Prioritising the digital to-do list

‘Digital’ is a big word. It covers lots of different dimensions in any media organisation. Jim Bilton drills down into the Publishing Futures research data to see how publishers are navigating the digital journey.

By Jim Bilton

Prioritising the digital to-do list

The primary application is in the digital delivery of content – websites, apps, emails & enewsletters, digital magazines, etc. Yet it also covers data management, ecommerce, marketing communications and automation among other things.

A key part of the current Publishing Futures project – an annual benchmarking exercise, undertaken by 99 UK publishers in the consumer, B2B, customer and news media sectors – is to help publishers get their heads round the whole area of ‘digital’ by asking four key questions.

1. How digital is the business at the moment in terms of share of total revenues?

Most companies, but certainly not all, are rapidly becoming more digital, although the rate at which this is feeding through into tangible revenues varies considerably from company to company. This leads on to two other questions: How digital do we need to be in the future?... How digital are we likely to be in two years’ time (ie. what’s in the budget)? – here most companies have overestimated the speed of the digital revenue shift.

2. How much resource are we putting into digital activity?

Publishers participating in Publishing Futures were given 24 digital activities from ecommerce through to voice activated assistants and were asked to score each one as to “How much time and/or money will you be giving to each area over the coming 12 months?”. While there are some significant differences between consumer and B2B, website development and building a database of end-users stand out for most companies whatever their market.

3. How much financial return are we getting from each activity?

Only six of the 24 areas are reckoned to be delivering a reasonable payback. These include lead generation, the various advertising streams and ecommerce – all relatively hard-edged commercial activities. The remaining eighteen activities are simply not repaying in monetary terms what they are having invested in them.

4. Just how good are we at actually doing this activity?

Are there the skills, experience and resources in-house to make a success of it? The Publishing Futures report details a list of assets that publishers need and with scores next to each one as to how strong each publisher is.

The broad trends in digital

There are some key shifts from previous Publishing Futures surveys:

* Digital activity is now clearly more co-ordinated, integrated and joined-up than in past years. This means linking digital platforms as well as stitching together digital and non-digital channels. * A calmer (though still weary) acknowledgement of digital’s monetisation challenges. * A sharper focus on RoI is leading to better prioritisation of digital projects. Yet the sheer level of opportunity can still seem overwhelming. * More stress on tweaking, improving and refining what is already in place rather than diving into completely new activities all the time. * A real drive to up the quality of UX across all platforms. * A greater acceptance of the non-revenue benefits of digital: notably increasing audience reach, brand profile and engagement levels with both audiences and advertisers. * Much less comment on the decline of legacy platforms, notably print, which are being used more creatively in multi-platform packages.

Digital opportunities

Digital activity is both more varied from company to company and also more focused than in the past as publishers prioritise on what is the right thing to do in each market. Yet there are some common themes:

* A real focus on engagement – both directly with the audience (more contact points, involvement activities and feedback) as well as trying to increase sharing among the audience members. * The importance of understanding the audience. That includes knowing which users are not actually as advanced digitally as originally assumed. * Segmenting the audience to deliver a more tailored and personalised service. * The growing scale of the ad inventory and audiences that publishers can deliver, although this is more of an issue for the larger consumer companies. * Programmatic advertising no longer seen as a growth opportunity by most companies. * Strong growth in native ads and sponsorship. * Modest growth of paid content in B2B, although this remains a challenge.

Digital challenges

* Intense and growing competition. This is often free online information sources in B2B, while consumer publishers focus on Google, Facebook, etc. * RoI is a much bigger focus with the slow financial payback on upfront investments being mentioned much more than in the past. Digital is deceptively resource hungry; as is trying to balance the decline of legacy channels, especially print, versus the slower-than-anticipated growth of digital. * The lack of internal resource, in terms of both financial and headcount. The lack of the right skills and knowledge in-house. And the IT and data tools to make it all happen. And how can you keep up with tech developments? * There are fewer mentions than in the past of internal cultural issues to overcome, but organisational structures still clearly a challenge. * Ad fraud and ad blocking are becoming bigger issues. As are privacy and data protection. * In programmatic advertising, real scale is needed to compete, but this drives down rates. Yet this whole area is less front-of-mind than before except for the larger consumer companies. * Creating value-adding, paid-for products in an increasingly free world (especially in B2B). * How tech-savvy are agencies and advertisers really? And audience metrics remain an unresolved issue. * The danger of overwhelming end-users with too many products and services (they are not all as tech-savvy as is often assumed).

‘Digital’ is a very big word. Yet so is ‘prioritisation’ as the to-do list of most publishers is simply too long to execute proficiently.