[FIPP Congress Q&A] Striving for common success
***Join us at the FIPP World Media Congress, taking place from 12-14 November 2019 in Las Vegas, to hear Chia Lun Huang speak about media transformation to meet a new generation of media consumer needs. Register before 25 September for discounted delegate rates. Take a look at the latest agenda. Register here.***
You’ve been responsible for overseeing digital transformation – but your title of director of transformation and learning isn’t purely a content role. Tell us about how you’re helping shape digital transformation in the wider sense.
We created the title for my role earlier this year and that was really about recognising that there needs to be someone to coordinate all the things happening in the company and a realisation that a lot of change is taking place beyond just print-to-digital transformation. I have a background in human resources, we have a lot of organisational change taking place, structural changes, training initiatives – and really all of these go hand in hand. We’re initiating a lot of these projects one after another, but everybody moves at a different speed – some teams are able to move quickly while other teams hesitate more. So we wanted to ensure that those who go faster share what they have been through and can help others along. That means there’s a lot of cross-functional communication and training – and this role kind of gives license to go into different departments and try to get people together to exchange experience and help each other along a big transformational journey.
So digital transformation for the business is about organisational change and not just products shifting from print to digital?
Definitely. I would say that I’m not the only one doing digital transformation here. Everybody’s work is related. The changes that our designers are seeing are different to what our advertising guys are going through. But they’re all part of the digital transformation that’s happening across the entire company. So I see my role more as an enhancer. Our company is not built on digital natives, which means a lot of things don’t happen as quickly as we would want them to – so my role in that sense is to try to spot the challenges they face, where we can help them over difficulties, where there are some resource overlaps, for example. It’s about recognising where people need others to come in and share their experiences and coordinating that to make it happen. Those are the sorts of things we’re trying to facilitate to help people who are not necessarily digital natives to move with us through the digital transformation. I see my role as enabling digital transformation to happen across the board.
Tell us a bit about the CommonWealth brand – how it’s viewed in the market and what it stands for.
So we’ve been in the market for nearly 40 years. We just celebrated our 38th year. And CommonWealth is definitely one of the most trusted brands in Taiwan. The Reuters Digital Reports included Taiwan two years ago and it showed that we are the most trusted financial magazine in the region. The title is the second-most trusted media brand overall in the region, but the first is a television brand. The title is all about creating common good. We’re working towards a better society, and that’s a tagline that we have always stood by, since the first day of the magazine’s founding. The magazine is all about bringing about change, pushing society towards a better place. When you start a revolution, the spirit of democracy is making sure that the common good is put above all. So that’s where our name came from.
The brand has been through a big digital transformation. Tell us how that has changed the position of the title, whether it as impacted the revenue model and what other changes it has brought about.
So CommonWealth began as a financial magazine. We began with one magazine and now we have four titles – four sub-brands – but CommonWealth remains the largest brands in the group. And what I want to say is that all of the brands have kind of gone on their own different digital transformation. For example, our parenting branch has gone off more on the e-commerce side, and so has our health niche. So what I’ll talk about is our original CommonWealth magazine brand. In the Taiwanese market we have always tried to be a frontrunner in terms of change. So we were one of the first to set up a website, we were one of the first to put out an iPad version. But I think the most significant change came about in 2017, when we put out a digital subscription paywall. We were really the first mainstream title to do that. In the past it was all about iPad or PDF versions, but we were the first to go for a subscription model. That really helped us a lot. Print is going down globally, and it’s the same in Taiwan. So with this digital subscription we were able to continue to grow the subscription base. And today, 45 per cent of our subscribers are digital. And we’re on track to overtake print subscribers by the end of the year. It’s a very important driver for change for us, and it’s helped us drive other initiatives too. With the paywall, we have been able to collect data and information on what our audiences like, for example, so we can optimise the products and at the same time add a premium to our digital advertising offering.
How have you managed change so well and what are the principles of good transformation for you?
I think there are few factors that have kept us on the right path. One is that there’s strong commitment from top leadership that this is the way and that we’re doing this because we want to show that there’s a place for quality content that people are willing to pay for. And that’s a very big commitment. All the way down from our chairman, to our president, to editor in chief and the project manager. There’s a real commitment and I think that commitment has really helped push this very difficult transition. And, even if it’s the changes that have needed to happen, such as in editorial, which have been very painful, we have had a clear commitment that this is what we are going to do. So I would say that is one of the crucial elements of a successful transition for me – that buy-in and commitment at all levels.
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