The innovation journey continues, but much smarter than before

Wilpers has spoken at several FIPP (and other) events around the world, the writes for FIPP’s monthly Innovation newsletter (subscribe here) and will host the FIPP Innovation Forum (which is part of the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October), alongside IMC partner Juan Senor.

John spoke to FIPP contributor Jon Watkins here, sharing his views on the magazine media industry’s innovation journey so far, and how he expects it to develop next.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to where you are today…

I started my career back in 1973 at a magazine in Washington, D.C., and have since worked for metropolitan daily newspapers, local newspapers, national and international publishing companies, online publishers – including AOL – and started my own online medical news service. Over the last seven years, I have been consulting with magazine and newspaper publishers around the world to help them reorganise and integrate their editorial staff to create multi-media content 24/7 across multiple platforms. This includes expanding into events, newsletters, data analysis, and social media. I help them rethink their workflows, their job descriptions and the structures of their businesses. On top of this, in my role as author of FIPP’s annual Innovation in Magazine Media World Report and contributor to the monthly FIPP Innovation newsletter I constantly monitor multiple sources to stay on top of media innovations.

What differentiates those who are doing innovation well and those who really struggle to deliver on innovation?

I believe it’s an issue of culture and people. Take the example of Atlantic Monthly. That business was losing millions of dollars a year. So owner David Bradley pursued an executive he believed could turn things around, The Week’s Justin Smith. Smith succumbed to Bradley’s entreaties but insisted that Bradley let him treat Atlantic Media like a start-up. Smith’s vision, personality, drive and start-up mentality made the difference. He knew how to hire the right people with the right mindset and the desire to change, experiment, and innovate. Without the right people and the right culture, you can have the best ideas in the world but ideas alone will not move your company forward.

Following a period of rapid change in the industry, it feels like the rush to slap the word “innovation” across everything is ending and we are seeing better, more considered innovation now. Is that fair?

We’re coming out of a period of innovation fatigue where every time you turned around there was something new, something shiny, something everyone said you had to try. The industry has calmed down. Yes, we have the Apple Watch, and it will still have impact on things, in particular the future of wearables, but it won’t have the same impact as tablets had, for example. We’re in a period now where we need to step back, assess all the innovations and case studies, and decide what will work best for our readers. We must stop chasing every shiny new thing and focus on a few innovations that are key to our surviving and thriving. Alongside that, the time for implementation is here (just see, for example, the plentiful case studies of successful innovation and implementations in the Innovation World Report as well what was on show at the recent Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin – there is an in-depth report here – and will be on show at the World Congress in Toronto – see the provisional programme here).

What’s excites you about the future of our industry right now?

The exciting thing for me right now is the opportunity to finally be able to put the last decade of innovation, experimentation, testing and validation to work. Based on all the mistakes and successes, we can finally say we know what works and what doesn’t. As a result, we can create bespoke missions and strategies that are innovative and future facing and very likely to succeed, because we have data that proves they work. Editorial departments must now make it their business to review all of the innovations, experiments, case studies and new tools – and then create a vision, a roadmap and a tool kit for serving their unique readers. It’s exciting because it’s time to move on from talking about innovation to actually doing – implementing – it.  

Find out more, and register (if you haven’t yet) to join us at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October 2015 at

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