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2010 will see “Relentless pursuit of ROI, rather than reach”

Tom Turcan
Tom Turcan, Founder of Runcat Consulting, and former Digital General Manager at Guardian Media Group is speaking at AOP’s next forum on shaping your digital business for success in 2010 on 9 September.

Find out more about the event, and book your place online – tickets are just £40+vat for AOP members.

We spoke to Tom to get his views on organisational change, the future shape of digital media businesses, and the key factors for commercial and creative success in 2010.

Q. Many publishers have undergone radical structural changes in the past 12 months, what do you think will be the effect of these changes?

In the past year there have been two drivers of change - the need to lower costs, and the desire to integrate businesses across media distribution platforms. Falling revenues drives the first, and continuing consumer migration online the second.

Most companies know how to take cost out, but multimedia integration is new, and it is likely to have the more profound impact on performance over time, positively or negatively. A third change driver, the need to innovate, has been somewhat placed on hold since the recession took hold.

Q. What are the main things to think about when planning a change programme?

Having clear objectives, linked to the company's strategy. If either strategy or objectives are opaque any change programme will struggle, because the daily implementation decisions that need to be made will lack a business context.

That said, most publishers find it hard to articulate strategy precisely, as there's still much uncertainty about which business models to back, so building new competencies, investment options and business flexibility are likely to figure strongly. These objectives can sometimes sit uncomfortably in the same change programme as cost reduction.

Then, organisations need to think about methodology:

  • Do they want a top down rapid change or a bottom up high engagement process.
  • Externally facilitated or internally managed
  • Single step ‘big bang’ or incremental
  • How much technology management is required to support the change
  • What employee engagement and project governance models to follow
  • And how success will be measured

Q. Who do you think have managed change most successfully? Who are the players to watch in the future?

It's always hard to judge from the outside, but the continuing development of Trader Media from traditional regional publisher to online market leader is impressive. The Telegraph's bold change programme deserves admiration. The replacement and upgrade of the Guardian's online publishing platform is a great example of incremental change on a large scale.

Looking forward, the impact of News International's reorganisation will be fascinating to follow, and, for sheer complexity, the BBC's efforts to simplify its operating core. I think also the more progressive magazine publishers have the creative and competitive instincts to evolve very successfully.

Q. As publishers' grip on engaged, loyal online audiences grows ever more important, will editorial and organisational structure come in for even greater scrutiny?

I expect structures and processes will be under regular review for many years to come. Imagine, for example, if most publishers adopt models of many more revenue sources than they have had in the past.

This could elevate the customer database from a back room in the marketing department to become the company's major asset, requiring a new focus from most existing functions. Alternatively, if major collaborations become more important then the company's approach to sourcing, project implementation and governance would need to change.

Q. What do you see as the major trends affecting digital media businesses in the coming year?

A broadening of the revenue sources, smarter data management for insight, analytics and CRM, more collaborations with non-publishers, more enlightened management of technology-enabled change, and relentless pursuit of ROI, rather than reach, from online activities.

Q. How can publishers best prepare for these?

Having spent the past year taking out cost and integrating, many publishers will need to create some time for thinking about and planning for 2010 and 2011. With internal resources stripped back, they will need to look beyond their own organisations for some of the answers, through collaborations, strategic supplier partnerships and personal networks.

Q. If you had to pick three key factors for commercial and creative success in digital publishing, that you have observed from different businesses over the years, what would you say they are?

Restless leadership, clarity of business objectives (beyond the usual 12 month budgetting cycle) and performant multi-functional teams.

Tom is speaking at AOP’s next forum on shaping your digital business for success in 2010 on 9 September.

Book your place online – tickets are just £40+vat for AOP members / £80+vat for non-members.

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