From Print to Digital: Transform Your Business

After reading Todd Moshier rave about the presentation by John Paton at mediaXchange, I looked up the video. I have to agree with Todd: that talk was nothing short of inspirational. And while Mr Paton talks of and to newspapers, it struck me that his words are equally relevant for most businesses, including ours.

“the newspaper model is broken & can’t be fixed” #fail #naamxc11#jrc

“There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.” (John Paton quoting Clay Shirky)

This isn’t true just of newspapers but of many businesses: print is declining. That doesn’t mean the skills or the objectives of print are redundant: you have to figure out what to work on and how to make it succeed. Quoting John Paton again:

“You don’t transform from broken, you don’t tinker or tweak: you start again anew.”

“the new newspaper model must become digital first and print last” #customerswantdigital #naamxc11 #jrc

“Fact: more Americans access their news digitally than they do in print. . . Fact: more American advertising dollars are now spent online than in print. Fact: the customers are gone, folks. . . A business model that focuses on the product they want the least—print—is doomed. You must build your new model on what they want most and, first and foremost, that’s digital.”

All your customers are online: on Google, on news websites, on Facebook, on Twitter and Quora and FourSquare. Are you still advertising in printed publications? Are you still using that old brochure, putting it up on your website and hoping people will find it?

When we started, Affinity Express specialized in digitizing embroidery designs and other graphic services for the promotional products industry. Then we started producing print ads and marketing materials and quickly moved on to digital.

A decade ago, all our business was in print. Since then, we have built years of expertise and experience in online advertising and marketing, working with many newspapers and other clients in the US. We have placed our feet firmly on the road to the future.

“stop listening to print people and put the digital people in charge–of everything” #printnogoodatdigital #naamxc11 #jrc

“Put the people who understand digital in charge of your business.”

“Digital isn’t part of your business any more, it is the business and the only part that is growing. It isn’t just your future, it is your present.”

This is true for all businesses, not just newspapers, and especially for the marketing function. If online is where your customers are and online is where growth is, online should be integrated within your business strategy and not handled by a small tactical team.

At Affinity Express, senior leaders including our CEO, Ken Swanson, are all committed to our digital services. Chief Digital Officer David Kang and Marisol Oberzauchner are two industry leaders that joined to expand our interactive services business even further. Having people who live and breathe digital set direction for growth is fueling our lead in providing interactive advertising and marketing production.

“newspapers must invest in content, sales & disruption–sell or outsource everything else” #linktotherest #naamxc11 #jrc

“Two-thirds of newspaper costs are infrastructure costs, the old legacy costs and not in our core competencies of creating content, sales and marketing. Get out of prepress, press, postpress, mailrooms, delivery, finance, IT, you name it. The outsourcers do it better and cheaper than you do because those are their core competencies.”

I’d mention how well we can help here, if John hadn’t said it for us:

“At JRC, we are on track to reduce our two-thirds legacy cost bucket by 50% by 2012 by working with innovative service companies like Affinity Express. On any given day, Affinity is building a third of the thousands of local ads we build every day in our company flawlessly and much more cheaply and better than we ever could and in all new formats—not just print—digital, video, and soon this quarter, mobile. By the end of this year, they’ll be doing all of our ads, and much more.”

There are no sacred cows.

“Where someone does even content or sales better than we do, we partner.”

The next day, JRC announced a deal with the Street for digital content.

“There is no roadmap for this: you have to experiment.”

Experimenting is the part of my job that I find most exciting. You try out new things and see what works. Which isn’t to say everything is a shot in the dark. There is tons of advice out there: the latest Editor & Publisher’s cover story features newspapers who are doing it right.

“trust the crowd & especially your youngest employees they will lead the needed experiments” #naamxc11 #jrcbenfranklinproject#idealab #jrc

“You have to disrupt your own business models. The people we used to call the audience have already done that. Now we call them the crowd. They create more content and they create it faster than we do. Harness it, work with them and experiment.”

“We’ve harnessed the power of our employees, and we’ve started to create a culture where they are empowered to experiment. We share all of the information tools publicly.”

“We encourage all of our employees to experiment. We actually pay some of them to do just that. We call it our Idea Lab.”

I know first-hand that my company does this because my superiors (including Kelly Glass, VP of Marketing and Ken Swanson, CEO) always heard out my ideas for new initiatives (and demanded more when they didn’t think I had been forthcoming enough). They agreed to try, even though we might have failed. They listened to me, even though I was the newest and youngest person in the (metaphorical) room.

I’m also exposed to our New Product/Service Development process through Kelly and am amazed at the breadth of our pipeline and the resources committed to continually expanding what we can do for clients, based on the domain expertise we have in important segments such as newspapers, ad agencies, retailers and more.

And that’s how Affinity Express stays fresh and innovative: because its leaders are willing to embrace ideas and to encourage employees to push forward in creative directions.

JRC’s Register Citizen is opening up doors (literally) to the community by starting a “Newsroom Cafe” where the public can walk into the cafe and have their coffee with reporters and editors working nearby. This space is physical, but it emulates the culture of the online world where worlds overlap and readers comment on stories.

The Omaha World-Herald surveyed their readers to find out what they wanted, and then gave it to them.

“complaint: newspaper dollars becoming digital dimes #naamxc11 – response: start stacking the dimes” #stopwhiningaboutreality #naamxc11 #jrc

“The market has changed: deal with it. You’re business leaders. From now on, we’ll have to have a lot of silos, a lot of stacks of dimes, to earn big revenue streams . . . and do all of that with less money than you spend today.”

I have written before about how businesses need to stop whining about how the internet has disrupted their business model and focus on how they can use the internet to their advantage. The internet isn’t your enemy: it’s an immensely powerful tool that can transform lives and businesses for the better. It brings people closer, it enables businesses in different locations to compete. Broaden your market: you can go after many people in the world who are looking for, say, help in creating their resume, rather than the few hundred job-seekers in your part of town.

Newspapers like Star Tribune and the Press-Enterprise are building content around local high school sports, appealing to students, parents and teachers in their communities.

Serve Customers Who Know Less Than You Do

“I would say that probably the biggest epiphany for me is that if you think we don’t know anything about digital content and digital sales being in the old newspaper companies, on a local level, the people who know less than us are our local advertisers. And so that meant that we would have to learn more about what they need and help them make that transition on to the web. Hence we build all their ads.”

“And as you know most online competitors say well, there’s gonna be this automatic thing where the local pizza guy is gonna build his own ad. What we found out is, no, we have to build it for him. And how are we going to do that when we used to sell $2,000 ads and now we’re selling $200 ads and we have to build them.”

And this is where Affinity Express comes in: we have technology, sure, that makes the process easier. But what we sell is services: the expertise of our people, who create ads, web pages, emails, videos and more day in and day out.

Digital is too big, too dynamic, for any one business to know everything. What you can know well is one part of the whole, and the part that matters most to your target customers. Affinity Express knows not only the newspaper business but also the business of the end-customer: the pizza guy who is advertising on the news website.

Build Your Digital DNA

“And that digital DNA is really interesting because those folks are not afraid to fail, and they don’t have to know the end of the story to try something.”

If you know how the story ends, what is the point of starting it? We are in it for the adventure, and because we are confident that we’ve arrived and will get someplace even better. Are you?

About Unmana Datta
Senior Marketing Manager at Affinity Express, Unmana is an obsessive consumer of blogs and social media, and fascinated by their use in marketing.

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