Don’t sacrifice accuracy for market edge, expert warns media brands

Every journalist and media outlet thrives on a scoop. The transition to digital hasn’t changed that.

But the compulsion to be “fast and first to market” should never trump accuracy and journalistic integrity, cautioned digital media expert Amanda Ploughman.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “that’s happening all too often in this new TNN (Twitter News Network) world.”  

Ploughman, president and CEO of Toronto-based MediaCom Canada, a media communications agency, was speaking at a roundtable on: How traditional media is transforming the digital world.

The roundtable was an event at the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) 2010 Convention held in Toronto recently.

A brand could suffer dire consequences if it sacrifices accuracy, just to be in the market quickly, Ploughman warned. “Long term they may no longer be trusted as a reliable news source.”

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Other panelists offered insights into the biggest challenges and opportunities confronting traditional media firms transitioning to digital.

For Roger Dunbar, getting people to adapt to a new and sometimes unfamiliar culture is a major hurdle to overcome.

“It’s all about training people on new skills sets to meet new requirements,” noted Dunbar, vice-president, business development and marketing at The Globe and Mail.

While laying out the newspaper was a pretty straightforward task, he said, “we’ve now got to figure out how to render content on a variety of different devices, and go out and hire three or four times the people we had previously.”

According to Dunbar, a pre-requisite for successful skills training is getting staff to mentally accept the new way of doing things. “Sometimes that’s difficult, as people don’t welcome change.”

Getting buy-in from workers can be tough, the Globe and Mail exec noted.  “It calls for us to be better managers.”

But, he said, the Globe and Mail has been successful in identifying and responding to key digital trends.

“We’re trying to get more consumer-centric. In the old days we had one product and one distribution channel. Today it’s multiple products across multiple distribution channels.”

He said this has led to big changes in the way the company is managed. “We’ve had to put a whole new product management philosophy in place – one that isn’t wedded to any specific platform, but is focused on what consumers want, where and how they want it.”

The Globe and Mail, he said, doesn’t label itself as a newspaper anymore. “We define ourselves as a multimedia company and that’s the first [priority] – becoming much more consumer-centric and much less hierarchical in the way we capture and distribute information.”

To that end, he said, the company is developing a customer relationship management (CRM)-type system “to capture all the engagement we have through multiple channels and put it all in one place where we can analyze it.”

The initiative will have several benefits. “We can then use it to sell product, to drive more engagement, as well as to just get smarter on managing that relationship with our customers and users.”

Using technology tools to drive customer engagement is also happening in a big way at CHUM Radio Network, according to president, Chris Gordon.

CHUM – the radio division of CTVglobemedia – currently owns 35 stations across Canada, broadcasting in 16 markets. 

For instance, he said, CHUM is building and harnessing databases to identify listener preferences.

“[We] go out and do research on listeners, who tell us what their favourite songs are, what are the new hits … all those kinds of things.”

But he said the network hasn’t yet taken any big steps towards using that database for marketing to third party clients.   

“Mobile extension” is one of the biggest initiatives at CHUM right now, Gordon said.  “We already have all our stations streaming, but want to create more applications with way more sticky content, more interesting features, and more things people can sink their teeth into.”

The sheer reach and diversity of the CHUM network, he said, makes this an exciting venture. “Around per cent of the population listened to our radio stations in the past week.”

Gordon acknowledged that youth tuning is down, though he reiterated his network is “very committed” to youth brands. “We still have many brands in our stable of radio stations that are targeted at a young audience — 18 -34 years – as well as 12 – 17.”

He cited the example of 89X (88.7 fm) , a CHUM network radio station broadcasting out of Windsor, Ont., whose content is targeted at a younger male audience. “Their podcasts reach as many as 70,000 – 80,000 people. So there are almost as many people listening to the show after it’s off the air than when it was live.”

But Mediacom Canada’s Ploughman said radio needs to do a better job wooing a younger audience.

“In the U.S. there’s a slight uptake of a younger audience listening to music. There’s a theory it’s happening in certain markets because it’s a way for them to sample new music. In Canada, however, we’re seeing 10 – 15 per cent loss in that audience every year. That’s a concern for how the medium evolves.”

As in the case of radio, Canada’s major TV network, CanWest Broadcasting is also making a concerted effort to offer viewers content via multiple channels, on demand.

“Right now we’re offering most our content – particularly our Global TV content – online,” said Walter Levitt, chief marketing officer, CanWest Broadcasting.

Levitt, who was also the panel moderator, said when the Fall schedule for Global is announced soon, one feature that will be highlighted is “every single show but one will be available on GlobalTV.com.”

He said in unchartered digital territory, innovation and experimentation can be daunting – but it’s the only way to go.

With the conviction, Levitt said, CanWest Broadcasting has launched several new projects in entirely new spaces.

“We’ve got a very successful Food Network app for the iphone, for instance. We’ve tried many other different things and some have not worked. But that’s not deterred us pursuing innovation.”

Ploughman offered a slightly different take on experimentation and new initiatives.

She said specialty brands have a greater chance of success, as they target specific groups. “If you’re a sports viewer, you have a natural affinity to TSN. If you’re into food or decorating – the same thing, you’d be interested in HGTV or the Food Network.”

One reason why specialty cable has done a great job of integrating online and TV content is because of the vertical nature of the material.   

On the other hand, she said, big aggregators of discrete types of content – such as Global – face a more daunting challenge building a deeper relationship with viewers.

Ploughman also lamented the “user unfriendliness” of the big TV networks’ Web sites. “They tend to dump all of their stations into one site, rather than segmenting them based on how the consumer wants to see them.”

The predicted that ad sales for “video on demand” – coming up this Fall –would be a very interesting play for TV.

However, she suggested that Rogers on Demand certainly cannot be looked upon as the standard for this business model.

“I’ll say this as a consumer – the [Rogers on Demand] interface with the user is still terribly cumbersome, the technology is not viable, and they better fix it before the start filling ads on it.”

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