Takeaways from a first-time Innovation Mission attendee

By Jay Small
Chief Innovation Officer, LMA

What an orientation! I joined Local Media Association as chief innovation officer in April, and one part of the job I anticipated most eagerly was to help develop and facilitate LMA’s legendary Innovation Missions.

Funny thing is, I had never been on an IM … until now. We just wrapped up the 2019 Innovation Mission in San Francisco and Silicon Valley (#LMAIM, if you’re inclined to catch up via Twitter), and if it is possible to be exhausted, exhilarated and energized all at once, that’s me.

Other attendees, I’m sure, will post their observations in the coming days. Here are a few of mine:

In our post-IM debriefing, Stephanie Slagle observed that our host companies on this mission spent relatively little time on bright, shiny objects in the typical sense. She’s right. We saw only a few gadget demos or “gee-whiz” software feature updates. To me, though, the shiny objects on this IM were culture and customer focus.

  • The most valuable things we in the media industry can obtain from Salesforce may have little to do with implementing the CRM or email marketing product lines for which the company is best known (and not always loved). Salesforce has built profound institutional knowledge of customer journeys, engagement and experience — and has learned to apply that knowledge to employee success strategies and engagement. Who else do you know that maps every new employee’s onboarding for the first year? It felt like we were seeing a product demo, but the product was the culture.
  • Though the company cultures were noticeably different at LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and Yelp, the focus on company culture and employee engagement became obvious just taking a look around the halls. At YouTube, they post advanced coding tips at eye level … above the urinals. At Facebook, artists-in-residence theme the workspaces and common areas with often striking sculptures and imagery that is periodically refreshed. Employees use Post-It notes or chalkboards to add to wall-borne conversations and memes. At LinkedIn, while enjoying lunch in the employee cafeteria, we watched video of performances at a recent employee open mic event.
  • The culture at KQED, San Francisco’s public broadcaster and digital powerhouse, inspired us a different way. We met in a rather ordinary, windowless conference room, and simply talked with a couple of visual examples on screen but no big slideshows or multimedia showcases. Yet the team’s passion resonated for pushing boundaries in news coverage, storytelling, and regional media partnerships for the sake of better journalism. Check out KQED Then and Now (PDF) to get a glimpse of how KQED has grown and transformed since 2010.

File these under “You Might Not Have Noticed”:

  • The Yelp Economic Average indexes business health trends across 30 business sectors using Yelp’s data on millions of U.S. businesses and consumer demand expressed by its app and web users.
  • LinkedIn now has 60 staff journalists globally, developing and curating content in major topic areas relevant to its users, including career/practice management, the future of work, technology, workforce planning, current events, and health news.
  • Salesforce and Facebook have about the same number of employees — just under 40,000 each.

A last thought, one I mentioned to the group in the debriefing:

While many people and companies I know in the local media space just try to cover the bases, these companies keep showing us, by example, how to steal some bases. We can’t win from a defensive crouch, and I don’t believe we can win by fighting or ignoring the big tech platforms.

This IM wasn’t about bowing down and facing the internet giants like religious shrines. It was about learning from the successes and amassed knowledge of tens of thousands of very smart people, and finding reasonable ways to work with them to improve the prospects of local journalism and media.