Q: ‘Who’s tried that already?’ A: ‘Who cares!’

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?!

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

4 Responses to "Q: ‘Who’s tried that already?’ A: ‘Who cares!’"

  1. Amy Segreti
    Amy Segreti 8 years ago .Reply

    “Too many of [the newspaper industry’s] top executives seem unwilling to try new models that might turn things around, but seem too risky since they’re not proven.”

    True. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about going the Mother Jones route (example of a successful nonprofit news organization), but just because that works for them doesn’t mean it’s going to work for other papers. Trying new business models is essential at this point, because there is no other option.

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk 8 years ago .Reply

    To be fair, though, it’s not just the executives who will not try new models. It’s everyone there. Because people who really want to try a lot of social media models and try lots of new ways to deliver content wouldn’t continue working at a newspaper.

    Penelope

    Penelope

  3. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Penelope: That’s true. There’s a serious innovators brain drain in the newspaper industry, as frustration drives them away.

  4. Charles Batchelor
    Charles Batchelor 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve, you describe well what I’ve been facing all of 2009.

    It is especially interesting when you get into specifics as I do with my WuduPlz project, which we’ve designed to fit into and compliment local newspapers’ marketing, but while it sells ad space in print and online, WuduPlz is not the news biz.

    Here in the real world, part of the problem now is people at newspapers do not have time to do something different. This business “scales,” so when there is demand, you can make more money with little added work. Likewise, as demand goes down and the dollars are reduced, the work doesn’t decrease much. Nevertheless, media firms are cutting back on staff. And it’s the same in other industries as well.

    The result is that when you and I walk in with, “Hey, here’s something to do to make more money…”, they hear “something to do.” They don’t need something more to do. Although we’ve made WuduPlz as easy as possible to deploy and reduced the risk to zero, they do have to invest a little time to make money with it. It takes a good manager to find “a little time” today. But some are.

    I’m now beginning to talk about WuduPlz as an EXAMPLE, a training device of sorts, of how to innovate and market new “branding” services.

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