Media companies would benefit from more product development

This morning, I read Alan Mutter’s post on “A digital publishing model that works” and what stood out above all is the need for more solid product development at media companies.

Mutter thoughtfully analyzes the revenue and audience development success of LinkedIn via a digital publishing strategy compared with newspaper job classified verticals.

“While newspapers stuck with the classic model of putting job ads in front of thousands of people in hopes of matching employers with job seekers, LinkedIn leverages the full power of digital publishing to identify ideal candidates for employers – even when they’re not looking for jobs,” Mutter writes.

It’s no secret that the media industry has a tradition of slow and often closed-off reactions to market changes around once monopolized revenue streams. I happen to work in a market with a strong jobs vertical, which is atypical of many media organizations. It won’t be long before market winds create enough inertia to move audience and revenue elsewhere, I fear. Marketplace, autos and real-estate dollars were lost in the past decade by shifting from mass market penetration to innovative, audience driven solutions with targeted advertising and content models. Media companies were slow or didn’t react at all. And the obituary revenue model shift is likely happening now or coming soon, along with others.

So, what can be done? Well, I argue media companies need to invest in product development, and ideally people with a background in ecommerce and digital publishing.

There are many reasons why I feel this way. Here are three:

To balance audience-driven solutions with customer-driven solutions – It’s a balancing act that media companies have a hard tradition to overcome. In the past, advertisers drove many product decisions. Now, if the product or service is not solving a problem for the audience or creating remarkable experiences the revenue and the users won’t be there. This means actually talking and listening to users and customers before a product is put in the market.

To analyze and react to the vast amount of available data – Product developers love to react to data. Data helps create meaningful solutions. Takes the jobs vertical, for example. If there are 50 job listings for nurses in your market and those are being viewed 40 times more than any other posting a product developer can create targeted revenue solutions for customers that meet audience demands in a matter of hours, and that is just one example. I bet most media organizations aren’t looking and reacting to that type of data daily, weekly or monthly. The problem is our competitors are.

To experiment – Product managers are doers. A great quality in this makers society. Often media companies hire outside consultants with the allure of doing innovative things. Consultants are smart, and I have some as good friends. But in my experience consultants get paid by the hour, which makes them ideal talkers. They give good advice and sound direction but too many of them won’t get into the dirty details. Product developers do.

As I mentioned, those are just three arguments on why media should invest more fully in product development. Do you have examples of successful product development at a media company? Please share.

Note – I am a product manager for an agency within a media company, so I may appear quite bias. In fairness, I have worked for media companies my entire career as a reporter and online editor in a newsroom, and now as a product manager on the product, sales and marketing side working with internal and external clients.

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