By Thomas Marcetti
“If you were going to start from zero and launch CNN today, what would it look like?”
Jean Ellen Cowgill’s question captured the essence of her work with TicToc by Bloomberg and in her advice for how media and publishers need to shift their thinking for the modern era.
“It almost certainly wouldn’t be cable-centric,” she says. “Because that’s not where people watch video anymore.”
Cowgill, former president of Atlantic 57 and now global head of digital strategy and business development for Bloomberg Media and general manager of TicToc by Bloomberg, gave the opening keynote at AM&P’s 2019 annual meeting.
As Cowgill explained some of the thought process behind the creation of TicToc — Bloomberg’s quick-hit mobile news brand — she explained that one key consideration drove many of their decisions.
“Millennials are not an up-and-coming segment. They are not something to adapt to in the future. They are here now,” she says.
According to the Pew Research Center, by 2030 all members of the Baby Boom generation will have reached the retirement age of 65 — with an average of 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and then. By contrast, as of 2014 Millennials are the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. They now also represent the largest segment of management positions. Half of Millennials in leadership positions are director level or higher.
“They are the future because they are already in charge.” Cowgill says. “They are the new guard.”
The days of organizations and leaders thinking about Millennials as some strange emerging trend need to far behind us. Unfortunately, in many organizations and in many media strategies, that is not the case. She poked fun at the issue by referencing a tongue-in-cheek browser app that would change every instance of “Millennial” to “snake people,” which results in delightful headlines such as “Snake People Have Finally Ruined Marriage,” and “Snake People Do Use Credit Cards!”
“Whatever your industry, the future of your membership is based on Millennials, who are only going to continue to rise in their influence and their leadership and are already leading teams, businesses, and budgets,” she says. “If associations want to be relevant to this new guard of leadership, they need to understand what the media picture looks like for this group, what are their fundamental expectations from any content provider, and what might it look like to be a true partner to them in their work, careers, and goals.”
People are hungry for unbiased, fact-based information. They talk about the frustration with bias, but analytics show that straight-up facts by themselves are not enough. “What they say they want is unbiased analysis. This generation is demanding a more narrative-driven, story-telling-driven approach that gives them the facts in a story,” she says.
However, it’s important to remember the new guard grew up with technology. For them, the entire world’s worth of information has always been in their pocket. If one media source isn’t providing them the revelant information they need in a form that’s convenient for their fast-paced lives, they will find somewhere else to get that information.
“They are saying ‘Give me a kind of explainer, and give it to me in a way that is engaging, that fits into my life, that is quick, that I can check on my phone, and if it’s a video, I can watch in 30 seconds to a minute but I come away smarter,’” Cowgill says. “And they want it with a narrative that helps make sense and contextualize what’s going on.”
To address these needs, TicToc has three types of news items:
• Brief snippet videos, the headline, what’s happening right now.
• Short videos (30-60 seconds) that provide context as stories develop
• Long-form video that provide deeper background of developing stories
“Think about how to take those biggest pieces of intellectual property and reuse them, recycle them, repackage them at the moment when they’re most relevant,” Cowgill says. “It sounds obvious, perhaps, but so many organizations barely do it, and there’s so much more they can get out of the work they already invested in.”
Changing your publishing strategies to include the new guard doesn’t have to be scary or painful, but it is absolutely necessary for any association that doesn’t want to disappear.
“Many organizations probably will not completely scrap everything they are doing, start from the very beginning, and build the new, effective media strategy they desperately need,” Cowgill says. “The next best thing to seriously sit down and ask ‘If we started from zero right now, what would we do? What information do our members need? What’s the best way to get that information to them when they need it?’ Then start working toward that.”
Thomas Marcetti is associate editor for AM&P's Signature and Sidebar.