Lead a Successful Digital Transformation
According to Gartner, 91% of organizations are pursuing digitization, yet only 40% are successfully achieving it.
Too often, these projects are over budget, underresourced, and deliver underwhelming results.
In this webinar, hear from a panel of experienced executives at NBCU, Nexstar, Fortune Magazine, and Marketplace. You’ll learn best practices and common pitfalls from their digital transformation journeys, so you’re better equipped to lead a change that positively impacts your business.
- How customer-centered digitization can become a competitive advantage
- Common pitfalls and how to avoid them
- Which emerging technologies are helpful, and which are just hype
- Navigating change through every level of your organization, from individual contributors to top leadership
Lora Dennis, Senior Vice President of Digital Media, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations
Lora Dennis is Senior Vice President of Digital Media for NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, the division of NBCUniversal that includes 42 NBC and Telemundo stations, a regional news network and their associated websites and digital platforms, 2 national multicast networks, as well as LX, a new TV and streaming network designed for Gen Z and millennial audiences. A broadcast veteran with more than 25 years of local news experience, in her role, Dennis spearheads the editorial, design and product development strategy, audience development, marketing coordination and business operations for all station and local networks’ websites, mobile apps, social and distributed platforms. She also oversees the division’s digital news team which supports the NBC-owned stations and regional news network, and a product development team that is charged with building and maintaining all local stations’ digital products.
Dennis is a recipient of the Alfred I. du Pont Silver Baton Award, American Women in Radio and Television Gracie Award, and 2015 Cynopsis “Top Women in Digital” Award. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and daughter.
Jonathan Rivers, Chief Technology Officer, Fortune Magazine
Jonathan Rivers is an evangelist of customer-centric design with over 15 years building digital content, advertising and video technology. Prior to joining Fortune as their first Chief Technology Officer, he was CTO at 3Pillar Global, a product development services company where he lead their global product, design and engineering groups. Jonathan has also served as the Interim CTO at Telegraph Media Group where he oversaw the launch of Telegraph Travel, their successful eCommerce platform. As Sr. Director of Web Operations and Customer Support at PBS, Jonathan helped transform PBS into a digital leader building out their DevOps teams and Cloud Infrastructure platform. Earlier in his career, Rivers was Executive Vice President of AdJuggler, a digital ad-serving platform.
Nancy Cassutt, Managing Director, News, Marketplace (American Public Media)
Nancy Cassutt is a media executive with extensive experience in journalism and newsroom leadership. She was on the front lines helping transform newsrooms across the country as the digital age changed the media landscape. Currently, Nancy is the Managing Director of News for Marketplace, a non-profit business and economic news organization on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country.
Cassutt’s extensive journalism career includes work in reporting, editing, and managing in television, radio and online. She is known for leading change as technology and disruptions in the news economy have altered every aspect of the journalism business.
Scott Morris, Senior Vice President of Technology and Innovation, Nexstar Media Group, Inc.
Scott Morris is a seasoned, cross-functional executive with a passion for growing businesses and solving complex challenges by bringing together people, technology, strategy, innovation, and process to drive growth, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. Successful track record as a digital transformation agent with executive roles across industries with a focus on content management and syndication, video solutions, system architecture, UX/CX, full lifecycle SDLC, and digital security, data privacy, and strategies.
Scott is part of the Nexstar Digital leadership team with a mission to grow audience and revenue through better products, content strategy, and Audience & Business Intelligence that support the needs of product, content, and revenue.
Tess Needham (00:00):
Welcome everyone to our live panel discussion on Lead a Successful Digital Transformation. So before we get started, I just wanted to note that there’s a Q&A box here at the bottom of Zoom that you can see. So at the end, we’re going to hopefully have some time for questions. So if anything comes to you during the session, please just type it in there and hopefully, we’ll have time for it at the end. So, I’m going to hand over to our host Jary Carter, and Jary is the chief revenue officer here at WordPress VIP, and is our host for today. So go ahead, Jary.
Jary Carter (00:31):
Thanks so much, Tess. Welcome everyone, it’s exciting to see the attendance just continue to rise here as we get started. I want to thank everyone for joining today. And before we get started, I just want to acknowledge that it’s been an intense week for everyone and we want to take a moment to acknowledge that. And in that, we really believe in amplifying the voices that need to be heard. And so please look out in our followup email for a list of anti-racism resources. And with that, we will go ahead and get started. My name is Jary Carter as Tess mentioned. I’m the chief revenue officer here at WordPress VIP, and I’m pleased to get out of the way and introduce the four panelists that we have here with us today.
Jary Carter (01:20):
We have Lora Dennis, who is senior vice president of digital media at NBC Universal television stations. We have Jonathan Rivers, who’s the chief technology officer at Fortune magazine. We have Nancy Cassutt, who is the managing director of American Public Media, and we have Scott Morris, senior vice president of technology and innovation at Nexstar Media Group. So we really have a distinguished group of panelists here today. And with that, in that order, in the order I introduced each of you, I would love to have each of you just introduce yourself. And maybe if you could give a little bit of insight into you and your background for our audience before we get started. Lora.
Lora Dennis (02:08):
Good afternoon. And thanks to all of you for joining today. I am happy to be here amongst this great group of panelists. I have spent the last 20 years at NBC Universal working on digital transformation, not all of that time in digital, but half of it, certainly in the last 10 years. And during that time, I’ve seen our group go from 10 small websites to being on 17 platforms and being very mobily driven. It’s been incredible to see the growth that’s happened in digital and the support. I’m very fortunate to work for a boss who came from the Silicon Valley area. She gets digital, she supports our growth, and I think that’s really important piece.
Lora Dennis (02:55):
When we were talking in preparing for today, I mentioned that I was part of a program at Sulzberger at Columbia, a fellowship around change management. And we hear digital transformation a lot. But that was probably the single most valuable thing I’ve done. Change management is really what this is all about and bringing people along. So hopefully over the course of the next hour, we can all share some of our insights. I will say that I don’t know that I’ve… I would say I’m 100% success, I think we’re still work in progress. But certainly, I’m happy to share the insights that I have from my experience over the years.
Jary Carter (03:35):
And Lora, you look like you’re coming to us from such a nice spot, this illustrious background you have here.
Lora Dennis (03:43):
I am an attention to detail person. And so I did a search for an interior designer background. The one I have in reality does not look anything like this.
Jonathan Rivers (03:56):
Howdy, everybody, I’m Jonathan Rivers, CTO at a Fortune. I’ve probably got about 15 years or so in the media industry. I’ve done everything from online advertising, to video, to print. It’s interesting for this conversation, I’m now on my third digital transformation job. One that is actually built very, very much as that. Previously I was at PBS where I built out our cloud infrastructure when we went completely digital and had a full online presence along with mobile applications and a full suite of products, as you would imagine them.
Jonathan Rivers (04:34):
From there, I went to the Telegraph in London where we were re-platforming their entire website, as well as launching their first e-commerce business which was Telegraph Travel. And now I am fortunate enough to be here at Fortune helping us with the next chapter, now that we have been sold and are no longer part of a larger publishing group. We’re now our own, fortune media company and really helping us move and expand and build out all of our digital pipeline. So it’s an exciting job and exciting to be here and speak with you all.
Nancy Cassutt (05:15):
Thanks, Jonathan. Hello, Nancy Cassutt. I’m happy to be also on this panel. Thank you. And I’m also happy to be tagged on something other than news for just a moment today. I am currently managing director for Marketplace, which is a business and economic show, part of American Public Media. Just a brief background on me is I’ve been in the news business for more than 30 years, long time. And the first half was analog focused on TV news, and the second half of my career was a big mix. I worked for a digital only company, for 10 years where I learned a lot. I felt like I got a PhD in media. We launched something like 70 local news websites of which part of them were NBC Universal sites.
Nancy Cassutt (06:07):
Then I left that and went back into legacy media, only this time it was public media, very interesting. And for the last 10 years, I’ve been working with brands, both local and national in public media, through American Public Media to help them figure out their editorial and digital strategies. And as Lora said, for sure, on a journey. This job is never done and we’re learning every day. So happy to be part of this. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Scott Morris (06:39):
Thanks, Nancy. As he mentioned, I’m Scott Morris and I’m SVP of technology and innovation for Nexstar. It’s one of the largest media companies no one’s ever heard of. So there’s that.
Jary Carter (06:50):
It really is.
Scott Morris (06:53):
And I’ve spent most of my career in digital media since I had brown hair. And, I’ve been doing digital transformation since the late ’90s. And I started with a company that was called Brass Ring, that was a joint venture of Washington Post, Chicago Tribune. And I went to work for Discovery Channel. And I worked there for many years and at Hearst for many years and now with Nexstar. And in between, I spent about half my time as a consultant, about half my time as an employee, maybe an executive, depending on the role at different companies, mostly media. But in the government space as well, the intelligence community. I’ve done work in real estate, and healthcare, and finance.
Scott Morris (07:41):
I try to use that as a backdrop for perspective and understanding the challenges that each of these industries are facing and how they’re similar and how they’re different. And that’s pretty much me. I’ve been working in, most of it has been with content management systems and things about creating content and creating user experiences that help hopefully sometimes change industries or set tone, and other times just catch up. A little all over the board, but I’m here to lend that perspective.
Jary Carter (08:13):
Happy you’re here, Scott, thank you. Thanks to everyone and it’s such a small world that we found out as we brought the panel together, that Nancy and Lora actually worked together pretty closely at a previous company. So you are already connected and probably have some of the same shared experiences. Well, I want to go ahead and really jump in while we have this group together. And jumping into our first question. And the first question that I have is really what have been your keys to success in digital transformation? All of you have seen this movie a few times before, you’ve participated in digital transformation, what have been the keys to success. And on my screen, I want to get everyone’s perspective, but on my screen, and I’m not picking on you, Lora, but you’re first there. So I’m going to have you start and then we’ll go to Scott, and then Jonathan, and then, Nancy, if you wouldn’t mind in that order, love to just hear the perspective.
Lora Dennis (09:19):
I think there’s two character traits that I’ve tried to embrace to try to be successful. And they are perseverance and passion. Passion I was born with, so that wasn’t so hard. Perseverance, I’m a competitive person, so not easily knocked down. And when I’ve talked to people on our team, we are in a situation where our digital teams sit in television newsrooms. And so you may on any given day, have 90% of the newsroom focusing on television, and 10% focusing on digital. And that has changed dramatically for us in the past five, six, seven, eight years. So some newsrooms are more advanced than others, but I think making sure that the digital teams are educating larger groups, getting people comfortable with creating content for digital platforms, I think that’s a really important piece.
Lora Dennis (10:16):
And I think passion is important because we are often cheerleaders of bringing people along and learning new platforms, new technologies. When audio came, sort of reemerged on the scene, people wanting to do podcasts again. And how do we help people use those platforms, or using Google Home, or using Roku when people don’t necessarily have those devices in a newsroom. So I think those are the two areas that I really focus on. We, talked a little bit about the Sisyphean task of digital transformation and you that you make progress, then you feel like maybe you’re stepping back a little bit. But I think always take the mat and I have the benefit of being able to have a 30,000 foot view unlike a lot of people on my team who are in the trenches and seeing the significant progress you do make. And it wasn’t until I was preparing for this and thinking about how much we’ve grown over the course of the last 10 years that you realize, oh, the incredible transformation that already has happened in terms of where we are today.
Scott Morris (11:24):
Yeah, I think you hit two of the key components to that. I think maybe we’re so competitive we shouldn’t compete with each other. I had a hard time letting my kids win at shoots and ladders. So I’m a little competitive myself.
Jary Carter (11:41):
Good thing this isn’t a parenting panel, Scott.
Scott Morris (11:43):
To add that to that, I think that in my career I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by great people as well. I think technology ultimately comes down to people, and if you can surround yourself with smart people and have teams that collaborate well together, and handle all the change management, and all the trials and the tribulations that come with all of this, I think that’s a huge component to this. And if you’re in a room and in meetings and day after day, you’re the smartest guy in the room, then you’ve definitely have to look at your hiring practices. Because you should really be surrounding yourself with experts all the time and learning and growing all the time. And I think that’s a huge part of it.
Scott Morris (12:26):
And then really it’s about leadership as well because you’re looking at… One of the things we might talk about later is I think you need to go all the way, anything that’s done halfway never accomplishes its goals. And if you’re trying to do things like dip your toe in the water and all these things, it’s destined to fail, you have to get buy-in from leadership and really push that forward. And if you can do that, then you can actually make a huge change in the world in general, but in technology in digital transformation. That’s true in all phases of life, but certainly in what we do for a living because it is a big change. We’ve all heard back when it was analog, analog dollars to digital pennies and all these things whatever kind of modernization, whether you’re just trying to reach people or turn a profit you have a way of reaching out to people. And if you’re doing it partway, you never get there. And then… So leadership and surrounding yourself with great people I think is very important.
Jary Carter (13:26):
It’s interesting that, sorry Jonathan, it’s interesting that both Lora and Scott, you’ve really talked about this idea that it is so much change management. And when we were doing the prep call for this, one of the things I highlighted is that that digital transformation really is 20% technology and 80% business process and transformation. And Jonathan really stepped in and said, “Hey, I’m going to argue.” And I want to say this before Jonathan goes. But he was like, “look, I really want to argue that this is a 100% change management and 0% technology.” That’s really about organizing the business around the change that you want to make. And I thought that was such a valuable point for people that are thinking about this change management process and having such a healthy respect for the need to get by, and the need to change the organization, the need to really delve into the business process side of this. So I really appreciate Lora, you and Scott calling that out. And Jonathan, I hope I didn’t steal any of your thunder but I want to let you really speak to your thoughts on that.
Jonathan Rivers (14:31):
No, not at all. In fact, I mentioned that on LinkedIn last week after the call and it’s really true. Look, you’re not going to get out of this thing without having to build something, but what you’re building, really not important at all. The technology that you use, also kind of not important at all. What’s really important I think with approaching digital transformation in my mind are two things. And the first is hyper customer centricity. Everything that you do, you need to approach with the customer in mind. And when I say that, I want to make sure that everybody understands that’s both your internal customers and your external customers. Everything that you’re doing, every decision that you make, you have to ask, is it in their service? Are you doing something for them? Or are you doing something to them?
Jonathan Rivers (15:27):
And if you’re doing something to them, if they are your internal customers, they will resist you with every fiber of being that they have. If they’re your external customers, they will walk away and go do something else. This isn’t the mad man era. You have to provide people products that they want, not products that you tell them that they’re supposed to have. And so just having that notion, at the heart of everything you’re doing, is important. And two, when we talk about change management, and this is the one that I harp on the most, you need to approach this and understand that you are from the future. You are from your organization’s future. And when you come in and start talking about the changes that need to be made, they’re going to look at you like you are some crazy internet space wizard, and that you are speaking some foreign language that no one has ever heard. And you have to be respectful of that.
Jonathan Rivers (16:23):
Because if you do this for a living, if you do change for a living, you are comfortable with it, you have done it before, and you’re walking into a place where this is new and scary for them. People have to give up 10, 20 years of experience to go do something new. And you talk about analog to digital, giving up 20 years of experience to learn something new is an incredibly frightening prospect. And if you are not really respectful of the growth that you’re asking of people, the work that they’re going to have to put in to change, you’re going to fail, you’re just going to come across as arrogant, as condescending, you’re not going to get the buy-in, your ideas are going to be rejected. And so at the heart of this is just this understanding that change is hard. If change were easier, more of us would do it more often. And really, guiding your organization through that and giving them something to believe in. And I think again, those two things are, are key to anything going well.
Jary Carter (17:31):
I love that you are from your organization’s future. It’s so true and I just updated my LinkedIn profile to internet space wizard. Thanks, Jonathan, it’s great.
Scott Morris (17:47):
Jary Carter (17:48):
Sorry, go ahead, Nancy.
Nancy Cassutt (17:49):
All right. So I’ll take this a little bit more internally focused since I went to the school of change management hard knocks because I ended up leading a digital operation, very focused on journalism, in the digital space, starting in 2000. So I’ve been in and out of that business for 20 years and two things that I’ve learned and I’m still, I cannot emphasize how much I am still learning. But one is pick a team of movers of people who will help you move your organization forward when you’re trying to do any sort of change. In other words who are my body doubles, who will actually do the thing to help you make the change so you are not the person, always the mouthpiece on it. So find a group of movers is one and two is over-communication.
Nancy Cassutt (18:54):
We talk about, “Oh, they never communicate, we don’t know what you’re saying.” And again, I’m still learning myself. But you can never say this stuff enough. What’s your marketing phrase? Is you have to say it seven times, but people get it. That’s really true. And when they’re ready to receive it is also really important. So I’d say, movers and over-communication, that’s my message on that.
Jary Carter (19:23):
I love that. Especially the over-communication piece, I think it is so critical, communication when you’re going through changes is so vital at every level, at the executive level down throughout the organization, so true.
Scott Morris (19:38):
[inaudible 00:19:38] now because we’re all at home. We are all coming from our living room in this call. And having communications, you’re not standing in the break room anymore, you’re not sitting in the boardrooms and talking to each other, and not sitting in the desk next to each other. You have to be doing things like this more often and it’s become even more important than it always has been.
Nancy Cassutt (19:59):
The casual conversation is out the window. You actually have to plan something.
Scott Morris (20:04):
Nancy Cassutt (20:04):
Well, I guess you have Slack but still it’s not the same.
Jary Carter (20:12):
Slack, if you’re listening, we [inaudible 00:20:15] we’d love a discount on our annual subscription.
Scott Morris (20:21):
Jary Carter (20:22):
All of us would.
Nancy Cassutt (20:30):
Yeah, exactly. Have a good one there.
Jary Carter (20:31):
It’s interesting, learnings always come through both the successes, sometimes they come even more so through the failures. What have been the pitfalls that each of you have seen? Because you don’t get through this a few times without skinning your knees along the way. And I’d love to hear, and I’m just going to be maybe a little more casual about it, just to open it up to this group, to talk about some of the challenges and pitfalls that you faced.
Scott Morris (21:04):
I’ll go. So we’ve all faced the normal things that are challenges to every project. So you have budget issues or arbitrary deadlines with unreal expectations. And a lot of times, and I’m sure Jonathan you, in particular, I think we talked about this a little bit. Technology for technology’s sake, I remember in the early days when I was at Discovery Channel and having an argument about why we couldn’t change every page on Discovery Channel to flash. And I’m like, “No, that’s not a thing, we’re not doing that.” And so they’re all the normal things that you go through. But I’ll go back to what I was saying in the introduction. I think that too many times companies, media companies in particular, they like to dip their toe in the water and just edge things forward.
Scott Morris (21:52):
And I think when you do that, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to failure. So if you’re not going to, you’re going to talk about digital first, but not really do it, or designer is a mobile first scenario and not really do that. And then you have to do all the blocking and tackling that come with that because interactivity from platform to platforms can be different. So it might be mobile first, but you have to really do all the things to make sure that OTT is not going to be interactive, whereas your desktop might be a little bit interactive and your mobile is highly interactive and things like that. So it just, it depends on what you’re doing.
Scott Morris (22:24):
And then as technologies change, you have to stay up to date. But it’s really about committing and getting the organization and the business behind what you’re trying to do, and the goals, and going after it full force. Because once you do that, then even when you run into the challenges, whether it’s budget or whatever, you can get to the place of success if you can keep pushing forward. But if you’re not all in then you’re doomed to failure.
Jonathan Rivers (22:51):
Yeah, I’ll chime in, I think. And it really comes around innovation and what does it mean? My single biggest failure or my single biggest battle scar from doing digital transformation, I’ve summed up with sort of a pithy catchphrase, which is, don’t bring a design thinker to a deadline. And I’m going to get a lot of hate for talking trash about design thinking. That’s okay, I’m a big kid, I can take it. But here’s the thing, when you go to do transformation or engage in any level of innovation, you need to understand what you’re trying to get out of it and what your timeline is. And if you don’t understand those two things, you will never be successful, cannot empathize or iterate your way to success if you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know how much runway you have. For years I’ve talked to all of my developers about the stacks of dollar metaphor.
Jonathan Rivers (24:01):
And so you imagine a stack of dollars on the table and every decision that you make, every feature that you implement, everything that you do is taking dollars off of that stack. And if the decisions you make, the things that you build, don’t start putting dollars back on that stack faster than you take them off, you’re sunk. And so that’s where I see all of these just go astray is where it’s pointless innovation, or just iteration, and incremental improvement and not really focused. I have two years, this is how much funding I have and of. And how do I back that out into a very real plan? Because if you don’t have those you’ll just get trapped in the morass.
Nancy Cassutt (24:51):
Jonathan, I would just reiterate the timeline thing. I almost forgot the timeline thing is crucial. But I would also say you don’t have to build everything from scratch. That’s something I think everyone thought. Only we can do this. So even before you have to build it, figure out who your audience is. I think everyone here is talking about that audience, what are you trying to do? I’ve made plenty of mistakes on that. So who’s your audience? You don’t have to build everything yourself, leverage other people’s ideas and products that they’ve built. And then the timeline thing is so crucial. Figure out how much time you have and then back time yourself.
Lora Dennis (25:40):
I think for me there’s a couple of things, and this is a little bit like you talk about innovation, transformation and you want to do new things, but to not chase shiny objects. We have lots of stakeholders, will be like, “Oh, I saw this new platform, or I talked to this vendor and can we do this?” And to stage true to your product roadmap and make sure your messaging work’s on that roadmap, and why it’s on the roadmap, and what it means to the business, and how it helps them as internal stakeholders. So that when the bright, shiny objects come in, you can filter it through does that really align with what we’re trying to achieve, yes or no?
Lora Dennis (26:24):
Now I say that, but there are certain things that we do want to test and try. And I have the benefit and Scott, I think does as well of having lots of petri dishes around the country. We have 40 stations, English and Spanish language. Some have huge penetration in the market, some have huge social followings, so we can test and try things at pretty low risk. And that’s a real benefit that we have. So we don’t have to make a decision that affects the entire enterprise if we can look at something.
Lora Dennis (26:52):
And I think this would be the other part is putting real parameters in rigor around your testing and evaluation of new platforms and products. And not just launching something and saying, “Okay, so now we’re on Roku or now we’re on Google Home.” But really saying, “Okay, what kind of growth do we want to have? And where are we in three months? And are we involving the product? What is it? Is it really what we want it to be? And maybe it’s time we take that off of our product suite.”And I think that’s an area that we haven’t done enough of in the past. And we’re really trying to focus on now.
Scott Morris (27:29):
I agree. I think that the fact that we do have this broad platform in multiple markets. And every market’s so different, some places you have great penetration, some places you don’t have great penetration and your approach to those markets is different. If you want to try something in a small market versus a big market or midsize market. And being in a company like Nexstar allows us to do exactly that because… And we just launched a Spanish language section of one of our sites using translate solution that is innovative and we’re going to roll that out to multiple different markets because it’s been successful. But to your point, that’s exactly right, we get to try things out. And you’re not always going to get it right, but if you have the chance to try new things, then you can continue to be innovative. And that’s a great advantage for any company that can do that.
Jary Carter (28:18):
Such a good call out. Because we are seeing even, in the technology world or on the business side, we’re seeing companies start with a few international sites, or they’re starting with one of their brand sites, or one of the division sites that now is getting transformed, or they’re trying new things within a certain business unit. So I that’s such valuable feedback that we see not just in media, but really across the gamut.
Jary Carter (28:52):
How do you think about customer experience as you go through digital transformation, how do you think about customer experience? And I’ll define that maybe in two ways, and you’re welcome to speak to either one, both your internal stakeholders. So content producers or internal stakeholders that you’re really trying to help and support. And maybe, more importantly, your customers, your end customers that are really engaging. As Jonathan talked about really creating a better customer experience as you go through digital transformation. I’m giving them things that will be valuable in the customer experience. How do you think about that? Nancy, I’d love your perspective if you don’t mind just to kick things off.
Nancy Cassutt (29:42):
Was that really for me? Because I come from public media right now and we very different from the commercial media space. We have our audience, customers used either word, really want to be close to us. They love our talent, they love our content, and they want to engage. So we have, and we are still actually in the process of ultimately what do we want to do for them? We will want to serve them. They give us money, so they feel, and truth be told they own us in a way. And so how do we serve them and then keep them close all at the same time? So the idea is if… And we leverage our WordPress platform that we are now on, that we love by the way. We bring them in and we let them ask questions. So we do a very interactive engagement process where they’re leaving questions, we’re answering them on the air, we’re answering that, we’re using their names, we’re collecting all the questions.
Nancy Cassutt (30:54):
From that, we try to engage them with newsletters, things probably many of you do. But ultimately for us, and it is a journey, is to turn them eventually into what we call investors in Marketplace. We want to make sure, yes, we’re interacting with you on the content side that we’re engaging with you, that we’re listening to you, and we’re answering your questions on a very narrow level. But we also ultimately say, “Do you want to invest in us further?” And so we’ve done some really interesting campaigns around on how to do that. And we’re still working on our design down the future, down the road I mean as to how we really do that in a super served way.
Jonathan Rivers (31:39):
I’ll actually tackle the internal question because I think it gets overlooked so often because people are looking about their supply chains, or their customers, or this or that, and there was a question in the Q&A section that asked me about doing things to instead of for. And it comes back to some of this communication where you’re talking not about what are you going to do, but why are you going to do it? And what are the outcomes that you expect if you are successful in this? And I think that’s really the key to everything. When you think about customer centricity and your internal customers, why are you disrupting their life? If somebody has used one particular CMS for 10 years and you go to change it, one, you’re going to get resistance because you’ve just invalidated 10 years of experience. They think they have 10 years of experience on a platform rather than 10 years working in a content industry. People tend to identify with their tool rather than their actual function, which you want to break down.
Jonathan Rivers (32:48):
But actually, talking to them about why are you making the changes? At the Telegraph, we rewrote our authoring system. At the time it took 81 steps and 55 minutes to publish a piece of content. They rewrote it. There’s some wonderful talks online. Mel McVay, Jane Austin, Joe, I forget her last name who really headed up that project, got it down to 20 steps and 30 minutes. So you go to all of that effort. Why did we do that? Well, think about the efficiency of scale, think about the amount of content that can come out. Think about the quality of content. I know you have to learn a different system, but what if I told you, you could do the same job in half the time with half of the frustration, would that be valuable? Getting them to actually buy into the process, being part of the process rather than just handing them a fully baked solution. And I think that’s how you get there, you don’t go do this stuff in silence and two years later pop out a system, you have to get all of your customers, internal or external involved in it.
Jonathan Rivers (34:18):
And the other thing, and I’ll do this. It’s a bit of a rant that I do all of the time, but I think it matters so very much for this. Stop using the word user. Just stop using the word user. It’s horribly offensive, it denigrates all humans into machine operators. They’re not users, drug dealers have users. I have customers they are in finance, they are a writer, they are an artist, they are a product manager, they are an account manager, they are a human being that wants to create. Especially those of us in media, this is about creation and about bringing things to life. They do not exist to use the systems. And when you treat people like they exist to use the systems, that’s how they’re going to react back to you. And if you approach them, this is how we’re going to try and create, this is how we’re going to bring things to market so that we can do the things that we love and believe in, rather than clicking around on screens. You’re going to get much, much better results.
Jary Carter (35:25):
Yeah. I really appreciate that perspective and thank you both Nancy and Jonathan for this. I want to talk about, there’s this concept of digital experience platforms that is out in the market. And when we brought this up, there was just really a robust discussion originally when the five of us were talking. And I want to ask this group, when you evaluate a digital experience platforms, what did you in the market? And maybe I’ll start with Lora and then Jonathan, I know you have some perspective on this. I’d love to have the two of you share your thoughts here.
Lora Dennis (36:07):
We embarked a couple of years ago on moving to a new CMS. As I mentioned at the top when we first moved off of IB, which is where Nancy worked, Internet Broadcast, and we took over our websites, we had 10 websites and no real mobile products, we outsourced mobile. And now we’re on 17 platforms. And so we’ve outgrown our content management system. And there’s lots of things that you do that are sexy and content management systems frankly aren’t. But they’re the most important infrastructure. It would be like you’re going to build a house, but your foundation doesn’t work. And to be honest, for us it was a real barrier to getting content creation from our larger newsrooms because it was just not intuitive. And so we evaluated 10 CMS’s, got it down to four. Used really thoughtful framework and how we were going to rate them. And it came down to Drupal and WordPress and or by nature of the fact, we have hundreds, now thousands of people creating content across our division, and we prioritized that over the developers.
Lora Dennis (37:21):
And so we landed on WordPress and it’s ended up we launched in December and by mid-January some of our stations had gone from having a handful, maybe 15%, 20% of the people contributing regularly to numbers up toward 50. Which I never would have thought it would happen A, that quickly, we did a lot of training. But that speaks to something I think is important is there was buy-in from the leadership, and there was training and support from our teams. And I think that is a combination that is so important to making sure that these platforms are working.
Lora Dennis (38:04):
And for us, we had very complex requirements that we needed to be providing in a really simple experience. And for us also, we have people creating content in English and Spanish language, and those audiences are different. So there’s a lot of different nuance that we had to take into consideration. But we’ve joked that nobody loves their CMS, but right now we love our CMS. So you can maybe check in with me in six months, or nine months, or a year, but we’re still in the honeymoon phase.
Jary Carter (38:38):
We’ll check in only if you’re happy, Lora. Thank you for that. Jonathan.
Jonathan Rivers (38:45):
But I’d say beware of the one-stop shop. You know, in any platform that claims to do it all, probably doesn’t do it very or all of it very well. And you’ll… If you get seduced by that sales pitch, you’re going to find places where it’s woefully inadequate for the things that you want to need. And maybe it’s great on certain things but maybe it’s not in others. And I think going into it, looking for best of breed solutions and then knowing that you’re going to have to stitch them together. Like I said from the outset, you’re not getting through this without building something. But picking the right systems and again, making sure your business customers are involved in that process. What it absolutely can’t be as an IT exercise.
Jonathan Rivers (39:39):
You can’t use… Like RFPs or a horrible way to do anything because it reduces everything down to a spreadsheet. And somebody in IT is going to go, “Okay, these four platforms have the most check boxes in my spreadsheet at the lowest price we’re going to buy that.” That’s a digital transformation that is going to fail. I promise you it is going to fail in a heartbeat because it was based on price and somebody who didn’t know what they were doing, making the selection. And so instead identifying the systems or capabilities that are most critical for getting your content and your message out, and going with those, picking them, and then building that connectivity between them to integrate it into an ecosystem rather than just trying to buy an ecosystem out of the box.
Jary Carter (40:33):
This concept that digital experience platforms really are a constellation of best of breed technologies that you are stitching together, really obviously resonates with us. And it seems like it really resonated with this audience while we were having this conversation originally. I want to turn to something that when we originally talked, we thought about but we didn’t really discuss. And that is, what concepts or technologies are you seeing in the market that are more hype than reality? I’d really love to get this team’s perspective on what’s hype and not reality right now?
Scott Morris (41:23):
No one wants to call anybody out.
Nancy Cassutt (41:24):
Actually, Jonathan was doing that one.
Jary Carter (41:32):
Jonathan, we’re going to put you back on the spot then.
Jonathan Rivers (41:35):
Look, I can always be everybody’s resident contrarian. The first, like obviously I took jabs at it before. And Design Thinking, I think is vastly overrated. It’s less a technology than a state of being. I think it has its place. I think it absolutely has its place for industries that are stuck, people who are mired and that have very, very big bank accounts and lots of time. But as a practical approach to get something done, I don’t see it there. And one, and people who know me know I have this, I actually think AI is really heavily overrated, especially in media. And I’ll tell you why. Because I think personalization is actually antithetical to customer centricity. And by that I mean, AI is only really good at knowing what people want or what they liked and giving them more of that. That doesn’t actually challenge them, that doesn’t inform them, that doesn’t create any value other than just consumption.
Jonathan Rivers (42:54):
I work for a business publication. And the notion that we are trying to educate about people what’s going on in the marketplace. So here’s an example, if I read three articles about Facebook, AI is going to give me a 4th article about Facebook, and I don’t actually care about Facebook. I’m reading about their gross privacy violations or what do I need to know about privacy in my organization and I just happened to Zoom in on Facebook’s high profile blunders. And so there’s this notion that AI is going to personalize things where I think that does a dis-service where we need to focus on discoverability. Which is how do we give people the information that they need to be better in life, to grow, and to thrive and not just consume what they want. And so I think for me, those are the two that I’d throw out there.
Scott Morris (43:56):
So I can be a little bit of a contrary to Jonathan in that I think I don’t disagree with the premise of what you’re saying. So I think that one of the big reasons we’re facing political divide in this country, for instance, it’s getting worse is because it feeds you what you want to hear. And that’s what media companies want a lot of times or that’s what Facebook’s, the world want. They want you coming back. So they’re reinforcing your biases or your bubble view of what’s happening in the world. And that drives us further apart. So that’s a terrible experience. And truthfully anybody that’s been in vigil transformation and had been part of this were all slightly culpable in that, because we’ve all tried to feed them like-minded content and in a way to get people to look at things over and over again and it’s created this divide.
Scott Morris (44:43):
But, AI is more than that. When you look at practical application of it, you can teach the algorithms to be like, “Hey, give contrarian point of views, as well as like-minded point of views. And you’ll find that engagement is actually less about someone clicking something over and over again, the same kind of thing, and actually experiencing multiple things across the board and then coming back to what they believe based upon a broader perspective. So I think that AI, to this point in time, has actually been a bit over hyped.
Scott Morris (45:17):
But I think there is a practical application of AI that can actually be super valuable, not just to our industry, but to the whole world and thinking about how we improve things and read things. And we’re getting to a point now where AI is getting smart enough, and the technology is fast enough, and efficient enough where you can actually do things not in real time, but close to real time and making things really valuable to people. And we can have learnings and the data can drive decisions based upon what us as a business want, but what our customers want. And that’s the most important thing.
Scott Morris (45:52):
I said in our little prep time that as a for-profit media company, we’re really matchmakers. We’re trying to introduce advertisers to customers. And to do that, we have to have the best product and then the best way of monetizing that product and pegging that. And AI helps us do that if we’re using the right data correctly and using it in a tactical and practical way. But to this point, I don’t necessarily disagree that it has been mostly just like, “Oh, you’re looking for a coat, here’s a bunch of coats. Oh, you’re looking for, this kind of new… It’s the same thing over and over again. And it can’t be that going forward.
Jary Carter (46:31):
I appreciate the different perspectives. Actually, I think this is one of the reasons that a panel discussion is so valuable. I want to get to some of the participant attendee questions that we have because they’re so great. And they actually are in line with some of the things that I wanted to ask as well. We have several questions about digital transformation in the current pandemic that we’re in. And thematically, we’re seeing the question across a few people as do you see digital transformation accelerated due to the current pandemic? And what piece of advice do you have for companies who have to do it overnight, versus a timeline of two years? So just would love to hear what you’re seeing in terms of acceleration around this.
Lora Dennis (47:34):
I’ll jump in here. I think for us in local news, local news is having I think a great moment. Certainly, we were having support from the Googles and Facebooks of the world and I mean very small local news, like newspapers, that were mom and pop shops and not necessarily part of a larger corporation. But local news and the information that we’re providing is more important than ever. And so that what’s wonderful is we do breaking news, local news, and weather, and those are our pillars and they’re more important than ever. And so our content is being introduced to audiences that we never would have thought, or never have had before. And so we’ve got new people, we want to provide them the best product possible. And I think that is an opportunity. And for my digital team, we’re very comfortable working remotely, we’ve been working remotely now for almost three months. For others, it’s not as comfortable.
Lora Dennis (48:41):
And so the tools that we use, we’re introducing to other parts of our company, or other parts of our division and people are being forced to make change in a faster way. Obviously, change is hard, but this is being put upon people. I think it’s important, and I saw a couple of questions, to manage, there’s change you have to make right now. And these are, and I’ve to described people, these are the worst possible circumstances for remote working because you’ve got your kids at home, you can’t leave your house, you have anxiety around what’s happening. But there are moments, there are parts of this of what are things that we’re doing now that we can do longer term that are for the benefit of the company? And the people who are creative and solution finders are going to thrive in this and those that aren’t, and there’s been lots written about this, it’s not like this is me saying this with lots of people writing about this right now, those who can innovate and adapt are going to thrive.
Lora Dennis (49:44):
There is a specific tool that I use, which is called the snowman. So it’s vision, strategy, and operations, and being able to have all three of those. So some of you, I live in a world where there might be a vision, but you don’t actually have the operational or the strategic thinking to really make all three effective. And right now, people are in operation mode, but you have to be able to get out of the weeds and look at strategy and vision to see how what you’re doing is going to apply to your longer term objectives in the company.
Nancy Cassutt (50:18):
I would jump in on that Lora and extend that and talk about because we are in our core businesses in public means audio. So two things about that. One is we’re doing everything remotely, we have hosts sitting in their sheds, in their houses, broadcasting the entire shows. But immediately within the first couple of weeks of this, because alot of our work and our editorial approach is context and understanding, is we spun up a quick 10 minute, everyday podcast to make sense of the day, it’s called Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. And I have to say, and I know that in the end, of course, they work on my team and they report to me and I do listen to it every day. It is really a grounding moment for help me, this is really hard.
Nancy Cassutt (51:17):
And so for the audiences, I feel like this was great. I didn’t create it, someone else in my team said, “Let’s do it.” And so that’s been really quick turned audience centered approach. And then our reporters who are sitting in their apartments and their houses across the country, doing what Lora just said, trying to manage with your kids around you, but part of our product is scene-setting and of course interviews. And so the reporters had to be really creative about actually how to get audio and be ethical about it, and be transparent with the audience about how we actually constructed a story today. So it’s forced our teams to be super creative in their making approach every day to journalism
Jonathan Rivers (52:11):
I’ll chime in, you asked how, how do they accelerate or how do they take this opportunity and they accelerate? And this more than any time is the one to remember, not to let perfect be the enemy of the good. And media companies are horrible about this because in media, if you put something out that’s flawed, your sins are there forever. It was in a broadcast, it was in a print publication, it was an audio clip, it doesn’t matter. But for true innovation, you can’t have everything be perfect every time. You have to be willing to experiment, you just have to be willing to try and doing it when people are open, and hungry, and ready is the best opportunity to ever do that.
Scott Morris (53:02):
And I’ve mentioned earlier about the going all in and that obviously is not that’s. That’s not the, it has to be perfect and everything all at once. You really get to roll out an MVP and iterate on that and things like that. But you have to be all-in on the end goal. To your point earlier, actually, you have to have your goals and a way to get there. And part of that is the iteration along the way and the agile nature of how technology has evolved in this digital space. With Nexstar were launching new station in a time when everything’s so politicized and everybody’s at home and absorbing all the news and the polarization. News Nation is set to launch it on September 1st. That’s going to be sort of a neutral version of that. Not give spin, not give biased opinions and things like that. Just be a new space.
Scott Morris (53:52):
And I think that’s going to be quite refreshing. And it goes back to the point that you had mentioned about you want people to have these bias things and they over and over again to drive them to the same place. But I really think that people want the middle and then they can make the choices. And I think that’s what News Nation will give. And I hope so because I think that’s something that we need. That’s not really expediting things today, but it’s really about looking at the landscape of what’s happening today and making changes for the better
Jary Carter (54:24):
Scott, we had a question on this. And particularly for you on why you think doing digital transformation piecemeal is a bad idea and how is that different from being iterative?
Scott Morris (54:40):
So that goes to what I was just saying that I think that when companies, media companies in particular back when they didn’t want to put their shows online because they thought it would take away from their television shows and revenue and things like that. And I think that still happens today where you’re looking at where we can make the most money. Nancy has the benefit of not having to worry about that but the rest of us are. [crosstalk 00:55:09]. But that’s a big part of what we do is we’re a for-profit business. And so they have a tendency to be like, “Well, let’s go two inches in this direction.” And you can’t do that. You have to have a longterm vision of, this is what it’s going to be, this is where the market’s going.
Scott Morris (55:29):
And truthfully today’s world is changing that it’s even faster. It’s going to be a digital first world, it’s going to be a mobile first world. So what does that look like five years from now, 10 years from now? And then have a plan to get there. So, like I said, you’ll launch MVPs, and you’ll iterate on them, and you’ll get things wrong, and you should fail first and learn from that, and move on. There’s a lot of those sayings that are true because you need to be iterative and move it forward. But you can’t just have no plan and go halfway there and hope it works out. And it just never does. You need to have a game plan and a roadmap to get to the end goal and have the budget and the wherewithal to go after it.
Jary Carter (56:17):
Great. Thank you so much. We’re at the top of the hour. I have at least a dozen more questions for you all that we’re just not going to be able to get to today. But for those people who have questions that weren’t answered, and if you left us your name, we’ll absolutely follow up with responses. There’s some really tactical questions for each of the attendees on some things that they said, so we’ll follow up. And then we just need to get this group together again, because this has been a whole lot of fun. And the audience was very engaged with what you all said, there’s lots of questions coming in. So thank you all so much for lending us your time, for participating today, for your perspectives, and thanks to everyone who attended and participated and shared your thoughts with us along the way. Thanks everybody.
Lora Dennis (57:08):
Nancy Cassutt (57:10):
Scott Morris (57:10):
Stay safe and healthy everyone.
Jary Carter (57:12):
Nancy Cassutt (57:13):