Those of you who are following my blogs will remember that a while ago I wrote at length about the demise of local media. The undisputed decline of printed media is currently reflected in the 30% reduction of newsroom staff and the 50% downturn in advertising revenue. No industry can sustain such high levels of decline, so radical measures are required if good journalism is to be preserved.
This topic was the focus of a talk run by the PRCA in London on May 15th, presented by John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times who explained that faced by such crises many newspapers have adopted two strategies. The first one, followed by the majority of the press, he defined as ‘cut and retreat’. This approach is self explanatory, you cut your costs to the bone and retreat. The problem with this approach is twofold. On the one hand, in order to continue to survive newspapers have to chase public whims, rather than carefully curating high quality news content for the public interest. Secondly, there are few commercial examples that a drastic ‘cut and retreat’ strategy has ever been able to create successful commercial organisations, at best just extending their demise.
The FT decided instead to take a different approach, one of quality and specialism, investing massively in high quality curation and retaining high levels of presence in key areas of the globe. For example, in South Korea the FT office is now one of a handful of international media organisations present in that country, as opposed to being one of dozens a decade ago. In addition to highly targeted quality content, its digital delivery has been pivotal to the success of the FT in recent years, contributing to its exponential growth particularly in overseas markets.
Mobile technology has further expanded the FT’s presence to the point where this paper has now close to 3.5 million App users alone. But it’s in data management where the FT excels. Its business model has been a clever one insofar as users can freely access a very small number of articles per month, provided they register. This kind of data is highly valuable as it’s of high quality, as well as being ‘clean’ (unlike some social media data, for example). Patterns of behaviour are constantly emerging from the data in question, enabling the FT to provide accurately targeted services in response to the needs of its readers.
From a marketer’s perspective this approach is music to one’s ear and really pretty basic stuff, like listening to your customers and prospects, meeting (as well as exceeding) the requirements of your market and carving a niche for your product or service, instead of being a generalist.
What is surprising is why other news providers have been so slow in adopting similar approaches, vying for the attention of fewer readers by appealing to their baser instincts instead of attempting to enlighten them through high moral principles and a public service ethos.
Whether this hubristic approach will result in the demise of even more titles remains to be seen but I am sure that if all the UK press had adopted a similar model to that of the FT we would never have ended up with a Leveson enquiry.