Innovation in leadership in times of pandemic

With Covid-19 radically changing the media landscape, it’s never been more important for publishers to be innovative when charting a path forward.

As companies look to overcome stumbling blocks like how to effectively monetise content, move to digital and motivate staff, Juan Señor and John Wilpers of Innovation Media Consulting – authors of FIPP’s annual Innovation in Media World Report – and renowned success coach and author Sharron Lowe were on hand at the FIPP World Media Congress 2020 to suggest some crucial course corrections.

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For publishers eyeing up the swirling Covid hurricane with trepidation, Señor had a simple message – embrace the chaos. “Perhaps the greatest mistake you can make is to be passive and let this pass, shelter in place and let the storm go by,” he said. “This is a transformative, historic event for humanity and our industry and you have to figure out how to get a hold of it. It’s important to have an attitude of opportunity and not victimism.”

According to Lowe, making the best of the pandemic is largely down to having a laser-like focus. “Some people will be successful through this and some people will not and that will come down to how they use their mind,” she said. “You can change things in one day by knowing how to take charge of the mind, your thoughts, your decisions and what you do in your actions. Too many people in business focus on their actions far more than their attitude. What’s wrong is always available for us to focus on, but so is what’s right. It’s all about what you focus on.”

If your journalism is not worth selling, you shouldn’t be in this business.

Juan Señor, Innovation Media Consulting

Stop selling the wrong thing

Señor believes the greatest innovation to come out of the past year is companies selling journalism, not ads. “We’ve been selling the wrong thing,” he said. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult for you to make a living out of just an ad-dependent magazine media experience on digital. The fastest way to sustainability is to find a way to charge for your journalism.

“If your journalism is not worth selling, you shouldn’t be in this business. Unless you get people to pay for your information, it’s game over. People have rediscovered the value of consuming quality journalism during the crisis and we have to capitalise on this moment in history. You must develop the self-conviction in your brand to tell readers they have to pay.”

When it comes to ad revenue, the media’s prospects have been significantly boosted by what Señor described as the “vertiginous collapse of trust in social media platforms”. “We’ve seen Instagram influencers sharing conspiracy theories, magic cures and irresponsible comments – some with good intentions and some just profiteering. This has led to some brands rethinking whether they should spend their few remaining ad dollars on the accounts of these influencers. It’s a gain for us because our journalism has been very responsible and accurate. This is something you must articulate when selling.”

If we cannot change things – like the pandemic – then change the way you feel about it.

Sharron Lowe, author, speaker, success coach

Don’t get stuck in the past

Amid the ongoing mass migration to digital, Señor warned publishers against clinging to print, especially since there are people who think magazines placed in communal spaces like dentist’s offices or hairdressers spread Covid.

“Some people might be afraid to read magazines but they will still want your content on digital first,” he said. “Once habits have been formed and people decide they will consume your content online it’s difficult bringing back the old habit of print.”

Publishers have to be careful to not rush the transition to digital, though.

“People are cutting their print operation to convince themselves they are digital first – but you cannot cut your way to growth,” Señor said. “Desperate measures for desperate times should not become the norm. Only become digital first when your revenues are digital first.”

Lowe pointed out that agonising too much over something negative, like the decline of print, stops you seeing opportunities elsewhere. “If we cannot change things – like the pandemic – then change the way you feel about it,” she said. “There are some people who are holding onto print but you want to embrace the pivot to digital because that’s non-negotiable. We all have the opportunity to thrive and focus on opportunities – we simply have to make the decision to do so.”

Working remotely is not the answer

Señor described the forecast that companies should shut down editorial departments and let staff work from home as “complete nonsense”.

“To make great content is a collaborative effort and we should try and get people back to the office as soon as possible,” he said. “I believe humans aren’t programmed to work from home. It’s exactly the opposite. People are now associating staying at home with the punitive aspect of this experience like being in quarantine and not being able to go out for fresh air. If, on top of that, you are expecting them to be productive, you are in for a big surprise.”

With people set to still work remotely for a while, companies should make a point of reaching out to their workers. John Wilpers cited an example of one business that made regular phone calls to check on the mental wellbeing of their staff. “They took it upon themselves – knowing that some people working from home might be very stressed – to set up a regular calls from the editor to the writer or the sales director to the sales staff to just basically say – how are you? Looking after people’s mental health is critical.”

On the flipside, it’s important for people who are working from home to not cut themselves off from the world. “We all know people in our teams that, being introverted, are struggling at home,” Lowe said. “There’s an easy answer to this – they can go online, look at a tutorial, attend a conference and listen to things that’ll add energy and make them feel more connected. We all need people.”

Good help isn’t really hard to find when top talent is looking for you.

John Wilpers, Innovation Media Consulting

The human touch

Wilpers underlined the importance of companies investing properly in human capital by dramatically changing the way they recruit, train, hire and retain staff. “Top talent is critical,” he said. “We must transform our companies into alluring, employee-focused places and market the hell out of it. Good help isn’t really hard to find when top talent is looking for you.”

A key part in improving your company is listening to your staff when it comes to topics like what’s not working and adopting sustainability initiatives. “They are the people who know what will fix the company but they are never asked for their opinion,” said Wilpers. “If you come to them and say, ‘this is a safe space, tell me what we need to do’ you will see people go from feeling like victims to being advocates of change.”

With staff currently scattered to all parts, it’s crucial for companies to achieve synergy by empowering the individual, according to Lowe. Pointing out that each staff member is like a delicate snowflake that, when combined, could become a powerful avalanche, she stressed the importance of everyone buying into the company’s vision, strategy and mindset that’s been agreed collectively.

“When I’ve added millions to brands like Clinique, Lauder and Chanel, it’s because I’ve empowered the individual and that’s then created the avalanche,” she added. “I empower the individuals to want to increase their performance and then we synergise and we are off. Then there is no stopping us.”

Get Sharron Lowe’s book The Mind Makeover here.

Get FIPP’s Innovation in Media Report here.


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