Newspapers must become "news brands" that "embrace all channels" in order to survive the new digital age, a senior Trinity Mirror executive has said.
Rupert Howell, group transformation director at Trinity Mirror, was speaking at the Audit Bureau for Circulation (ABC) Interaction conference in London yesterday (January 29).
Howell, who joined Trinity Mirror from ITV seven months ago, added that a focus on mobile and investment in online video would be key for the news group this year.
"Every single site we build is mobile-first, and over 50 per cent of traffic on Mirror.co.uk now comes from mobile," he said.
Howell added that Trinity Mirror also planned to invest in video suites in all of its newsrooms, allowing them to "create, edit and manage video content".
"We're turning newspapers into news brands," he said. "They have to embrace all channels".
He said that thanks to an overhaul of digital strategy and a programme of investment, monthly page views across the Trinity Mirror group had gone from 138.9 million in January 2013 to 325.7 million in January 2014 – an increase of 134 per cent.
In the same period, he also reported that unique users had increased by 102 per cent, from just over 26 million to just over 52.7 million, he said.
ABC-reported statistics for January 2013 differ slightly (at just under 22.3 million) because of a difference in the way they are recorded. ABC records 'unique browsers', for example, as opposed to the 'unique users' reported by Howell. See more on how ABC records unique browsers on page 17 of their guidance.
The latest figures from ABC showed Mirror Group Digital website unique browsers to be at 42.9 million in December last year, with January's results due to be reported later next month.
Speaking at the event at at The Royal Society of Medicine this week, Howell offered his five "prescriptions" for news outlets to succeed in the digital world. Here is a summary of the key points.
1. Devise a multi-platform growth strategy
"All media owners have to devise a multi-platform growth strategy," said Howell, adding that it was as much "a psychological as a physical shift".
"You are not a newspaper or a TV station, you are a brand. And if you can get that into your head you've got half a chance of winning."
2. Invest in content across all platforms
"We all know content is king but if you don't invest in different forms of content you will lose out," said Howell.
In particular, he pointed to huge investment in content on Mirror.co.uk and an upgrade of Trinity Mirror's key regional sites as well as the launch of the hugely successful UsVsTh3m.
Part of the reason behind Trinity Mirror's digital success, he added, is the company's willingness to experiment with new platforms.
As an example, he cited the Sunday People website People.co.uk, which closed this week after just just three months. The platform had only reached an audience of 150,000 monthly unique users, Howell said.
By contrast, UsVsTh3m had enjoyed three million monthly uniques in its first three months.
"I thought People.co.uk was great, but three months is enough to know if something is working or not," Howell said. "Our strategy is to experiment and see what looks like it's working."
"The great thing about online, as opposed to print or TV, is that you can make those experiments without it costing too much money."
Howell also said it was "really important" for news brands to embrace user-generated content (UGC).
"UGC is not a threat," he said. "It's a fantastic asset if you can be a place where people want to put their content beyond YouTube."
3. Develop an integrated organisation structure
"You cannot have separate print and digital departments any more," stressed Howell. "If you don't have an integrated structure all the value will leak out of your organisation."
He added that an organisational re-structure, the introduction of a digital-first strategy and the model of a "3.0 newsroom" had helped Trinity Mirror to fully integrate its print and digital departments.
4. Focus on culture change and people's skills
"I think the availability of appropriate digital talent – and our ability as an employer brand to attract them – is potentially the biggest break on any growth we might achieve," said Howell.
"We know what we need to do, but you need the right people with the right skills to achieve it."
Trinity Mirror offers training to staff including online learning modules and bespoke programmes for individuals, he added.
5. Learn how to exploit content commercially
A "smart and savvy" commercial department is also essential for any news outlet to survive, Howell said. "It comes back to the idea of everything being integrated," he explained.
Howell highlighted a UGC video of a rabbit caught (quite literally) in the headlights, which received more than one million views when it was published by The Daily Record.
"The site uses traditional display ads and got an immense amount of click-throughs as a result of people viewing that content," he said.
"We even approached Duracell to see if they might be interested in doing something with it". (Duracell apparently liked the idea, but nothing ever came of it).
Asked about the issue of maintaining editorial integrity with commercial elements, he said he believed online audiences were more forgiving than print readers.
"If our audience tells us they don't like something, we listen to that and we do our best to change it," he said.
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