How The Economist stays innovative in the digital environment.

Is going back to basics key to a smooth digital transformation?

By Alice Rizzo, assistant editor

Denise Law is head of strategic product development at The Economist. She shares insights on how design thinking can be brought to the newsroom to help develop meaningful products and ultimately foster a sustainable media organization. So, is going back to basics key to a smooth digital transformation?

According to Law, media organizations should be paying more attention to digital product development. Law warned about what she named “the Steve Jobs Syndrome”: When somebody has a good idea and thinks that adding a brand to it will make it work. Truth is, good ideas and strong brands aren’t sufficient anymore in developing good digital products.

Denise originally joined The Economist to set up its social media team and ultimately help the publisher change its heart and mind about digital. But how do you implement changes within an organization that has been doing things a certain way for a very long time?

 

To innovate and keep being competitive, it is crucial that legacy media organizations are able to shift their minds and incorporate changes.

“We all sit together in the hub of the newsroom and that’s completely transformed how The Economist thinks about digital because digital is now at the heart, literally, of the organization”.

Collaboration

To facilitate digital product development publishers need to make physical changes in the newsroom. Law talked about how collaboration between departments has been a complete transformation at The Economist. 

“We all sit together in the hub of the newsroom and that’s completely transformed how The Economist thinks about digital because digital is now at the heart, literally, of the organization”.

Overall, having a closer relationship between departments that usually work separately has helped The Economist innovate and it was a huge change in terms of mindset.

“Really think about who you are, what is your brand. We focused our energy on Facebook where we were getting most of our traffic”.

Social Media

The Economist has also expanded its social media team from 1.5 people to 10. But how do you put “beautiful prose” into 280 characters? 

The challenge was also telling correspondents and editors, that if they wanted their organization to survive, they would need to put their content in front of more people. It became apparent that in order to produce a coherent approach to social media, it was necessary to refine the mission and which platforms to prioritize. The mission on social was to raise awareness so that over time people would become paying subscribers.

“Really think about who you are, what is your brand. In addition, also focus on the platforms and channels you control: your website, applications and newsletter. Make the basics work before thinking about any other platforms or tools: “If we want to retain our subscribers, we can’t just rely on world-class journalism, we need to complement that experience with world-class digital products".

“If we want to retain our subscribers, we can’t just rely on world-class journalism, we need to complement that experience with world-class digital products”.

Product Development

What does it take to be innovative in product development? According to Law, innovation is not developing more digital products, innovation is primarily developing products with a digital mind-set at its core.

Often, publishers tend to use digital opportunities to create products that solve their own problems. However, according to Law, publishers should be concerned about solving customers’ problems by asking them why they would want such a product and how it would help them in solve their challenges.

To foster this approach to innovation, The Economist has held workshops inviting editors and correspondents to “draw” solutions to their customer’s problems, developing paper prototypes of their new app and inviting loyal subscribers to come in and play with digital products.

 

Denise Law spoke at Experience Haus: A Conversation (Design Conference). This was edited for length and clarity.

Related Articles

Taking a look at Monocle’s ten-year journey and how it grows its audience without social media.

Combining human intelligence and judgment with technological capabilities could give newsgathering organizations a great leap forward.

Nowadays, the only way to thrive during disruption is to experiment and innovate. Nick Cohen, director of video products, Reuters shares how media organizations are experimenting to meet emerging realities.