Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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Innovation in Publishing whitepaper: Are you ready to embrace failure?

As the publishing industry has navigated its way over the past two decades through the biggest period of disruption in its history, many publishers have turned to innovation for continued competitive advantage. But the companies that are seeing the most success are those that have moved away from ‘chasing innovation for the sake of it,’ towards a more measured, strategic approach.

Within the Innovation in Publishing whitepaperUPM and FIPP look at practical examples and draw upon the insights of leading industry experts to highlight how innovation in the sector is currently playing out in real terms. 

One such expert is Lucy Kueng, professor and expert on strategy, innovation and leadership at the Reuters Institute of Journalism, Oxford University, and non-executive board member of the NZZ Group. She argues that in order to be truly successful, innovation must be applied in a systematic and measured way:

“Innovation is absolutely central,” says Kueng. “But the media industry has become obsessed with it to the extent that creativity is ironically being squeezed out – more ‘disordered’ innovation is not per se better. So what is really clear now is that those who are achieving deep transformation in their businesses are much more systemic and much more measured about how they are innovating.”

“It’s no longer an issue of just ‘more is better’. There’s no doubt that some in the media industry were justifiably anxious about the industry and their organisations and they just thought ‘we must do something’ – anything is better than not moving. But the risk with that is that you end up with a plethora of initiatives, some of which have really unclear objectives, eating up resources, eating up mind space and weakening strategic focus. In this way innovation can end up damaging rather than improving the organisation.”

With a clear need for innovation, but a call for calmness on the way it is approached, Kueng emphasises that there are two key stages to successful implementation.

“I think two things need to happen. Firstly, reflection up front is key – asking yourself ‘why the hell are we doing this and what is the point of this innovation?’ It can simply be to experiment and learn, that’s entirely valid, but if that’s the case, make sure that is clear and that expectations are realistic. Second, ensure you do some structured reflection and evaluation on what has been learned. Often there are really valuable insights on cultural barriers to change inside the organisation as well as learnings on the market or technology. It’s important to capture these too.”

Kueng agrees that innovation in organisations is as much an issue of culture as it is of inspiration. How failure is handled is central. If you are in an organisation where failure with an initiative damages your career prospects, then, attitudes will be far more rigid. This is why being extremely clear up front about what kind of innovation this is, is so important. If a project is labelled as a pilot, and if learning is given as the most important output the organisation needs, then as long as valuable insights are generated, failure becomes a non-issue.

“The media is a sector that has traditionally had to have its products perfect before the broadcast or print button was pushed. It was expensive and embarrassing to correct mistakes afterwards. In a world where products are made up of software that’s less and less the case, but it has left its mark in the culture in terms of a striving for perfection that can limit experimentation.”

“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.”

The full UPM and FIPP report also includes interview with Robin Govik, chief digital officer at MittMedia; and Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Parents magazine at Meredith, who both share their insights into how some of the world’s biggest media brands are harnessing innovation. Additionally, it showcases innovative approaches to print publishing that blur the lines between print and digital to offer a richer experience for the consumer.

You can download the whitepaper in full here.

By Jamie Gavin  @jaygavin

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