Saturday, October 19, 2013

Journalism marketing for Colombia, via Silicon Valley

At National Congress of 8,000-member Periodismo de Hoy
About 90 would-be journalism entrepreneurs signed up for a workshop I gave recently in Medellin, Colombia.

The focus was on how to make a journalism website financially sustainable. We did some exercises in marketing, in analyzing web traffic and presenting to investors.

Like most journalists, this group had never been taught a couple of important business concepts:

  • The journalism we want to create may not be the journalism that anyone wants or needs. In other words, think first about the audience. Create a community. Build that community around high-quality journalism content. Without a community, there is no business. 
  • Journalism on the Internet is interactive, two-way, social and measurable. In the old days, we didn't know and often didn't care what the audience thought of our work. We didn't need to. The monopolies of distribution and production enjoyed by big media insulated journalists from the audience. Now you have to measure. Why did our best journalistic story of the week attract so little traffic? You need to analyze and figure it out. 
  • Your core group of potential paying customers is small, maybe 10 percent of your total monthly users. But that is not a bad thing. You can build a business around that group. Sponsors will pay for you to connect them with a niche community. The community itself will pay to be connected with each other, both online and at events.  
Who wants better journalism

The event was the 4th National Congress of Periodismo de Hoy (Today's Journalism), a network of 8,000 journalists and communications professionals from all over Colombia. The group offers training with the aim of creating a more professional, responsible journalism.

The National Ministry of Technology, Information and Communication has invested in this group with the idea that better journalism makes for a stronger democracy. The Ministry has also invested millions in extending internet access to every citizen in the country.

Another sponsor is the Foundation for New Journalism in Iberoamerica of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which also trains journalists but focuses on narrative journalism.

Marketing techniques

One of the biggest needs of journalism entrepreneurs is how to think like a business person, particularly in the area of marketing, positioning and differentiating their product. So all of us -- FNPI, Periodismo de Hoy and I -- put together a series of exercises designed to bring that home.

The 90-some workshop participants broke up into groups of eight or 10 to  develop an elevator speech designed to get the attention of a potential investor, employee or collaborator. In 30 seconds they had to describe the essence of their website and why it deserved support. We picked a couple of winners to present to the whole group.

We asked the group to propose new products and services to be offered by their own organization, Periodismo de Hoy.

The workshop included developing elevator speeches.
And finally, we asked the groups to develop two-minute pitches to potential investors, much in the manner of the popular Dragon's Den television program. The winning entry proposed going it alone without any help from investors.

What participants took away from the exercises was a recognition of the importance of distilling their ideas to the essence, using tools to understand their audience and focus, focus, focus. 

There is no formula

After the session, several participants asked me for advice. Should they try this or that? My answer these days is usually that I don't have any answer. They will have to try different strategies and see what works. They have to measure and analyze audience behavior.

There really is no better way to learn than experimentation in the rapidly changing world of the web. There is no single formula for achieving financial sustainability, but there are many examples of those who are doing it.

Entrepreneurs are using perhaps a dozen different revenue strategies. Each media outlet has to find its own solutions based on its personnel, technology, subject matter and, above all, its audience's preferences. If the audience doesn't like to pay with a credit card, for example, a beautifully elegant revenue strategy based on that will fail.

Try, fail, learn and try again. That is the formula. 


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