In a rapidly declining market, this US regional newspaper company had seen its revenues fall for several consecutive years and had already shut down dozens of unprofitable titles.
We helped this company develop a new sense of identity for the digital age and a strategy that re-establishes its news products at the heart of the local community.
The local ‘rag’ was once at the centre of town or village life. Two decades of rapid technological and social change have left it seriously marginalized and commercially unsustainable. Reader migration to the Internet, fragmented advertising spend and increasing print costs have brought regional news publishers to crisis point.
Determined to not only survive but also grow, the newspaper publisher’s VP Sales and Marketing called us, for a better take on the future. In seeking out Futurelab, she was moving away from the “same old consultants” producing “the same old result.” Instead the company wanted to bring in our experience and creativity as veterans of reinvention and innovation. We also brought the fresh perspective of a newcomer to the US regional news marketplace.
One of our Partners immersed himself for two weeks in the client’s brand and business model, receiving remote support from two of our Senior Associates. Side-by-side with editors and sales teams, retailers and readers, as well as advertisers and subscribers, we studied the company’s strengths and began to imagine how they might re-equip for the future. We also saw how one of the group’s strongest assets – its experienced regional sales directors – could present a barrier to change: cynicism.
The way forward
We combined this immersion period with a creatively guided research phase, where we sought out comparable cases across the world, often from seemingly incomparable markets and industries across the world. After two weeks, we had come up with 189 ideas for the US publishing company’s future. After a series of meetings, informal workshops, feasibility studies, research, ideation sessions and many flashes of common sense, we had narrowed the ideas down to a favoured few. We fed them into a new vision and a three-pillar strategy:
The Vision: to become the connecting force between all stakeholders in the community, not just a deliverer of papers or even just news).
1. Becoming a true partner to the commercial parties in the community and jointly developing customer engagement strategies
2. Engaging all stakeholders in the creation and dissemination of community-relevant content and commerce, B2C and C2C
3. Develop membership-based models rather than subscription-based models.
Making it real
In a two-day session we shared our findings with the regional Heads of Sales. Buy-in from this group was essential to ground-level success. We expected resistance to change – and at first we got it. But because of our consultants’ respectful approach and wide experience, we know how to package change into acceptable portions. We understood that business reinvention could not happen without a sense of shared ownership.