Change Management: A Lost Art in This Business?

digital-salesLessons learned from the “old days” of print publishing on how to quit whining and handle change.

Are publishers limiting their revenue potential because they are simply bad at handling change? D. B. Hebbard thinks maybe.

“During a conversation with an old friend about how newspaper and magazine publishers are handling their efforts to grow digital publishing, and their failure to make much progress, the conversation turned to how sales staffs are organized these days,” Hebbard writes in Talking New Media.

“The first thing we agreed on is the weakness in the management teams running many of these companies today,” Hebbard writes. His standard question he poses to current publishing execs is simple:  “Have you ever sold an ad yourself?”

Those who could answer yes are in the small minority, and Hebbard believes this is a large part of why the industry bemoans “declining ad sales” as the current reason why revenue is down.

“Everyone, it seems, is now a big believer in paid content, data and other forms of revenue outside of advertising. Yet still, when the time comes to announce earnings (and this is earnings time, after all) it is the decline in advertising that most executives like to point to as the reason for falling profits,” he explains.

Maybe the problem is much different than we’ve been led to believe, and involves an upper management that doesn’t understand advertising sales, coupled with a younger staff that knows all about creating in digital. It brings to mind the old saw: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Hebbard relates a great story about how, early in his career in ad sales, he worked with a veteran in his company to basically find a pile of hidden co-op money that was leveraged into advertising funds – an absolute win-win for the advertiser and the publisher. This kind of creativity and merging of the old and new may be somewhat missing in the rush toward everything digital.

He writes, “I’m afraid this kind of corporate knowledge rarely exists at many publishing companies today. For many, it is the executive management’s job to push down change and innovation – and absurd idea on its surface, how can an over paid executive who has never worked in the digital media business, been on the revenue side of the staff, ever be able to accomplish this?

“They can’t,” he continues, “and judging by this quarters earnings reports, they aren’t making much progress. For those seeing any gains at all, it is coming for new acquisitions, that while offsetting some lost revenue, is adding costs and debts to the bottom line. Found in the earnings statements, right there under the revenue section, are the usual words: ‘new revenue was offset by declines in advertising…’”

It’s easy to blame declining ad sales, but maybe publishers just need to get better at selling them. Thanks, D.B., for a great read and some good food for thought.