“The way our audience consumes content is ever-evolving. It’s why our commitment is to meet them where they are – at every touchpoint we can throughout their day.”

Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO of Trusted Media Brands.

Recent years have been challenging times for those of us in leadership positions in the media. We have seen revenue sources rise and fall, had to contend with a shift to digital, social and mobile and more recently had to find work-throughs to deal with the fallout of the Covid pandemic.

In some parts of the world this has been compounded by an economic slowdown that has put a squeeze on advertising money and led to a retraction of direct reader revenue.

Tricky times call for inspired leaders to help their companies find a path through the challenges and propel them onto more straightforward and profitable years. Highlighting the important issues and then creating a strategic approach rooted in inclusivity across the company is essential for moving forward.

FIPP Congress 2023 has several speakers whose unique approach has created innovative strategies that have delivered impressive results. Below we take a look at some key quotes from pre-Congress conversations with them.

Among the issues the article looks at are

  • Re-inventing legacy brands
  • Local issues
  • Sustainability
  • Diversifying revenue sources
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion

Revitalising legacy brands

One media leader who has had much to contend with, yet still remains very optimistic about the future is Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO of Trusted Media Brands and keynote speaker at FIPP Congress 2023 (pictured above).

Bonnie became CEO in 2014 and has since then piloted a company best known for its legacy print brand Reader’s Digest into a multi-platform community-driven entertainment company with 250M+ consumers, many of whom access the company’s recently launched video brands,

She attributes that success to a strategy that relentlessly focuses on the consumer.” Bonnie argues that it is “the best way to build and grow a media business. We have not lost sight of that for over 100 years. As publishers, as media companies- we need to understand what our audience wants more of and be ahead of the next iteration – creating the best content for the best platform is key.”

More from Bonnie here

Another leader who agrees that the focus for established media brands needs to be resolutely on the consumer is Katie Vanneck-Smith, CEO of Hearst UK. She recently told Press Gazette that given the economic climate, media brands need to deliver “affordable joy” to its money-concerned consumers.

Katie also thinks that economic difficulties combined with the fall out from the pandemic means that enlightened leaders should be worrying about their staff

“We’ve come out of a pandemic and I do think that’s had a real toll on people, on their energy, on their mental health, on their wellbeing. So I think that this is another thing that we are all, as leaders, going to have to be thinking about in terms of people.”

Katie added that in a recession “people are up for doing deals in a different way, so actually it’s a time to do great partnerships, to find like-minded people”.

Local issues shape strategy too

The challenges that media leaders face are not always global. In South Africa 2/3rds of the media has closed in the past ten years, which has created a very significant problem of disinformation as conspiracy theories have taken hold.

To counter this Styli Charalambous, CEO of The Daily Maverick, is on a mission to build a sustainable media brand but also one that has as wide a reach as possible.

His core challenge has been balancing generating paid-for revenue with attracting as large an audience as possible to counter that disinformation.

The path his company has chosen is to champion a membership model which brings paid-for revenue but means the brand’s stories can be read by anyone.

As Styli argues “If paywalls keep great content for a fraction of society, and mis- and disinformation are free, we run a risk that we will never make a dent in addressing the problem. In Africa, we need alternative models to ensure even the poor have access to excellent journalism and membership is one way to do that.”

Daily Maverick’s approach is working, enabling the company to undertake investigations into government and society with the findings accessible to anyone in the country.

More from Styli here.

Agustino Fontevecchia, Digital Director of Editorial Perfil, in Argentina, is another business leader for whom his strategy never stays still. Perfil has faced the disruption of the shift to digital and social, and now potentially AI amid a background of rampant inflation and political instability.

One of his current major concerns is fake news. Earlier this year he wrote in Forbes, “In Argentina, only 35 percent of the population trusts the news media while 85 percent believe news outlets are tainted by political influence. These figures are part of broader trends that have been in place for at least the past 10 years and suggest a difficult course for the media industry, especially for those who seek to play outside the traditional ideological divide.”

At the same time, Agustino and his team have to reach as many readers as possible and that means experimentation and innovation yet rooted in objectivity and inclusion.

“The business model is key,” he says.  “As investment is needed in new ways to create journalistic content that is attractive on all platforms. The striving for a position beyond the ideological divide is key, given a marked decrease in general interest. What generates ratings in the short-term will destroy the industry in the long-term. If journalism doesn’t progress along with the content creation tools and business models of the day, society will continue to suffer.

The challenges, and opportunities of diversity, equity and inclusion

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Another issue that many media leaders are wrestling with centres around diversity, equity and inclusion. How do we ensure that people from underrepresented sections of society have a voice?

Even leaving aside notions of fairness, it makes sound economic sense for companies to create content that reflects not the demographic of the leadership team, but of the society as a whole.

One person who is passionate about what he refers to as reflective journalism, is Shirish Kulkarni, award-winning journalist, researcher and community organiser (pictured above). He argues that it is the only sustainable future for our sector.

Shirish’s focus is on how we use new storytelling approaches to reach audiences who aren’t currently engaging with journalism.

He stresses the importance of “genuine inclusion in the industry, to ensure that everyone’s stories are told – not just stories for and by a largely white (at least in the Global north)/male/middle class/metropolitan minority.”

Interestingly he sees technology, such as AI as a lever to fundamentally redefine journalism in positive ways.

He argues that it could deliver “the potential to create new storytelling experiences and to move away from the one-to-many “article” as the basic building block of journalism.”

This could deliver different stories, told by different people, in different ways.

More from Shirish here

Hear all these speakers and more

For more on this and other conversations on trends such as AI, monetisation, storytelling and more, join us at the FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, Portugal, on 6-8 June. More at fippcongress.com

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