Many traditional news and information companies are in trouble. Newspapers and magazines are going under at a depressing rate. Audiences for TV news shows continue to decline year after year. While the economics of the mobile and Internet age have much to do with it, I contend that the cultures of many “news” organization are stuck in the part and need new thinking to attract younger, more affluent audiences that have largely tuned them out.
Resizing, rethinking, reinventing are all parts of the equation, but to accomplish any of these ingredients, it takes a culture—call it a new attitude—to pull it off. Here are a few characteristics that you’ll see in most, if not all, of the digital/mobile game changers (and certainly what we want to strive for at TouchVision):
1. Freedom From Politics: Almost impossible on a scale of a big company, but strong new-generation companies are surprisingly short on infighting, fear and political nonsense.
2. Youthful Thinking: That doesn’t mean young as much as young thinking. Steve Jobs, who was no young guy himself, out-thought the music industry and reinvented music distribution. You cannot design the future without understanding the past—while also living in the future.
3. Hunger: There’s not a lot of hunger at the big companies as their lives are padded with history and security—or paranoia.
4. Saying To Hell With What the Experts Think: If outsiders or competitors are appalled, but you think you’re doing the right thing, then do it—or suggest a better idea. In today’s blog society you need thick skin to cut through the sharp criticism and do what you believe. It’s all about what real people think.
5. Mental Diversity Encouraged: Different kinds of people, different POVs: All viewpoints coming together create newer and more relevant programming. Veterans, newbies and everyone in between should be contributing. Break down the ivory tower!
6. Spirituality: Not in a traditional religious sense, but in the idea that you’re simply not doing a “job.” This adventure is a higher calling. We’re on a mission.
7. Having the Ability to Execute Dreams: This can’t be stressed enough. Dreaming is easy; doing is the hard part. We live in the era of hollow mission statements and denial. The denial is rampant as media companies hope for a digital solution or an economic upturn as their salvation, when the answers lie in their culture, their core product’s relevancy and their fight for amazingness.
8. Breaking the Rules: Challenging the rulebook is not anarchy. To break the rules, you must understand them, and knowing that some rules are timeless, others are not.
9. Creating Fans, Not Users: Take Apple, or the early MTV or even Southwest Airlines. They have/had fans. Fans don’t just happen, but when they do, you have a whole new dimension to your potential.
10. Engaging All the Senses: Eyes, ears and minds. In media we sometimes forget about sound, and pictures, and pure stimulation—commerce via stimulation. Stimulate people on as many levels as you can. Multi-dimensional stimulation is critical in today’s environment.
11. Complete Package: The best companies deliver completeness. They deliver the complete package from customer service to every element of the product. Content, culture, sales, marketing, imaging, etc. News is a product and should be a complete package for users.
12. Meeting-Free: Meetings must be simple, fast and actionable. No painful all-day meetings that go nowhere. The meeting is way out of control at most media companies; it makes forward motion a painful and tiring experience.
13. Passion: Self-explanatory, but the passion has to be channeled into a single direction. Being passionate about the past is fine, but it’s more important to be passionate about now and the future and the plan that’ll get you there.
14. Not Being Average: Average is not acceptable. You know that most companies accept average as the standard. Exceptional companies do not. Everything should be pushed beyond average.
15. Radical Thinking is OK: Such companies don’t have an “out of bounds.” Radical ideas are fine; in fact, they’re necessary.
16. Urgency: Have a good idea? Get it done, quickly and well. There’s no time to drag things out.
17. Instincts: Smart people have good instincts and trust them. They’re not reckless, but they have confidence in their own instincts and those of their people. It’s about balancing emotion with science.
18. Fearlessness: If we were as fearless in everything we do, we would be way ahead of the game. Uptight companies are not conducive to creating amazing products. Lighten up. Have fun focusing on missions. The key word is “brilliance.” The “tight part” is in a clear plan, an M.O, blueprint—that part is what’s tight, but never uptight.
19. Truth: The good ones don’t lie. There are no silly marketing slogans substituting for excellence. Those slogans are a disease in media. Truth is an underrated selling tool.
20. Living On the Streets, Not in the Conference Room: Why are hip hop and country the two two music genres? Because they are based in communities, not the 42nd floor of the Sony Building.
21. Challenging Tradition: Iconoclasm is in their DNA. That doesn’t mean blowing up tradition, but rather, going through the exercise of challenging it.
22. Thinking: Fire drills, panic, negative attitudes and craziness are part of the excitement and tension of executing new ideas—but ya gotta resist! It’s all about “Fighter Pilot cool” not whining or brooding.
None of these are easy because a memo just isn’t going to get the job done. We, collectively, have to force this spirit.
Abrams, cofounder and chief content officer of TouchVision, has created top-rated radio formats on broadcast and satellite platforms (including cofounding XM) and has been a creative advisor for media companies such as MTV, Rolling Stone and TNT.