Here’s what needs to change in the media industry


Here’s what needs to change in the media industry

A few weeks ago, I wrote this piece on the challenges facing the media industry.

Data domination by giants Google and Facebook, a new transparent way of business that cuts profit, and an environment of frequent disruption make the media industry a very different beast from its predecessor of ten years ago.

But hope is not lost for media firms.

Here’s what needs to happen.


  • A shift from a “buying and selling” mentality, to a more proactive, consulting, service-led, client-led stance.
  • A focus on a seamless and personal customer experience.
  • A move from an individual, ego-driven culture to collaboration.
  • Embedding change and resilience as the new status quo.

Business model/organisational structure

  • A move from bulky and slow, to agile, nimble, and able to absorb disruption without faltering.
  • Restructuring to allow for a client-led experience.
  • Improving internal ‘wiring’ to increase efficiency: billing, HR, Finance, and CRM systems that support the new approach. 
  • Consistent job sizing and reward across new structures.

New leadership and technical capability

  • Bringing in leaders who can drive change and lead client engagements, and technical experts who can deliver the increasingly tech-driven, service-led campaigns.
  • A different skillset around talent; skilling up on an evolutionary basis, not a stop-start “firefighting” one.
  • Accessing new labour pools to seed in diversity, as well as the skills and attributes needed for a more nimble, flexible, consultative approach.

Leading and managing change

  • Combining hard and soft approaches for a fully-fleshed approach that covers all the bases.
  • Not just superimposing a framework, but embedding a new mentality.
  • Agencies have an allergic reaction to being “done to” – a squad of consultants with a playbook and a big stick will not go down well.  So how can we support the existing leaders inside the organisation to execute change?  

Take a look in the comments for my ideas, and feel free to add your own.


How to lead and manage change:

Each organisation will be different, and context is everything, but here are a few rules of thumb that guide how to manage change:


  1. “Yes” doesn’t mean yes; the business case for change is easy for people to get behind. It’s only when people see how the change is going to affect them personally that you will find resistance.


Build the case for change and then test-run it with key constituents (likely to be agency leaders) – this is the single best way of understanding roadblocks before launching into a change programme, and allows the programme to be shaped to ensure there is a WIIFM for those affected (see point 5).


  1. Pick your change leaders wisely; get the right mix of power, influence and cynicism.


  • Change sponsor – it’s likely to be the CEO who sits across agencies; someone with the power and punch to make it clear that this IS happening.
  • Programme leader – a main agency boss – the figurehead who is actively leading the charge, mustering resources and managing key stakeholders.
  • Leadership influencers – find the people who can model new behaviours and make them visible; and maybe counterintuitively, find naysayers and put them in charge of part of the programme – there is no better way to convert difficult stakeholders.
  • Local leaders – this is likely to be your agency leaders – their job is to translate the aims and thrust of the change into the local context and ensuring it lands well with the agency team.


  1. Use the internal wiring; communications are key to getting the change message across and keeping people up-to-date. But the trick is to understand the specific business grapevine and tap into that.


In media there is a core expertise in creating messages and communicating in innovative ways – use it.


  1. Don’t ignore anyone who is not playing ball; even if things are going well and the vast majority are ‘on board’, you can’t afford to ignore the difficult bloke in the corner – he can, and will, de-rail the programme.


Stakeholders, stakeholders, stakeholders.  Meet them, know them and know what drives them.  In a media agency it is likely to be the things you can’t see that people will resist losing: power, influence and status.  You need to be ready to have some things to trade off in order to help people to stop blocking.


  1. Translate organisational to local; a business case makes sense to a business, but where the rubber hits the road it needs to get personal.


Local agency leaders need to be able to see ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM), and find the WIIFM for their people.  That may also mean realigning incentives and rewards to back up new behaviours and ways of working.  The desire to work in a fully matrixed way makes business sense, but if your SEO expert is still rewarded for the work she does for a single agency, that’s where the effort will go.


  1. Be prepared to keep going around the loop; change is not linear, and a step forward is often followed by several to the side while one tries to align people, agendas and end benefits.


It helps to have people who know the process and can hold it; but who are flexible enough to shape activity in response to what’s happening in the real world.  There is no change playbook that can be followed for step-by-step success.  Once you’ve jumped in, be prepared for processes to fail, resistance to surface from unexpected sources and systems to fall over.


For me this is where having external help is most useful.  The change consultant stands one step back and to the right of the Programme Leader.  The most useful jobs they can do are:

  • Give insight into the culture and readiness of the organisation as the change is planned and lands.
  • Coach the change leaders – build internal capability.
  • Identify the real sources of resistance and help devise ways of removing them.
  • Hold and shape the process lightly – they are best as advisors, not enforcers.


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