7 strategic questions business media leaders should be asking

Over the last few weeks a major swathe of the quoted business media companies have been reporting their results. While I have covered some of them on this blog I have not done so from the perspective of a financial analyst. Instead, I find it fascinating to see the leadership teams of these companies present their strategy for their businesses.

Individually these results presentations tell a lot about how an individual business is shaping up. What are the threats to their traditional markets? How are they making the transition to a digital future? How strong is the management team? etc. What gets more interesting though is when you aggregate these presentations and try to distil some key themes from them.

So here I would like to pull out 7 key questions that I believe business media companies should be asking themselves if they are to prepare themselves for the years ahead.

1) What business am I in?

Before any company starts down this road it is probably worth reviewing your company’s mission statements, goals and values.  The media landscape has changed radically in the past 5 years. It will change radically again in the next 5 but there should be some key underlying themes that remain true and consistent. Try to document in real language what your business is and, please, don’t just sit there waiting for things to return to the past *cough, recruitment revenue, Centaur results presentation*

2) What does my company do really well?

It’s all well and good to have many spokes to your wheel and a multi-platform strategy is sensible. However, underneath that each company should be able to easily identify their key strengths. What do you do better than your competitors? What is your key advantage as an organisation? Shouldn’t you be spending a lot more time trying to build on those strengths and add complementary offerings around those particular skills rather than worrying about areas where you are weaker?

3) In which markets do we own brands with ‘last-man standing’ advantage?

In the UBM results presentation David Levin spoke about the business media industry being ‘over-published’ in many key verticals. He was specifically talking about print products but we all know that strong media brands don’t work with only one channel. In which media markets do you have real strength? Where do you own real brands rather than just products? Concentrate on those and get out of the markets where you don’t – sell them quickly (there are still plenty of buyers..), close them or accept that you are running them for short-term cash.

4) What is our emerging markets strategy?

Healthy business media properties rely on underlying growth in the markets they serve. Geographically it is clear that the major growth in the world economy is likely to come from the developing rather than the developed world. What is your company doing to benefit from these markets? What operations or partnerships do you have in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and other growth economies?

5) What are we doing to move up the value chain of information in our chosen markets?

In all but the most specialist markets, news is becoming commoditised. Businesses that in the past have relied on charging for news are rapidly finding that their business models no longer work. If you want to stay in these market sectors what are you doing to move your content and services up the value chain? Where are you able to add data and analysis to your content mix? What about the development of workflow solutions and software products? It’s not easy and is no quick fix but a drive towards higher value and renewable revenue streams should obviously be a goal for all business media companies.

6) Is my business structured for the past or the future?

In the UBM presentation it was interesting to hear Levin talk about a significant re-engineering of management teams in the past year. Whilst modern media businesses clearly still need a lot of the skill sets they always have – content development,  relationship building and talent management – increasingly technology is playing a much bigger role. Do you have the right people in place? Are there bottle-necks in your structures? Are there people in charge of business units who are responsible for making decisions on areas in which they have little experience?

7) Can I explain my company strategy clearly, simply and believably?

A couple of the CEO’s who presented their results recently gave me very little confidence in their company’s future strategy. While you don’t have to be a great presenter to run a great business; you do have to be able to give confidence to your customers, investors and staff that you have a plan about where you are going and why.  After the recent turmoil in many media markets I’m not convinced that some companies have made up their minds.

Here are 7 questions.

Any others that you’d like to contribute? Please put in the comments below.

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8 responses to “7 strategic questions business media leaders should be asking

  1. Rory nice blog, i thought i would point you to the questions i have asked all of Incisive Media to focus on.

    Key questions we should be asking
    So what should we focus on in the days ahead to maintain our competitive edge and drive increased value? Here are some of the key questions we should be asking ourselves to ensure we revitalise our brands and set the business up for growth.

    1. How do we transfer the success stories from one division to another?
    Is the company organised in a way that enables sharing of best practice across the group and are we able to identify and capture group synergies that can help diversify our revenue streams away from advertising and other cyclical revenues? Can we improve the international penetration of publications that are capable of travelling abroad? Have we established internal processes and forums that enable us to share strategic insights and success stories?

    2. How do we energise the transition to online models on the web and mobile?
    Have we identified those verticals and customer segments where traditional revenue streams are under pressure and an online transition is imperative, now and in the next 2-5 years? What management and resources are required to accelerate this transition? Have we identified the key elements of a successful online business model? Have we allocated resources to highest potential opportunities? How do we take advantage of smart phone technology and have we developed a mobile strategy?

    3. How do we move our subscription model from One-to-One to One-to-Many?
    How do we transition our newsletters online? How do we test a subscription model for the desktop so that we can sell site licences and test each marketplace we serve? Are we delivering unique and “need to have” content that is valuable?

    4. Have we prioritised entry into new areas?
    Can we grow or expand any of our current brands into data businesses? Is there information that our readers need that we do not currently provide but that we ought to try to provide? In which verticals and customer groups are we likely to find the most new data business opportunities? Since traditional media businesses are often weaker at identifying and executing new data business opportunities, are there areas that require group-level intervention?

    5. Have we optimised our existing portfolio of brands?
    Are underlying market fundamentals deteriorating in any of our verticals and customer segments? Are we busy generating revenues with little or no margin? Have we developed a pricing strategy that delivers increased yield in user revenues and marketing spend? What products should we consider re-launching or changing format or delivery medium? In what areas do we have additional pricing leverage? How do we capture this opportunity?

    The next couple of years are going to continue to be challenging and exciting for all those who work at Incisive Media. Let’s continue to revitalise our brands and business models and build further on the leading market positions we hold. I want to encourage you to be experimental, to continue to innovate, to kick-start change and importantly to share your experiences (the good, the bad and the ugly) with your peers across the group. I know we will excel – there is no business more creative or innovative than ours and look forward to the future with confidence as I hope you do to.

  2. Rory Brown

    Thanks Tim

    – some interesting additional points, especially about one-to-many subscriptions and mobile strategies.

    I’m keen to get a debate going so any more questions and thoughts are welcome.

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  4. Rory

    This one is implicit in a number of your (and Tim’s) points, but I’d love to see it more to the forefront in publishers thinking, especially B2b:

    “Do our customers get value from the things we think they get value from, do we know how that value is generated and do we measure that value?”

    OK, so that’s three questions. In my experience the first two are not at all well addressed. We’re not very good at understanding why, when people buy, they make that decision. We’re generally quite bad at understanding and measuring how value is generated and how this changes with time.

    I particularly agree with Tim’s question 3. Media owners need to be focussed on conversations, not only starting and facilitating them (desirable, but limiting) but much more importantly, recognising and joining them where they already exist.

  5. Rory Brown

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for contributing. I think you make some great points.

    Determining when and how value is created in media is obviously both the problem and the opportunity.

    Look forward to hearing your presentation at the SIPA UK website conversion event next month.


  6. Hmmm… fascinating blog and discussion…

    I’m sure everything said above is right, only my experience is that only very simple things get done.

    So, I’m going to go for two things

    a) Is my revenue per employee going up or down? If up, great, then my brands are getting stronger, I’m monetising my editorial, I’m developing the right products… If down, then review, fix and then close…

    b) How do I mimick the media brand buying experience offline online. So, I buy my daily newspaper from the newspaper stand – or pick up my daily freebie from the dispenser bin – or I buy 3 books when I visit the book store (you know, buy 2 get one free) – how will those experiences be delivered with online media? Essentially, the more natural and human the purchase of online media brands becomes, the more succcessful we will be and a) will increase. If I ask customers to do unnatural things, I’ll get unpleasant results and a) will fall.

    Repeat and rinse, repeat and rinse…


  7. Rory Brown


    Really great points – I am particularly a fan of “only very simple things get done”. I’m sure we’re all guilty of over-complicating and trying to be too clever at times.

    Thanks for your contribution.


  8. The marketers I speak to always complain of the same two things:

    1. No money for researching readers / markets

    2. Marketing revenue is not chanelled back into marketing.

    As these two factors are central to running an effective publishing company, the marketing directors involved probably find most of the ‘key questions’ listed above as flawed.

    Historically, the publishing focus has mainly been on editorial and advertising income. Editorial was measured by readership and advertising by revenue. Everyone agrees that has changed – advertising no longer makes the money it did.

    Now, revenue is measured by marketing success. So editors and marketing directors now have similar responsibilites: to reach and monetise prospects.

    Editors must also be marketers and marketers must maximise revenue.

    If you agree with this so far, will someone let us know why marketers in publishing are restricted by fixed budgets and low-level staffing, and remain stifled by the kind of financial models that existed pre-Internet?

    Marketers cannot maximise company revenue unless they are autonomous and their budgets are open-ended.

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