Citing the need to incentivize innovation in the news media industry, the International News Media Association (INMA) recently launched an initiative to explore the methods, strategies, KPIs, and prototyping behind product development at media companies.
The Product Initiative aims to deliver for INMA members and the news industry five objectives. Measurements and KPIs – product has introduced a metric-driven approach that can be at odds with the gut-feel culture of newsrooms. Prototyping and experimentation – expert tips for experiments, prototypes, and testing to ensure product/market fit with the audience. Product methods and team structures – who makes the decisions: editors, product people, or both? A review of working models, teams, structures, and shifting company cultures. Setting strategies, priorities, goals – working across the business, creating, and communicating plans to keep everything on track. Working with stakeholders – with so many stakeholders with different needs, how can you build a compelling case for product innovation?
The lead for the INMA Product Initiative is Jodie Hopperton, a British media executive based in Los Angeles. Hopperton’s career spans over 15 years and multiple countries working with technology start-ups in addition to roles such as head of interactive at Trinity Mirror in the United Kingdom and director EMEA, syndication and licensing for The New York Times in Paris.
Deliverables for INMA members from the Product Initiative include a bi-weekly newsletter, blogs, a Slack channel, video meet-ups, master classes, and conferences, among others. Within INMA, product managers are among the fastest-growing group of members as the concept spreads across departments and throughout media companies worldwide.
History of product management
Product management has almost been around as long as INMA. Often tracked to Procter & Gamble in 1931, product management focused on the role of brands – from tracking sales to managing the product, advertising, and promotions – some of the original principles behind the founding of INMA one year earlier.
As these concepts matured throughout the 20th century to focus on a marketing mix, they fused with the tech industry, led by Hewlett Packard, to where the product manager role morphed into the internal voice of the customer.
Notably popular in Silicon Valley, “product” as a concept became one part marketing, one part user experience – and all parts a sustainable competitive advantage to companies. Development and technology were so intertwined with the customer feedback and experience that the role moved out of marketing and into technology. It also became the origins of the “agile process” where feedback and data are consistently reviewed and incorporated into development.
Now “product” is an essential part of technology, marketing, sales, design, and of course, the core for media organizations – content. It has increasingly become an organizational rallying point for innovation, so important that it is often a standalone function sitting directly under the chief executive officer.
The INMA Product Initiative aims to merge the broader concepts of product management to the unique needs of the news media industry.
Product for media companies
Product has slowly become an instrumental part of news media companies in the past decade – just like other consumer tech organizations. In a recent survey, INMA found that more than 60% of product teams at member media companies have been formed within the last four years. Yet what is product management in a media company? Why has it gained such a pivotal role? How is it changing the news industry? These are among the questions INMA aims to answer in its Product Initiative.
INMA believes that journalism is a consumer product delivered through a variety of technology platforms – including web, apps, newsletters, podcasts, social media, and more. Product management provides the needed oversight to balance reader experience alongside business, editorial, and marketing objectives.
For media companies, INMA defines a product role as entailing product strategy; setting objectives and key results; project planning, execution, and iteration including and prioritization of all platform developments; user experience across all platforms; content distribution across third-party platforms; web development (with UX, design, and engineering); app development (with UX, design, and engineering); development of innovative content formats and templates such infographics or varying article formats; new products from initial concept to launch and ongoing measurement and development; evaluation and prediction of user wants and needs; performance measurement; revenue targets (direct or indirect including reader revenue, advertising, sponsorship); and partnerships with outside suppliers ranging from data analytics to comment platforms to recirculation platforms.
Typical product stakeholders and collaborators at media companies include design, engineering, editorial, data scientists, research, marketing, advertising, and the c-suite for major decisions and changes.
What INMA aims to achieve
Because INMA is focused on developing the business of journalism, the association aims to prioritize the business side in its new Product Initiative.
“INMA aims to create a community of product professionals inside our 16,000-member association,” said Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director, and chief executive officer of INMA. “We know from early research what INMA members in the product space want – access to a community and access to the shining lights in product outside of news media. There is a yearning to share insights.”
Said INMA’s Hopperton, lead of the Product Initiative: “INMA wants to be practical about product case studies, yet we also want to delve into product methodologies and thinking to drive organizational growth. How can companies evolve from project-driven to product-driven, which requires new mindsets and principles?”
The Product Initiative marks INMA’s second major effort in three years to dive deeply into a subject. In 2018, INMA created the Readers First Initiative, which has become the news industry’s foremost exploration into digital subscriptions.
The International News Media Association (INMA) is a global community of market-leading news media companies reinventing how they engage audiences and grow revenue in a multi-platform environment. The INMA community consists of nearly 16,000 members at 850 media companies in 74 countries. Celebrating its 90th anniversary, INMA is the news media industry’s ideas-sharing network with members connected through conferences, reports, webinars, virtual meetings, and an unparalleled archive of best practices.