‘Once Digital Gets Its Hands on Things, It Never Lets Go’; Media Executives Talk Transformation

“I think there’s an incredible future path for us to do what we do,” Industry Dive CEO Sean Griffey said today in an excellent discussion on digital transformation. “There’s still a place for good journalism in the world. And a place for us to leverage our role as connectors and make a lot of money for it.”

Listening intently to that discussion yesterday took me back to a Zoom call I had in May with Krystle Kopacz, CEO of Revmade. “The biggest challenge is, ‘How do you lead your company through a massive transformation when your work hours are not what you’re used to, you can’t connect in the office, and you can’t separate professional and personal problems?’” she told me.

Kopacz said she had been up early—probably around 5 am given her schedule with a 9-month-old daughter—thinking about her SIPA keynote in June. “Publishers can provide information and research, but what do they need from me? How can I help them navigate this? I work with brand clients. And they’re calling me saying, ‘We’re not doing trade shows, so how do I find qualified buyers?'”

Her first question, she said, is, “Have you thought about working with a publisher?” But  “publishers are up against a lot in this new environment. What they need to do is to align their products better with marketing pain points. ‘How do I call up some of the clients’ pain points? How do I create a lead gen replacement package?’

“This is where your media sales team can play the biggest role, helping clients understand and being relevant to your target audience,” Kopacz continued. “They’re also wondering, ‘How do I navigate this?’ So there’s some advice-giving that needs to happen.”

From a business standpoint, as Griffey said, good things can come of this. The other SIPA 2020 keynote, Don Harkey, told the story of his 75 year-old mother-in-law teaching piano lessons on Skype now. “If you would have told me that at Christmas time, I would’ve said no way. But she’s doing it and liking it and said she will be offering it to her students in the future. It’s things like that that are fundamentally changing.”

What [Customer] Problems Are We Solving Day-to-Day?”

Harkey’s mother-in-law had figured out a way to solve her audience’s pain points. It’s kind of the same for some members. In the discussion yesterday, Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media, said that their “transformation started in 2013 [when] we realized that if we wanted to connect with our audience, we needed to provide information they needed every day. We acquired a workflow product that’s now the fastest growing part of our business.”

Their foundation is still their database, she said, but “our media product gets us to the table. It has built this broader audience for us [so we can] go deeper [with the] workflow product. Some days I wake up and wish I was a big company, but then I’m glad we’re small,” Green added with a smile.

Green said they actually had their best year ever in 2020—their niche is the veterinary field—partly because they had thought about transformation well before the pandemic. “What problems are we solving day-to-day for our audience?” Green asked. “As an organization, we had to change our structure from a media organization to one that is product focused. That allowed us to get much greater cross-collaboration with our teams, because they’re now focused on product and not departments. We also are able to make decisions much faster.”

Industry Dive’s Griffey added that over the last 12 months, he has seen “upticks in brand advertising and other different [digital] components. People had relied on events to do these things. They used events to get executives on panels and as keynotes. And now we see [the resurgence of] brand. Will that go away when events come back? It’s kind of a [reminder] that once digital gets its hands on things, it never lets go. We got tailwinds because we didn’t have events. Marketers come to us looking to use digital in ways that wouldn’t be expected.”

“How does the lack of live events across the industry affect us?” Kopacz asked back on that May morning. “What does that do to lead generation efforts? And how are you refilling that pipeline? Publishers still have a key role to play between buyers and sellers. There are many ways you can mimic what live events do.”

For now, that journey continues.