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How magazine publishers can change their culture to innovate against digital disruption

A new whitepaper from FIPP and UPM Communication Papers outlines how magazine publishers around the world have become multi-platform, multi-channel entities, by establishing company cultures that drive innovation to address the challenges of digital disruption.

The whitepaper, titled Innovation in publishing: how successful publishers embrace and harness innovation for success, the two companies highlight innovative approaches that print publishers have made that “blur the lines between print and digital to offer a richer experience” for the audience. 

The whitepaper aims to address: 

  • What does good innovation look like for businesses large and small? 
  • How have approaches to innovation changed?
  • How can publishers continue to innovate in an increasingly competitive landscape? 

The paper explains that the publishers that have been most successful with innovation are those that have taken a measured, strategic approach, rather than innovation “for the sake of it”.

Author of the annual FIPP Innovation in Media World Report John Wilpers says in the whitepaper: “Companies are asking, ‘what can we stop doing that is taking up much-needed resource without delivering return on investment, to free up time to pursue one or two things that we know will work for our business and help us thrive in the market?’” 

He says that there are generally two approaches to innovation within magazine publishers: 

  • Establishing an ‘innovation culture’ across the company so that all staff have a responsibility and opportunity to drive innovation 
  • The creation of dedicated teams to take on the responsibility for innovation across the company. 

Involving all staff and embracing failure 

Wilpers recommends making innovation open to everyone – from a secretary to a writer or a senior board member. “Anyone can pitch an idea and, if it’s accepted, they get pulled out of their regular tasks to work on that project for a period of time…It works because it says to people ‘we’re not asking you to do this on your own time or without compensation’ – it’s open to everybody and it is a call to action for everyone to be innovative.”

The whitepaper includes an interview from Lucy Kueng, Professor and expert on strategy, innovation and leadership at the Reuters Institute of Journalism, Oxford University, who explains that the cultural shift to focus on innovation can be a challenge. 

She explains that how companies handle failure is central to innovative success: if failure is seen to damage career prospects within an organisation, attitudes toward innovation are likely to be more rigid. She recommends being clear about what an innovative project is, e.g. labelling a project as a ‘pilot’ where learning and insight is promoted as the most important outcome for the company means failure becomes a “non issue”. 

“Getting the culture to be more innovative is very hard and you’ve really got to address some of the very tough sinews across the organisation. Trials, experiments and piloting can really help, especially if there is an open sharing of findings and even more so if those involved are seen to have benefitted from their involvement – in terms of their credibility inside the organisation or profile outside it. 

“That can send a powerful message to the wider organisation that innovation and change are positive things. But changing the cultural DNA of an organisation takes time. It’s always worth trying to do but it always takes longer than you think.”

Lucy Kueng, Professor and expert on strategy, innovation and leadership at the Reuters Institute of Journalism, Oxford University

“Moreover, a lot of organisations have an awful lot of creativity in the middle and lower layers that is having a problem finding a voice,” says Kueng.

“So part of the challenge is to cut the sinews and put systems and structures in place so that talent can deliver what it can. Strategic projects and cross disciplinary teams are perfect for this. They also help bind that talent to the organisation. And as we have all learned, millennial talent can be hard to hold on to, but is motivated by the opportunity to learn, to develop, to work on key issues.” 

Innovate the small things, everyday 

Mittmedia Chief Digital Officer Robin Govik is quoted in the whitepaper: “Innovation is part of our daily work”. 

Mittmedia is a Swedish digital news platform that evolved from a traditional newspaper publisher. According to Govik, its innovation has been driven largely by user behaviour. 

“While we operate in a competitive market – where there is a lot of disruption and a rapid pace of change – the drive to innovate comes from the end-user experience rather than from trying to protect our position. We look at the users’ needs and their behavioural shifts and use those as the basis for innovation.” 

Govik says that the best approach to innovate is to plan, research, have a clear goal and let staff know that everyone is expected to innovate. Clear business goals should include: 

  • Where does the company want to go? 
  • What progress is needed? 
  • What is the timeframe to get there? 

Govik highlights that innovation does not always have to be about large projects. It can also be about small ways to improve the efficiency of existing systems and processes. 

“It’s the iterative approach rather than the ‘big project’ approach, where we won’t see our return on investment for three years. We need a return on investment almost immediately. You still have to have the infrastructure in place – but not every innovation has to be a massive investment.”

“The success of an innovation project isn’t always just about the end outcome or indeed the final result. You can learn valuable lessons along the way and achieve things that, although they were not really the final objective, still help your business grow and improve. That’s a cultural thing as well,” he says. 

The Innovation in publishing: how successful publishers embrace and harness innovation for success whitepaper is available for download here.  

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Niche Publishing Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 10 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.

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