MEDIA: FORUM - Do newspapers need new-media partnerships? Last week, as speculation continued that Emap might be snapped up by Yahoo!, Conrad Black signalled his intention to forge new internet partnerships The revolution is not just about new processes a

Everyone knows the new-media mantra about content being king. And obviously it makes sense when you think about it. What doesn’t make quite so much sense is the realisation that owning content doesn’t seem to have done much for the confidence of the traditional mass-market media owners. When it comes to the internet, they don’t act like kings; they don’t even act like king-makers. This appears to be especially true in the print media - you’d be forgiven for thinking that many publishing companies regard the expectations of the future as a dreadful burden.

Everyone knows the new-media mantra about content being king. And

obviously it makes sense when you think about it. What doesn’t make

quite so much sense is the realisation that owning content doesn’t seem

to have done much for the confidence of the traditional mass-market

media owners. When it comes to the internet, they don’t act like kings;

they don’t even act like king-makers. This appears to be especially true

in the print media - you’d be forgiven for thinking that many publishing

companies regard the expectations of the future as a dreadful

burden.



What has surprised some in the new-media market is the inability of

publishers to believe in their ability to explore the largely uncharted

territory beyond e-publishing. And, especially since the Time Warner

merger with AOL was announced a matter of months ago, the understanding

has evolved that it might make sense for media companies to proceed by

partnership and alliance. Which is all very well. But what has taken

longer to sink in is that media owners are expected to be the junior

partner in any such arrangement. The belief is that they will be bought

or, at the very least, will be the more desperate partner in any

marriage of convenience.



Take last week for instance. Against a background of speculation that

Emap might be subjected to a pounds 4 billion takeover bid from Yahoo!,

Conrad Black, the proprietor of a worldwide Hollinger empire that

includes the Telegraph Group in the UK, was touting his e-eligibility

and parading his assets in the world’s financial pages. Newspapers are

expected to be sold in the US to facilitate the company’s changing

priorities; and although assets such as The Daily Telegraph are said to

be inviolable, pacts and alliances are clearly being pursued with

greater enthusiasm in the UK.



Should media owners with long histories be content to defer to online

companies with a track record extending to a handful of years? The

Telegraph, after all, was one of the pioneers of e-publishing. Does that

count for nothing?



Len Sanderson, the managing director of Telegraph Sales, emphasises that

all the speculation remains exactly that - speculation. But he does

stress the fact that The Telegraph would be choosy about the type of

company it would partner. He states: ’If the biggest media company in

the world, Time Warner, feels it can’t go it alone, then that might well

show you that it can’t be done and that it’s necessary to look for

mergers and acquisitions. That applies to media owners generally, not

just publishers.



’Online companies have a route to market but no content. Strategically

we have a lot to offer each other. The future is about the customer. The

customer is in charge and it will be all about understanding what he or

she wants. Remember at The Telegraph we already have a database with six

million names on it and considerable database management expertise.

There are plenty of companies that want to get closer to the customers

on our database and that’s not something we can necessarily develop on

our own.’



Another paper with an enviable online track record is The Guardian. The

newspaper, which is run as a trust, can’t get involved in the sort of

wheeler dealer manoeuvres that some of its rivals can. But it too is

looking at its options.



Carolyn McCall, the managing director designate of Guardian Newspapers,

comments: ’It all depends on what you want to be on the internet but I

think it’s inevitable that people will realise at some stage that they

can’t do everything for themselves. Our particular perspective is that

there are lots of ways to look at partnerships and they can be done in

ways that don’t necessarily change the structure of ownership. I can see

why online companies would want to talk to media owners. They have,

despite the slump in share prices, very strong valuations which give

them financial clout. And they ultimately need the audiences, content

and customer relationships developed by media owners. As media owners,

we are aware that we need to carefully and honestly assess our strengths

and limitations and avoid the traps of either being too arrogant or too

humble.’



Are we seeing the end of print as a viable independent medium? Is it now

merely the quirky subset of some far more complex and important

discipline?



Tim McCloskey, a managing partner of OMD UK, believes that the

skill-sets are complementary - and believes that neither side should see

itself as dominant. He states: ’New media is an opportunity not a threat

to print media and vice versa. Combined, the two sides complement each

other. We buy a magazine for content, not for the lorry it was delivered

in. Content is down to management and editorial skills at the

publishers. Producing a website is quite different from producing a

newspaper. New-media companies should realise those skills are unique.

In any case, shareholders in publishing companies with big strong brands

should benefit from their interests - hostile or otherwise.’



David Stubley, the managing director of Outrider, argues that the market

has just reached an interesting crossroads. He comments: ’Until now the

worry has been that media owners were making decisions on the basis of

knee-jerk reactions rather than on any considered strategy. It’s no

secret, for instance, that the City has crucified a couple of consumer

magazine companies for not having an aggressive enough digital strategy

- fear has been one of the reasons that publishers’ own efforts have

been so patchy. They know they have to do something but they have not

been sure what. Retail is obviously a very important factor where the

internet is concerned but when you see a publisher whose online presence

is based around selling bargain holidays you begin to wonder why they

have strayed so far and so quickly from their core competence.



’I think that the correction in the value of high-tech stocks will make

media owners reconsider their position. They are less likely to be

panicked into a deal - they will perhaps sit down and think through

their strategy and what they can bring to the table themselves.’



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).