By Steve Outing
This has happened a few times (including recently), and it’s become a pet peeve that I need to get off my chest. As I occasionally do digital-media consulting work for media companies, or bid on consulting jobs, it’s not uncommon to be asked after presenting a new idea: “Has anyone else tried this and shown positive results?”
Sometimes the motivation for asking such a question is pure: “Is this really a new idea or model, or has it been tried before? And if the latter, how did it work out?” That’s fine.
Yet other times, I realize that the motivation is: “Interesting idea, but you better show me that someone else has tried this already and proved that it works, because we’re not going first.” And that sucks.
I’ve had a company ask me for ROI justification for one of the models that’s at the core of the media transformation: social media. Hey, that’s great if executives just want to put some rough numbers on what making an investment in social media staffing and programs will bring in. But it sucks when if my answer comes back, “You’ll make some money, but short term probably not a lot based on competitors’ experiences; but this is an important component of your company’s future that you ignore now at your peril,” and social-media expansion and expenditures get tabled, that sucks.
And finally, with my consultant’s hat still on, a pet peeve specific to newspapers is the disconnect between what the digital/interactive department or division of the company thinks is a smart strategy, and what they can actually get approved from top executives. There’s a common thread that I’ve noticed, where an idea or strategy that seems logical to me as a way to deal with newspapers’ ills is also supported by the interactive manager and most of the staff, but can’t get past the executive level, because the guy or gal who makes the most money at the newspaper trumps the informed recommendation of the digital-media experts hired for their expertise.
It’s little wonder that the newspaper industry is a mess. Too many of its top executives seem unwilling to try new models that might turn things around, but seem too risky since they’re not proven.
I wish there were a way out of this situation. But I’m proven time and again that old-media publishers and CEOs consider many untested digital-media models too risky for shareholders, whose interest they must uphold. Doesn’t seem to be working too well, does it?!