A few light-bulb moments from meetings with leading media companies and research institutions

By Jed Williams
Chief Innovation Officer, Local Media Association

A-ha’s. They are one of the most energizing and provocative parts of an Innovation Mission. Beyond big ideas and interesting takeaways, they represent entirely new, or dramatically different, ways of thinking that illuminate new possibilities. You don’t know when they’re going to happen, but you certainly know when they do happen.

Attendees of LMA’s recent Atlanta/Raleigh-Durham IM shared many breakthroughs from the trip, and I experienced several myself. Here are a few of my “light-bulb moments” from a tour de force of meetings with leading media and technology companies, and research institutions.

Are You Truly Practicing What You Preach?

“Eat your own dogfood.” “Drink your own Kool-Aid (in a healthy way)?” Choose your favorite expression – Chris Weatherly, John Conway and the team at WRAL are doing it.

The WRAL Digital Solutions group that Weatherly leads is seeing booming revenue growth with digital marketing services, which also represent nearly half of its growing product mix. Yet Weatherly is challenging his team to do for their own brand exactly what they promise to deliver for clients. If you say you have an e-mail solution, then you need to have your own newsletter (WRAL Digital Solutions recently launched one). Your brand SEO should be humming. Social media should foster an engaged sense of community. You get the idea.

WRAL is doing all of the above, and more. It’s their way – and the most effective way – of demonstrating capabilities and earning trust. Show, don’t just tell.

This doesn’t only pertain to advertising clients. Your audience development and consumer marketing teams should be utilizing the very tools that they ask their teams to use in order to communicate with them most authentically, plus get data and feedback on what’s effective.

This wasn’t a new a-ha. Kim Reis at Entercom also opened our eyes to this on last summer’s Boston IM. But it was a strong reminder that we must always keep this ideal close in order to create the highest form of credibility with internal and external customers.

Do You Really Know Your Users? Are They ATTACHED to You?

There were a number of critical insights shared by Penny Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, during a visit to the UNC School of Media and Journalism. Among them: building a five-year growth plan centered on competencies and customers – not costs – to set strategy, and investing deeply in key customer franchises, which can often account for 80-90 percent of total revenue.

Extending this a full step forward is the notion of brand attachment. Note: this isn’t the same as engagement or loyalty. It starts with utilizing data and customer interactions to map a reader/viewer’s entire journey with your brand and content. Attachment extends beyond actions and pathways, however, to forge an emotional connection.

Abernathy asked, by solving important problems for key customers, how can we move them beyond repeat readers and transform them into recommenders and champions? Advocacy requires this deeper attachment that includes affection, connection and passion.

Here is a helpful primer on brand attachment from UNC’s JoAnn Sciarrino, a thought leader on the idea.

Saying NO Has Never Been More Crucial

As much as the Innovation Mission was about exposure to new ideas, it was also about the attendees sharing strategies for evaluating which opportunities to pursue, and which to put in the proverbial “parking lot.” For me, it was a time trip back to the “Ruthless Prioritization” posters on the walls at Facebook that I first encountered years ago.

And yet, fast forward to 2018, and strategic focus has never been more paramount, or more challenging.

It was front and center at McClatchy, where VP Product Scott Manuel talked openly about being selective about where to invest their own IP to create true differentiation, while at the same time being honest about commodity ideas that should be outsourced.

We ended the IM with each attendee not only sharing ideas that they were saying yes to, but also identifying something (internal or external) that they needed to say NO to.

Jed Williams is the Chief Innovation Officer for the Local Media Association. Contact him at jed.williams@localmedia.org