Culture as an ‘Internal Protocol’; Now’s a Time for Change, Digital Expert Advises

Do away with products that are not working. Triple down on data. Make cultural changes. “The trick is to layer culture change objectives into everything else you are doing.” Reuters’ Lucy Kueng wants us to use this new normal as a reset to build. “In terms of growth, find out where your audiences are in the social media eco-system and get your content out to them there.”

Kueng, senior research associate at Reuters and internationally renowned expert on digital disruption, published a new ebook late last year titled Transformation Manifesto: 9 Priorities for Now. It delves into how publishers can change for the better in the aftermath of the pandemic. She wants them to “seize the opportunities presented by the undeniable crisis we face, because those opportunities are truly huge.”

Let’s go over five of these priorities, with some of our AMPlification.

Move from nice-to-have to ‘must-have’; triple down on data. “You can’t move from want to need on guesswork,” Kueng writes. “You can only shift… by diving deeply into understanding customers and how you can become more important to them… Triple down on data, not just on the volume flowing into the organization but on the caliber of discussions around that data, on the insights derived from it, the hypotheses you develop and test.”

“To move your audience from individuals who visit the site to read a specific piece of content to loyal subscribers, you must know a lot about them,” writes Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive. “This means that media companies must have access to data in a breadth and volume that wasn’t needed, or available, in the past. Without the ability to fully understand their subscribers, a media company will quickly lag behind—and lose subscribers to competitors.”

Seize the moment to do clean-up work that’s overdue. In the same way we have been cleaning out our homes, Kueng wants us to do that with our business—and stop doing things that aren’t successful. “We have been very good at starting things but terrible at stopping them,” she writes. Look at your legacy products. Are they “hangovers from a previous era but still resourced at glory day levels”? She also wants us to pivot in the way we do age-old processes. “Remote working clearly offers opportunities to rebalance fixed costs.”

“I think what happens a lot is that you say these things are important, but you aren’t really following it in leadership with your actions,” said Anita Zielina, director of news innovation and leadership at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “Then you have to really be willing to invest or shift money into building a product team. So it’s really kind of a transformation process than anything else, unless you’re building as a start-up. Of this means you ask yourself, ‘What can I stop doing to shift those resources into something else?’”

Your culture is unfrozen. There will never be a better time to change it. “Culture is incredibly efficient—it works as an internal protocol that silently influences actions and decisions,” Kueng writes. “Ensure digital voices (often younger and more diverse) have equivalent ‘voice time’ and that they are heard first.”

There’s no excuse anymore for a speaker lineup or committee that lacks women or young people or people of color. It just takes a little more outreach and digging—a look at your LinkedIn connections and their connections, or going through the week’s headlines in your niche. It will be well worth it because a diverse speaker lineup should also diversify, and increase, your attendees.

Take extravagant care of your teams. “Remote working is often a boon for productivity when tasks are known. [But] it is bad for innovation and setting up new things (and finding a workaround for this is the challenge right now)… Ramp up communication as much as possible. Gather everyone together more often. Remind them that they are part of a cohesive organization.”

Early on in the pandemic, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, told me something that turned out to be prescient. “Since the pandemic isn’t expected to end anytime soon, we have ordered kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc. Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

Timing is the rarest of strategic skills. Now is the time. “Agility, innovation, optimism—these were the most critical traits for now, according to 22 CEOs surveyed in September 2020. This is a rare reset moment. COVID-19 has been a crisis on so many levels but it is also a huge opportunity: to rethink, to innovate, to shed things that need to be let go of, and to build for the future.”


Virtual and Hybrid Events Need Their Own Analytics and Designs to Work Best

We’ve talked about content metrics, and that publishers believe that feedback loops must also be part of the measurement equation. So why should events be different? Thus it was impressive to read that Reuters Events is “maniacal about analytics” and based their agenda for Reuters Next on continual polling of the needs of its audience. What else are publishers doing to amp up their virtual and hybrid events?

“This is an opportunity to see and think things differently,” reads a tagline for Reuters Next. “… This December, it is your chance to be a part of the world’s largest movement to tackle change, head on.” In October 2019, Reuters bought the British-based specialist events business FCBI. Rebranded Reuters Events, it has put on more than 60 virtual conferences and events since then.

In an article in The Drum, Josh London, chief marketing officer for Reuters, says the high level of interest in Reuters Next—which debuted in January—was a culmination of a strategy which “all stems from customer experience… Thousands of hours’ worth of research [was conducted] to understand the needs of the delegates and match that with a speaker agenda so that we can make sure that the time that they are investing is best spent.”

Here are a few other virtual and hybrid event strategies that are paying dividends:

Virtual – Sell premium perks. While registration was mostly free for Reuters Next, they  sold “professional passes” costing $699 offering a post-event report and access to a networking program which enabled one-to-one meetings with attendees and speakers. “This is something that both parties would opt into and the system would set up a time for you to connect,” says London. “It’s similar to real world [conferences] but with some advantages; so you are not standing on the outside of a circle waiting for a break in the conversation.”

Hybrid – Do what’s best for each audience. At Meeting Professionals International’s recent World Education Congress (WEC)—600 in person, 1000 virtual—virtual sessions were conducted by many of the in-person presenters but at different times and days, Informa’s Meetings Net reported. “The only in-person sessions that were livestreamed were our general sessions, and we engaged the virtual audience in real time with things like ‘fan cams’ and a European region co-host,” says Melinda Burdette, director of events for MPI. Adds James Frankis, director of product for Convene: “The key is to build in a few ‘peak moments’ that are simultaneous for both, such as keynote presentations and critical breakout sessions—opportunities for the two audiences to come together through real-time surveying that guides the direction of a session.”

Virtual – Be interactive. “Say I’ve got a half-hour experience that I’m creating—the audience is an important part of that experience,” said John Capano, SVP of Impact XM. “So yeah, I’m going to deliver some content, but in between the content, what am I going to do to get that audience engaged? And it’s just being thoughtful about that, based on what is the content? What is the event? What is the audience? And what is their appetite for that?” At Reuters Next, all delegates had access to Q&A and audience polling.

Hybrid – Be confident in your pricing and prepare your staffing. For that WEC event, MPI charged $799 for the in-person experience, which featured four concurrent sessions in each time slot; and $299 for virtual attendees who got three concurrent sessions per time slot. However, they “underestimated the number of staff needed to manage the digital experience,” said Jessie States, director of the MPI Academy. “You need a moderator for each room to monitor the chat, mute participants and generally manage the technology.”

Virtual and Hybrid – Emphasize sustainability. Almost 3/4 (74%) of their audience told Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” Capano said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there.”

Hybrid – Don’t let anyone feel like they’re missing out. States from MPI said that some of their “digital participants expressed interest in a few in-person sessions that were not offered virtually. Our takeaway is that we should capture those in-person sessions for on-demand viewing.” FOMO is real. While virtual cannot replicate the networking and exhibit hall, it should be able deliver on content.