On March 20 and 21, 2017, leaders from every corner of the fast-changing publishing industry gathered under one roof to discuss the challenges they face, goals they strive to meet, and insights they’ve gained through their work.
The Reynolds Journalism Institute held the sold-out event at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. With the help of Influence & Co., the RJI Distribution Symposium identified and selected more than 30 panelists — including editors from Harvard Business Review, Mashable, ReadWrite, TechCrunch, Yahoo, and The Wall Street Journal. It featured notable speakers such as Nicole Young, senior producer at the “CBS Evening News” and producer for “60 Minutes;” Uzodinma Iweala, the CEO, editor-in-chief, and co-founder of Ventures Africa magazine; and Steven Rosenbaum, author of “Curation Nation.”
Over the course of two days, this impressive panel touched on several facets of the publishing industry, but one topic in particular sat at the crux of our conversation: content distribution.
Distribution: The Pathway to Success
In a constantly evolving distribution ecosystem, it’s important to tackle this topic from multiple angles. In that vein, speakers discussed all forms of media and distribution — from AR and VR to blogs to video — as well as the goals they’re setting, innovative ideas they’re testing, and key insights they’re learning along the way.
Here are three key takeaways we gathered from these discussions:
1. Join in the Fight for Quality
Though every publication faces different hurdles and prioritizes unique goals, nearly all the speakers emphasized that when it comes to successful distribution, quality trumps quantity — period.
The fight against false information is in full swing, and each story must not only be purposeful and informative, but it should also inspire action and elicit emotion — regardless of the distribution method. For instance, during the symposium, Harvard Business Review’s Katherine Bell stressed how mission-driven the publication’s content is. And when quality is the No. 1 priority, great results tend to follow. For example, one editor from Yahoo noted that when the site started posting more original, high-quality content, it saw an increase in traffic.
2. Shift, or You’ll Stagnate
The online publishing industry is fast-paced, but distribution is changing especially quickly.
Jason Abbruzzese, an editor at Mashable, explained how Facebook completely changed the content distribution game by shifting the power away from media companies. Abbruzzese said he hopes readers will continue to push for "high-quality nonfiction content."
The evolving nature of the industry has also forced media companies to find creative ways to drive readership. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, became the first U.S. newspaper to have a daily Snapchat story, and its What’s News app has made it easier for readers to learn about breaking news stories from their smartphones.
Along with the written word, the speakers addressed the rise of nontraditional forms of content. In fact, Archie Thornton, president and CEO of the marketing consultancy Thornton Works Inc., predicts that AR and VR content will spawn the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
3. Stop Painting Your Readers With Broad Strokes
Not all content consumers are created equal, and publishers should not be treating them as such. Instead, speakers recommended that publishers and media distribution companies first identify their “super users,” then replicate them.
Alejandro González of 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital news platform, said it best: We must “engage divers, cultivate swimmers, and court waders.” And Bell outlined how her team at Harvard Business Review follows McKinsey’s loyalty loop to build a subscriber base. Finally, our very own John Hall discussed the topic of “advocacy over interactions” and the importance of truly caring about your audience.
At the end of the day, panelists at the RJI Distribution Symposium emphasized that publications from every background stand to benefit from focusing on the quality of their content, adapting to a changing industry, and cultivating reader loyalty. Consider your company’s content distribution strategy — are you prepared to evolve?