Strategic Initiative Case Study: How Google Will Save Newspapers from Extinction

In just a few years, it is likely that most people will read the news on an electronic reader, probably with a nice color screen. These electronic readers will pull news that is relevant to the consumer. And there will be advertising, too. Ads that are personalized with lots of color.

Is the news-by-newsprint model of the newspaper going away?  If newspapers do not go extinct, and will look radically different.  Let’s consider some of the pressures being faced by conventional newspapers:

  • There is a long-term trend in declining circulation. Even if there were not, People are reading newspapers less, regardless of the presence of the internet, a Google, or a Kindle.
  • Classified ads are going away (Craigslist, eBay, etc). Any business would struggle if it lost 30% of its revenue stream, but when combined with the other factors this is a killer.
  • Less is being spent on print ads.
  • Newspapers never made money on the “news.” Their best advertising sections are the home and garden section, automotive section, and so forth where advertisers can get their message in front of those readers who are interested in the topic.

In total, the newspaper industry is facing a serious disruption of its business model due to technological forces.  The survivors are going to be forced to look in new directions.  Undoubtedly, many of them will be launching a strategic initiative.

The good news is that Google has a strategic initiative in place that can be a partnering model for surviving this disruption.  As James Fallows explains in his recent Atlantic cover story,

“If news organizations stop producing great journalism, the search engine will no longer have anything interesting to link to.  Smart Google minds are working on this. They think they can make a difference.”… “Google is valuable because the information that people find through it is valuable.”

Leadership Lessons for Strategic Initiatives

Here are ten lessons for leaders of strategic initiatives:

  • Good people, given sufficient time – Early in the article, we learn that several very smart people are working on this strategic initiative and that they have time budgeted to understand the issues and craft good strategy and execution. In addition to smart people, there is a determination to succeed. Thus the leaders have this attitude,
  • Despite a difficult problem, people hold optimism that they will find a solution. Stories and storytelling are useful tools for the leader of a strategic initiative. The story being told is still unfolding: the story does not need to be accurate, it just needs to be plausible.
  • There is a clear rationale for “why” – There is a good rationale understood by all for the reason for the initiative: good news content gives people a reason to use Google.
  • The initiative is driven by data – As you might expect from a company that captures and generates data, Google has developed useful insights by mining its data.
  • Continuous experimentation: Permanent beta – and belief in the wisdom of customers and markets – This is a famous part of the Google culture, which is to keep trying many ideas, fail fast, and learn from it.
  • Incremental Benefits Delivery – Google is not going for one big solution, but a series of small wins.  This is an important principle for creating commitment.
  • Boundary-busting approaches – Google is openly partnering with many other organizations using what is now popularly being called open innovation.
  • CEO involved – The CEO (at that time, Eric Schmidt) visibly supports the program, but delegated appropriately to experts.
  • The vision rests upon three strategic pillars – Those pillars are distribution (example: YouTube Direct), engagement (example: display ads), and monetization (example: each newspaper will determine whether they want to charge for content).  On this last point on monetization, Fallows writes that Google says, “Of course people will end up paying for the news. They’ll have to leave it up to the market to decide.”  See my posting on strategic pillars for an illustration.
  • “Buy-in” happens over time – In prior interviews (a year earlier) , people gave “dutiful” answer about the importance of the strategic initiative, but now “people sounded as if they meant it.” Skepticism gives way to optimism. Commitment and alignment require time, and the leadership challenge is to steadily increase the number of individuals and degree of passion.

This excellent article provides more depth on Google’s strategy and approach:  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/06/how-to-save-the-news/8095/

You and watch some of the experiments in action.  In particular, I encourage you to check out Google Alerts (I do one daily on strategic initiatives), Google News, and Fast Flip. All are accessible on the Google homepage.

 This case study shows many of the principles of successful strategic initiatives.  How can you apply these to your strategic initiative?

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About Greg Githens

Thought leader who helps others think strategically, make strategy, and turn vision into action. Coach, advisor, board member, and hands-on leader. Seminar leader and speaker of popular offerings "How to Think Strategically & Apply Business Acumen" and "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)." Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation.
This entry was posted in Examples of Strategic Initiatives, Success Principles for Strategic Initiatives and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Strategic Initiative Case Study: How Google Will Save Newspapers from Extinction

  1. gr8pgm says:

    Greg, I am skeptical that the print media especially the newspapers can survive the ease of use and the many features that an electronic reader can provide. Some of the useful features of an electronic reader is bookmarking, note-taking, multi-media linking, sharing an article via facebook, twitter etc., Once we get familiar with these features then there is no going back to paper. Simple comparison is the hand-written letter vs e-mail. Whether the newspaper companies will survive is a different story but the printed newspapers or even printed magazines/books may not continue with the status quo.

    Here is a link to a blog post on how this person read 12853 articles, forum topics and blog posts in a week using Google Reader. Its an extreme example but one that is possible only through an electronic reader/computer.

    http://sidsavara.com/personal-productivity/how-to-effectively-read-12853-articles-forum-topics-and-blog-posts-a-week

    –Shakeel

  2. Several “theorists” in strategy firmly assert that “A strategy without clearly defined goals/objectives that are measurable probably doesn’t have much chance of success to begin with.”

    I think this is Google example shows that strategy is emergent, and does not need to be some sort of top-down grand vision. I think that Google will be successful, but only time will tell.

    What do you think?

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