Why the Traditional Media Industry is Broken 

The death of traditional media has been greatly exaggerated, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s on life support.

Before you think I’m writing this out of anger or resentment, I promise you, I’m not. In fact, more than anything, I’m sad. Not for myself (companies come and go) but for the Canadian media industry, and more importantly, the consumers who are tired of the same old story.

It’s no secret that traditional media is struggling. Subscribers are down across the board—in fact, there’s an entire generation who refuses to even consider picking up a magazine or paying for a cable connection (“skinny basic” or no “skinny basic”). But to lay all the blame on changing consumer habits is unfair. Those CEOs sitting in their big towers need to look at their own business models to see what they can do better.

In addition to building my own media brands, I’ve also been an advertiser. While I’ve had my share of ups and downs, I’m proud of the standards I’ve set both on the editorial and sales sides.

Here are three things I’ve learned along the way:

The “how” is just as important as the “what.”
One of the key ingredients of Sweetspot’s success (and now The Bullet’s) was the tone. Not only were we recognized as the arbiter and filter for lifestyle information, we delivered it in a way that was easily digestible by readers. Our light-hearted, conversational tone resonated with them. It was easy to read (and easy to love). While Canadian newspaper brands carry a lot of credibility when it comes to the breadth and depth of their reporting, I would sooner use them as a sleep aid than a tool to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. Stories are often too long, dry and boring. (Did I mention boring?)

Give people what they want, not what you want.
While this could apply to my last point, I’m now talking about sales. The strategy for my media properties has always been about working with brands to develop custom content that engages our readers, while achieving advertisers’ objectives (whether that’s awareness, education, conversion, etc.). When that is done well, all parties—advertiser, publisher and reader—win.

What I’ve observed is that many traditional media outlets offer up what they want to sell because it’s cheaper and easier. (Don’t get me started on what I think of display ads.) Anything that requires innovation or thinking outside the box, sends them running for the hills (and by “hills” I mean the mountain of excuses about why it just can’t be done that way). Let me tell you something: it can be done. So, as one of my favourite brands says, just do it.

Make the sale.
If you actually want to generate revenue, you need sales. Seem obvious? I think so, but apparently many sales people that work in media don’t think so. While looking for outlets to promote The Bullet, I’ve been shocked and dismayed at the number of times I’ve reached out to a company for information on their advertising options, and gotten radio silence. Literally. Nobody calls or emails me back. I wish I could say it happened once, but it’s happened many times—with the biggest companies in the country.

Do they think I’m too small? Maybe, but they don’t know how much I’m willing to spend because they didn’t take the time to ask. Regardless of size, I would think a basic tenet of being a sales person is that if a lead lands in your lap, you should take it. My sales people have been trained to respond to everyone within 24 hours—always and with no exception. That’s probably why my companies have generated disproportionate revenue to our audience size. We don’t just act like we care, we do care.

So the next time you read about mass layoffs or publications shutting down at the big media companies, don’t be so quick to blame it on the internet or millennials. Neither of them are going away, but if the big guys don’t start doing something differently, they will.