelman – Conversations – The New Look of Public Relations

Edelman – Conversations – The New Look of Public Relations.

I am not sure why this should be a dissenting view…  Today’s business world, and this includes marketing and communications, is all about convergence and relationships.  You can’t address audiences as blocks, as they are all segmented and we all want to be addressed as individuals.  So you have to create relationships and if you are a savvy consultant you know you need to bring into your fold people from a variety of backgrounds and skills.