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A digital publisher’s roadmap to fostering innovation

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The AOP Awards entries created an overwhelming narrative of resilience, creativity, and innovation in the face of new challenges and opportunities. But what is it about digital publishing that creates an environment that allowed such innovation to thrive?

 

For the second week of our Celebrate The Finalists series, we wanted to share five steps to help you foster a culture that supports and encourages innovation in your organisation.

 

Step 1: Find the innovators in your organisation – and then give them the tools for success.

“We often think about it being a bottom-up process, because really innovation should come from the ground,” shared Pete Wootton, Chief Product & Data Officer at Dennis Publishing. “That’s often where the best ideas come from.”

 

Hanan Maayan, CEO and Co-founder at Trackonomics, similarly challenged publishers to identify the individuals with a passion for innovation – no matter whether they’re in the product department, accounting, or anywhere in between. “The second thing,” he continued, “is to then be very serious in how you allocate resources to make that happen.”

 

It may be that your most innovative individuals need to have more free time to experiment. It may be that connecting them with colleagues from other teams sparks new ideas or provides the skill sets needed to make an idea work. And it may be that they just need to know that you’re confident in their skills. Whatever it is, take the time to understand what the barriers are to innovation, and then provide the tools and means to overcome these.

 

Step 2: Pro-actively support a diversity of thought.

If the moral reasons for supporting diversity aren’t enough, the business case for it has been made a thousand times over. Research from Boston Consulting Group showed that companies with above-average diversity in their management teams also reported 19% more innovation revenue that those with below-average leadership diversity. Put simply, a mono-culture in your organisation impacts on your bottom-line.

 

“Our leadership team is a third women, with growing racial diversity,” commented Tom Jenen, Chief Revenue Officer at Brand Metrics when explaining the key to creating an innovative culture. “And there’s also a wide variety of backgrounds – from the research industry, from hardcore tech development, and even some ad tech lifers like me.” Danny Spears, Chief Operating Officer at the Ozone Project, likewise highlighted the importance of reaching out to people with abroad array of experiences. “What we wanted to do, from the outset, is garner different perspectives from around the market, both inside and outside of the business,” he explained. “That ultimately enabled us to get a good-rounded view of customer needs.”

 

Having a group of people with a diverse range of experiences and backgrounds is critical to being able to view a challenge from multiple angles – and that means addressing the balance of ethnicities, genders, sexualities, economic backgrounds, and neurodiversity within your teams to ensure a broad range of outlooks and experiences are present at the table. But as highlighted by Ranj Begley, Chief Content Officer & Managing Director UK – Digital Publishing at Readly, it’s also important to encourage people to be culturally curious and to challenge their own preconceptions: “Once you start applying a culturally curious mindset to your work, innovation comes naturally. So let’s celebrate and embrace our differences and learn from each other.”

 

Step 3: Foster a culture where it’s okay to fail

Great ideas can be found anywhere, and the innovators in your organisation won’t necessarily be in your C-Suite. Nor will everyone in your team be suited to challenging the status quo and identifying new ways of working. The challenge then, is how to create an environment that encourages anyone and everyone to share their ideas. And key to that is giving people the permission to fail.

 

“By the very nature of it, not everything’s going to work,” mused Dennis Publishing’s Pete Wootton, “These are trying new ways of working, or trying new initiatives, and some of them won’t immediately turn into an ROI.” In many cases, failing can be as valuable as succeeding with a new idea. It can reveal challenges or skill gaps you may not have been aware of, or it might just inspire someone else to think differently. And crucially, creating this positive culture ensures that you don’t deter people from voicing their ideas who may be less confident in themselves.

 

“You have to be prepared for the fact that nine out of ten ideas may not go anywhere, and that’s completely fine,” explained Alex White, Managing Director –Food and Parenting at Immediate Media. “The learning that you get along the way makes it worthwhile.”

 

Step 4: Emphasise the value of innovation

On the flip side of allowing people to fail, it’s also important to remind your team about the impact their work will be having – particularly given the monumental challenges that the sector is facing right now. Nial Ferguson, Managing Director – UK & Ireland at Sourcepoint, suggested that “need is driving innovation,” whilst Morika Georgieva, Customer Success Lead for EMEA at Permutive, highlighted both the importance of giving people the freedom needed to solve difficult problems, and of “knowing that their work is really going to make a difference – not only to us and to our customers, but also to the internet in general.”

 

But facing such industry-wide challenges also opens new doors to more collaborative partnerships across the digital publishing ecosystem. “Traditional targeting and measurement strategies that we’ve grown up with now need to be rebuilt for a privacy-first world,” explained Anne Claire Chenu, Director of Tech Sales at Xandr, “but I really think the impending changes should be met with optimism because it brings a great opportunity to find new and better ways of working together.”

 

Step 5: Test, test, and test again

The key to innovation is to be constantly challenging your existing strategies or tools to understand if they can be made better. And that means being able to trial any number of different adaptations and amends until you find the solution that works best for you. Brand Metrics’s Tom Jenen stressed the importance of “staying really, really close to customers, listening hard to their feedback and what they need […] As a smaller company, we can move really quickly to implement things and test them quickly with customers.”

 

The other advantage, of course, is that being able to offer a wider array of solutions to your customers creates more opportunities for them to engage with you in whatever manner suits them best. Sophie Hanbury, Director of Syndication and Licensing Partnerships at Independent Digital News and Media, shared that a critical element of their success lies in using technology to share their stories in a variety of ways: “Inventive story formats, live blogs, video articles[…] the forward-thinking approach that our partners have implemented has truly brought our editorial to life.”

 

 

We’ll be back on August 30th with the third instalment of the Celebrate the Finalists series, this time looking at culture. For now, don’t miss the first instalment looking at growth in digital publishing.

 

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AOP - Association of Publishers