For years the doomsayers have predicted – and in some cases even rooted for – the demise of the New York Times. Print advertising revenues plummeted. Ownership of and overpayment for papers like the Boston Globe drained resources. Endless digital real estate diminished the value of every online property’s available ad space.
But the Times isn’t doing all that badly at the moment. For the first time in a long time total ad revenues stayed flat rather than falling. In fact in its most recent quarter, digital ad revenue jumped 21 percent. Operating profit doubled and an improved cash situation gives the paper more time to plot a strategy for real growth. Given that the recent good news comes in a miserable economy, I’m betting the venerable paper pulls it off.
If you look at the Times from another perspective – that of partnerships, social media behavior, and content – the company’s actually a shining example of how to hold onto core values and evolve at the same time.
Here are four things it’s done that serve as examples for any traditional company, including advertising agencies.
Get over the not invented here syndrome
For more than a couple of years now the Times has offered up content from a number of new sources that in earlier days would never have justified an appearance under the masthead. But there they are: ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm and other blogs’ content front and center on the Technology page. Stop there once a day and you practically have a centralized source of content. Granted it’s filtered by the Times, but there’s only so much filtering you want to do on your own anyway.
Lesson: There are plenty of great sources of content outside your walls and beyond that generated by your staff. Why not take advantage of it, whether it’s for your company blog, the blogs you maintain for clients, a YouTube channel, or any of the other places you need content?
Embrace change and new technology as fast as you can
OK, perhaps the Times hasn’t always been lightning speedy at this, but in the last couple of years they’ve done a pretty decent job. Case in point is their iPad app. Not only were they among the very first publications to have one, it was well thought out with a clean, simple interface and just the right amount of content for a pad. All the sharing you need is built in. And while its elegant lacquer-black type on the iPad’s white linen background presents the ideal screen experience, their standby iPhone app’s not bad either. I’ve read 5000 word magazine articles on the thing.
Lesson: Create utility. Make your brand available everywhere. Consider the context in which the user is engaging.
Be social in every way possible
I like how the Times does this, too. Times People is what every brand with customers or subscribers should do: introduce them to each other. It’s a benefit to users. It helps to spread content around. And it gives readers an added reason to come back and share what they find. The Times also does a pretty good job on Twitter. They’ve created their own lists of writers by category, and even gathered recommended lists of other writers and bloggers by categories that include technology, the arts, opinion and more. They don’t always engage as much as they should, but it’s still a valuable feed to keep you informed. Need someone interesting to follow? Go grab a new list.
Lesson: Take advantage of all the social tools and tactics. Market your employees and their content. Gather your company’s social presence and make it easily accessible to customers and prospects.
Great content wins out in the end
Want to know the reason that properties like the Times along with other content creators of note (including great creative advertising agencies) will always prevail? Quality content. Not only does the Times continue to deliver stuff you want to read, they’ve done a damn good job covering the very topic we’re talking about right here: digital technology and social media. Consider two great examples from the last week alone. One on whether Twitter encourages a distortion of who we really are. A second on whether the digital age diminishes originality and encourages plagiarism. Great stuff that will keep you thinking.
Lesson: Don’t abandon the core values that got you where you are. Just bring them to life in new places and apply them to relevant subjects.
What do you think? Is the Times doing it right? Can you replicate any of their practices? Will the “paper” survive?