What happens when focus on building as much compelling, industry-centric content as possible rather than worrying about how it will be delivered?
By John H. O’Brien
It’s 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday April 6, 2011, and I have already deleted 80 emails.
One that I did not delete was the day’s edition of Association Media & Publishing’s Final Proof. In particular, one article stopped me in my tracks: "5 Questions to Bridge the Print to Digital Divide” was the title.
It was a fine article; however, I disagree with the underlying premise that there is a divide between print and digital—and my difference of opinion led me to submit this article as a follow up. I’ve led two multi-title, multi-market B2B publishing companies and been a senior executive at AOL, so I have lived on both sides of this so-called divide—and frankly, I just don’t see it.
In my opinion, it’s time for those that organize, interpret, and deliver information of vital concern to their members to recognize that they must be omni-media (all-media) publishers. It’s a fool’s errand to think otherwise.
There are divides, but a divide between print and digital isn’t among them. Here are five we encounter almost every day:
1. The generational divide—manifested by the difference in the stakeholders’ preferred point of consumption and preferred style of consumption based on age. Older generations prefer to read, younger generations prefer to view it fast and graphical and wherever they are whenever they want. I used the term "preferred” deliberately. In plain fact, information consumption across media is cross generational. There is plenty of data to support this fact.
2. The deliverable divide—describes the silos that develop when organizations view each of their media properties as distinct and only accidently related to each other. Content sharing is a happy coincidence as is the cross-property halo that produces a value multiplier effect among stakeholders. When this divide occurs, properties tend not to have integrated roles or interconnected success metrics.
3. The organization divide—though closely related to the deliverable divide, this describes the stove-piped deployment of an organization’s talent and resources. Whether dedicated to single property or responsible for contributing to multiple properties, the individual’s thinking and work product is driven by the deliverable at hand. In many instances people create or aggregate different content for different properties. The unhappy consequence is the loss of capacity to build a deeper subject matter expertise and ultimately to build a deep and valuable body of knowledge for your stakeholders.
4. The "our need” versus "their need” divide—refers to the effort devoted to creating and delivering association-centric information, which represents a significant amount of the total content offering. One has to wonder: If given the chance to rate the value of association-centric content versus industry-centric content, which would your stakeholders value more? Associations may ask members if their media properties and specific content offerings are valuable; however, they seldom ask in a way that allows members to ask "compared to what?”
5. The "church and state” divide—refers to the traditional separation of editorial and advertising agendas. The business model for print is simple and clean. The publisher brings the readers, creates the relevant editorial environment within which the advertiser places its ad message, and delivers it to the readers. The advertiser pays a fee based on the number of readers, the value of a potential sale, the demonstrable readership the editorial produces, and the density of key decision makers doing the reading.
The omni-media model is anything but simple and clean because advertiser expectations are very different. In the omni-media world, advertisers demand the opportunity to offer thought leadership and actively participate in the community dialogue. They know that thought leaders are almost always among an industry’s market share leaders, particularly in the association and B2B world.
Becoming Content-Focused Closes these Divides
So what happens when you turn your attention and resources to building as much compelling, industry-centric content as possible rather than worrying how or where it will be delivered? Is it even possible to change focus from a deliverable-driven process to a content-driven one?
Today, thanks to the emergence of collaboration and workflow management (C&WM) technologies, it is actually quite easy. And because these technologies, which have been the domain of only large commercial publishers, are now available in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, they are readily available and easily affordable by even the smallest organizations.
In a C&WM-enabled organization the generational divide is irrelevant. All content can be purposed and delivered on any media platform in minutes. You are able to easily deliver content on whatever deliverable platform members desire. In addition, content leveraged across properties results in a natural integration with each property playing a measurable role in serving members.
C&WM can also help develop a near automated content cycle, from creation through production, as well as active observation and "listening,” which informs the next round of creation. In short, you can anticipate your members’ knowledge needs by observing their behavior, in real time, which is more reliable than asking them what they need.
And finally, the church and state divide becomes manageable. Content standards are set and all contributions, regardless of origin, are measured against them. Editorial staffs become less concerned about losing control and credibility because the C&WM platform allows sponsored or paid-for content to be purposed and identified accordingly. Contributors are judged based on what they know and the quality and credibility of their viewpoint—not on where they are employed. The fear of crass commercialism gives way to a pursuit of building bodies of knowledge.
The future belongs to those who develop the ability to listen, anticipate, and respond to their members’ need for knowledge and understanding. Failure to do so will result in a real divide… between you and them.
John O’Brien is vice president of EEI Communications. A 30-year publishing veteran, he led the magazine and newsletter publishing groups at Lebhar-Friedman and Phillips Publishing. He was also vice president of business development at America Online.