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Innovation – “not just around the edges, but at the core"

Kicking off AOP’s forum on shaping your digital business for 2010, Runcat Consulting’s Tom Turcan outlined the “structural shift” underway in the advertising market. One result of this, he predicted, is that innovation will more than ever be key to commercial success.

Both managing change, and innovation are back at the top of the agenda, he said, but “at the core” of businesses now, “not just at the edges”.

Where markets are diverse, the ideal strategy for accommodating change and creativity might be ‘bottom up’, rather than ‘top down’ he added - where experimentation and creativity are fostered organically from within.

A good map and compass

Taking a step back, Howard Davies, Media Partner at Deloitte, reminded the group that ‘digital’ will represent completely different opportunities to different publishers: for instance, is it core or supplementary to traditional media? Or an added service to existing customers?

On your digital journey, he said, the scouts’ code still applies - travelling with a good map and compass: having a shared vision of why you want to be a part of the digital future is vital.

Qualifying this, Dietmar Schantin, of WAN-IFRA said that having a “rough destination” is fine, as long as you have buy-in from your people. He added that senior management admitting it doesn’t have all the answers can itself inspire trust.

For those fearing being able to justify investment, he stressed that innovation can be more about mindset than money.

“Little ideas help” - for instance, there is a lot of learning and research still to be done around understanding the demands of publishers’ audiences online, and how this might expand their product offerings.

The role of product management

Picking up on this idea,’s Head of Product Management Mary Beth Christie explained her role in the Financial Times’ successful diversification.

With business priorities varying by department, each with their own view on how a product should look, and the purpose it should serve, product development can bridge a structural gap which might otherwise hinder digital development.

Smiley facesEveryone has their own view of what digital products should look likeHaving one product owner is crucial, she added, as is having someone to ensure that commercial and editorial work alongside and effectively with developers.

This approach to getting to the root of the motivations behind new products is enabling the FT to continue to innovate – in the past few months alone, launching a ‘save & clip’ article service, and iPhone app and Lexicon - investments which have already paid for themselves.

Further emphasising the importance of experimentation, Christie revealed that A/B testing around user registrations and logins is currently “really making a difference” to the company’s paid content model, and bottom line.

The Trader Media Transition

Having a process in place to unite business and IT is vital to online success, Trader Media’s Digital Publishing Director, Edwin Ulak agreed, explaining how the transition of AutoTrader from a magazine brand to a vastly profitable digital business grew out of a unique setup:

Its online entity was originally set up to compete nationally with its 13 regional print businesses. When digital revenue overtook print, there were only 250 employed in digital, and 3500 still in print.

Its continued success, he added, is based on an entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the organisation, and “knowing when to pull the trigger on change”. His advice to other publishers was:

  • Focus on providing solutions for your customers, not building audiences
  • Motivate sales teams around profit, and not just revenue, for sustainable growth

On the road of change, companies themselves can “exceed their bandwidth”, said Ulak, as the speakers emphasised the importance of celebrating success, and having clear milestones (not to mention breaks, and parties) along the way.

Davies pointed out that, in a time of recession, it’s a great opportunity to challenge and try things your company, and even your industry hasn’t done before – “the order going in and out is still undecided”.

AutoTrader, after all, has long been building websites and desktop applications for its customers, without considering itself a web development or software firm.

The view from the AOP ForumThe view from the AOP Forum at IPC MediaPhoto by John Welsh

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