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The growing importance of product thinking for publishers: INMA report

Product is the youngest department at news media companies but also one of the fastest growing, according to a new INMA report

“Product continues to play a vital role in the success of the news media industry,” says Jodie Hopperton, Head of the INMA Product Initiative. That makes it “critical for media companies to have information on what they need to do today to embrace this evolving discipline and prepare for the future,” she adds.

The report, “How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path,” authored by Hopperton, looks into how product is changing news media companies and what they need to do to create, deliver, and innovate the best possible products for their audience. 

It features case studies from The New York Times, Ringier Axel Springer, Singapore Press Holdings, Asana, The Financial Times, and Yahoo News.

The news industry is ready for product thinking because of changes in the overall landscape. The hours in the day haven’t changed, but there are more places for people to spend time and there’s more subscription product out there.

Jodie Hopperton, Author, How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path

“Product’s many opportunities”

This year’s Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions report from Reuters had 93% of leaders saying they believe that the product role is important, but only 43% felt it’s well understood in their companies. 

Product’s many opportunities allow newsrooms to focus on creating journalism in a variety of formats and improve the consumer experience to make it easier for them to access it.

Jodie Hopperton, Author, How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path

Practically, product can be broken down into four categories, according to Hopperton. These are: 

  • Consumer facing/platform: Like Web, apps, newsletter, e-paper, podcasts
  • Enabling products (cross-platform): Checkout, paywall experiences, personalisation, OVP (open virtual platform), notifications
  • Internal tools: CRM, CMS, advertising tools
  • B2B tools: These are usually internal tools like The Washington Post’s Arc or The Globe and Mail’s Sophi.
How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path, INMA

“Product directly touches many parts of an organisation but mainly works across editorial, technology, design and user experience, data, marketing, and revenue,” she explains. 

A December 2020 survey of INMA members across more than 60 companies from 25 countries found that nearly 50% of the people in product came from the newsroom, 30% from marketing, and 26% from technology or revenue/advertising.

Source: How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path, INMA

“Worth the investment for media companies”

The multi-disciplinary nature of product necessitates that news organisations ensure smooth collaboration across departments. That entails cultivating product mindsets and removing silos. 

Product is the connective tissue between engineering, editorial, business development, finance, sales, and marketing. So it is essential to understand how the various stakeholders think and operate. 

Lippe Oosterhof, Head of Product, Yahoo News Lifestyle and Entertainment

“The potential opportunities of product and the doors it will open make it worth the investment for media companies to create the organisational changes required — starting in the c-suite — to introduce product thinking from the top down,” suggests Hopperton. 

“This changed mindset has propelled the company’s growth”

The New York Times had a very successful 2020 during which digital subscriptions revenue surpassed that of print circulation. This is not by “happenstance, nor is it purely an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic; it’s the result in changing mindsets throughout the organisation,” writes Hopperton. 

Product grew out of the mobile strategy at the Times. It led to new journalistic efforts, new product features, and new revenue capabilities. “What this did was really help spur a pretty fundamental culture change within the newsroom,” says  Alex Hardiman, Chief Product Officer at the Times. 

We now have reporters who understand that the audience reach and distribution that they get from a single push notification on their smartphone far outweighs what they get through … placement on the front page of the newspaper. 

Alex Hardiman, Chief Product Officer, The New York Times

“What we’re really seeing is that the newsroom has become much more product-minded and our product teams, in turn, have become much more editorially minded.”

“This changed mindset has propelled the company’s growth while at the same time challenging teams to rethink the way journalism is presented,” Hopperton comments. “With product and software at the heart of its growth, the company has looked at new ways to creatively engage readers.” 

“Much more immersive and useful storytelling”

Reimagining its product also enabled the publisher to enhance its journalism with an expressive and user-friendly product destination engaging readers from around the world. 

What I also like about it is that it really reflects the reimagination of our products, not only on the consumer side, but also on the journalist side, in terms of really pushing us to give our journalists and our editors much better tooling to create much more immersive and useful storytelling. It’s this type of adaptive product strategy and progressive change that’s really driving growth at the New York Times.

Alex Hardiman, Chief Product Officer, The New York Times

Gaurav Sachdeva, Chief Product Officer at Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) suggests media companies to answer the following questions as they develop their products or product teams: 

  • Do you know who your user is and what matters to them? If not, go out and listen. 
  • Do you know how to measure success? If not, go out and test. 
  • Have you defined your team’s roles? If not, define and hold them accountable. 

He also recommends getting feedback from users, “You’ll be surprised and they’ll be happy to tell you and co-create the product with you,” says Sachdeva.

“Expectations are being set by organisations outside news such as Netflix and Spotify”

Cultivating a product mindset across the organisation is key for success. “Product mindset is the habitual approach of connecting all work to those goals and needs,” says Jackie Bavaro, Head of Product Management at the team project management platform Asana. “It’s remembering to always ask, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ and ‘What problem should we solve?’” 

People with a product mindset notice problems everywhere and they connect those problems to bigger goals to explain why those problems matter. They consistently think about what their goals should be and prioritise based on those goals.

Jackie Bavaro, Head of Product Management, Asana

“Consumers have high expectations,” notes Hopperton. “These expectations are being set by organisations outside news such as Netflix and Spotify. News organisations need to rise to the challenge, and product thinking enables them to do that by putting the consumer at the heart of the experience.”

“Product should have a voice in the c-suite, and CEOs must provide clear organisation goals to ensure that all departments are pulling in the same direction,” she adds. “Product will be taken seriously when the c-suite gets on board. This also helps break down silos within the organisation.”  

Introducing product thinking is not a simple tweak or restructure. It is an organisational change and as such, a journey which is ever evolving.

Jodie Hopperton, Author, How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path

The full report is available from INMA:
How Product Is Leading Media’s New Growth Path