Setting up a media business – four essential steps

A shaky media business is not good

<a href="" target="_new">Image by Mia Judkin</a> released via <a href="" target="_blank">Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0</a>
Image by Mia Judkin released via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

A media business is like a table with four legs. These are the media organisation’s target audience, the core editorial proposition that it offers to that audience, the values that the business holds dear, and the market that sustains the business.

Each leg has to be strong and firm. If one leg is weak, the table wobbles. A shaky media organisation is not good.

Leg one – identifying the target audience

First you need to know the profile and needs of your target audience. You can do this by hiring an expensive market research team, or you can use informed guesswork. My preference is the latter. In my experience this works well, and the exercise can be carried out in less than a day.

Gather your senior team from editorial, sales, marketing, and business development. Obtain some existing market data; it’s likely that the local audience segments have already been identified. If not, it’s not difficult to work this out.

Audience segments are groups of similar people with overlapping interests.

Focus on three audience segments and super-serve them. Try to imagine one character that best represents each group. Download pictures from the internet of people who fit the character profiles you have identified.

Ask the following questions:

  • What are their interests and what stories would they read?
  • What are their concerns? You need to find the answers they require.
  • What would turn them off? Identify the stories they would probably skip.
  • What is their lifestyle, are they married, in a relationship, single, have they got children?
    Are you catering for their personal and lifestyle interests?
  • What do they buy and what are they unlikely to buy? Make sure you have the right adverts in your output.

Once you have these profiles, share them with your journalists so they know who they are writing for. Do the same with the sales and marketing team so they know what adverts the audience would be interested in.

When this exercise has been completed, print these three character profiles and stick them on the newsroom and the sales department walls. Make sure that every story is written for these audience groups and uses the language that they understand. Advertising on your site should reflect your users’ interests and aspirations.

Leg two – set out a unique core editorial proposition

The next leg is the core editorial proposition (CEP). Every news organisation must have one. It defines what you offer that nobody else offers, or the way you research and present material that is different from what your competitors are offering. This is your market differential designed to win over the audience groups you are targeting.

And if you think you already have one, think again; changing audience behaviour demands a regular review of what you offer. A CEP that is more than a year old is a museum piece.

Your CEP sets out what your news organisation offers. It is about what you say that nobody else says. It helps clarify the standards of presentation and subject matter the users can expect you to produce.

In marketing terms, it can be an important process in defining your news brand. In terms of your online and mobile services, defining your CEP also helps you decide what to include and what to leave out. It helps journalists decide how to ensure the online version of your output is focused.

It will offer your audience clarity and comfort as they begin to get to know how to access and use your news on the various devices on which you are delivering your content. Linked with a multiplatform authoring strategy generated from a converged newsroom, it will also offer a consistency of editorial message across all outlets.

Social network strategy

As part of the CEP, you need to define your social network strategy. It’s important you do this because your audience may already be ahead of you and you don’t want to appear out of touch and irrelevant. You will need to decide how you use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube for both newsgathering and news dissemination. Too many media businesses fail to think this through when they should be harnessing social networking for the benefit of both the audience and the media business. A well thought-out CEP can take as little as half a day to figure out, jot down, and begin to implement.

Issue-led journalism

Central to all this is carrying out an exercise to identify the issues, themes and stories your news organisation covers that address the concerns and interests of your audience and, in turn, help inform the public debate.

This will create your issue-led journalism strategy that will deliver a wealth of original stories, planned in advance to save resources, and which will give you a news lead and a clear market differential.

Leg three – the market

Once you know your target audience and have defined your CEP, you can start to plan your revenue-generation strategy. As stated before, the sales and marketing team and the business development team should be part of the process of defining the target audience. If they are not, they will have a difficult job monetising the content. If they are involved they will have a head start in thinking through their sales and marketing campaigns.

Once you have circulated the profiles of the characters you are going to super-serve, sales and marketing can get on with the job of building campaigns around those characters.

Leg four – your values

Your audience will return if your content …

  • is compelling, well produced, original and distinctive.
  • addresses the issues that concern them most.
  • is easy to understand and accessible on multiple devices.
  • can be trusted – the integrity of your news organisation is essential.

The ethics that underpin your editorial and business decisions need to be visible in all you do. It is important to set out a code of ethics and ensure that all those who work for you, whether in the newsroom or out in the market, abide by those rules and apply them to all their dealings with the public, clients, stakeholders and suppliers. You might want to publish your promise to the audience, including your code of ethics, in an “about us” page on your site.

David Brewer
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is the founder and editor of Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast, and online. He was the managing editor of BBC News Online when the site launched, the managing editor of International EMEA setting out the editorial proposition, hiring staff and overseeing the launch, the managing editor for the launch of CNN Arabic in Dubai, and a launch consultant for Al Jazeera English in Qatar. He has spent many years delivering journalism training worldwide, mainly in transition and post-conflict countries. He is currently mentoring journalists and editors of refugee and exiled media and helping train journalists in countries where the media is still developing.