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5 Crucial Aspects of a Digital Media Transition

2009 August 9

One of the biggest challeges facing media companies today is how to transition from the “offline world” to the Digital World.  It can be an extremely difficult process, fraught with danger, overdevelopment and underperformance.

Unfortunately, most legacy media companies find little success, despite big plans.  Here are five aspects that address the most common mistakes.

1. Basic Boring Proprietary Technology

Instead of rushing out to build web sites right away, your first step should be to build a core development team (3-5 people) and build a basic platform (CMS, database structure, design and CSS templates, etc.).  Make a 3-6 month investment in building a basic platform and you won’t be sorry.

Getting and 3rd party to build your web site will ensure that you will never be able to be successful.  You will be too slow to compete, your web sites won’t be secure, you won’t be able to partner effectively and your technology costs will be higher in the long run.

2. Integration:

The biggest difference between old and new media is the level of communication and collaboration needed to be successful. In your new media business you won’t have the benefit of 50 or 100 years of standards. Your production (i.e. development), content, marketing and sales teams will have to work together much more closely than in your old business.

3. Revenue model:

The biggest difference between old and new media is that you’re going to completely re-think how you make money. Rather than just selling advertising, you’re going to have to learn inventory optimization, e-commerce partnerships, online events, etc.

4. Mine Your Talent!

Most old media companies start with a series of board discussions about “how we can get our people to buy in?”  If you have a successful media business you probably have a wealth of fabulously talented people who are excited about digital media. Get them involved from day one, before they make their own digital transition…to another company!

5. Patience

Although the technology moves fast, online audiences move slowly. A new business requires building new relationships with audiences and advertisers. Give yourself 2 years before you expect to really get going.

Overall, I would say that the biggest mistake is for top management to to overstrategize . It’s mindblowing how many media companies spend years on a strategy and still don’t have a decent site built!  As fast as the world is changing around us, speed is essential.

That means that you need to have people on the front lines driving the strategy by implementing ideas, seeing what works and learning as they go.  No one really, truly knows what how digital media will interact with the consumer until the site goes live.
Mistakes are okay, as long as you can make them cheap ones. So get on with it!

– Greg

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Olga permalink
    August 11, 2009

    It also helps to see which content and resources can be reused for both offline and online publications, and which reusal actually makes sense and adds value to your website.

  2. August 11, 2009

    Good point:-))

    – Greg

  3. Maureen permalink
    August 11, 2009

    Maybe this list should become the starting point list for CEO’s?

    In the Netherlands print and tv are the two media who seem to have the hardest job when it comes to transition. It is amazing what can happen then. Take print. I was asked as an emplyee for a publisher of magazines to redesign the site in two months(?). And found out that everybody wanted something else and that nobody had any interest in sites besides what they look like. Quality seems to be the word that comes up when people do just not see it. When people say quality, read “I need safety” between the lines.
    So I chose in this mission impossible to focus on showing the magazines and the news. The most crazy part is that the site basically still is the same.

    So when making a digital transition the people in the company need to see the potential as a team or you can only make people satisfied with a nice online brochure. (which is very print like- just read it when you want to) And that is not a good starting point for adding value.
    So maybe point one should be do not invest unless you have a team that wants to work with the webteam and that even leaves out using the site with cross media planning…..

  4. August 12, 2009


    Thanks for your post!

    It’s a shame that magazine publishers have had so little success online because there is so much potential there. They already know how to talk to, market to and sell niche audiences to advertisers. It absolutely amazes me that good companies with wonderful, creative people and fantastic products often just break down when it comes to digital. They just can’t seem to shift paradigms.

    – Greg

  5. August 12, 2009

    Great article, Greg. We will be a 100% digital agency in a year, and the course is not clear at all. I would love to see more transition articles if you find the time. I’m pimping your blog on my fledgling in-house site,

  6. August 12, 2009


    Thanks for the pimping! I am working on a couple of more posts about digital transitions and they should be up in the next few weeks:-))

    – Greg

  7. Conrad Buck permalink
    September 22, 2009

    Great post that outlines many areas that are overlooked in what is a confusing landscape out there to many companies starting out in the digital landscape.

    One thing to add would be that companies need to always remember who their customer is when they start a digital media strategy. It’s easy to loose sight of how your customers use the internet and make sure you match up social media, online marketing tools with your target demographic. Sure many social media platforms are for the “younger generation” but that doesn’t mean boomers are not online for example. However, it’s also too easy for companies to line up Twitter, Facebook and Beebo in their primary strategy when their target customer and existing customer base is well over 55 yrs and just tinkering around online.

    Companies also need to stand back and think about whether the proposed online campaign is really reflective of their offline values and history. Trust me, there are companies out there that just don’t think before they launch into social media. This is so so so important. When a funeral home has a Facebook fan page you know someone in the organization wasn’t quite on the ball that day.

  8. September 22, 2009


    You make a good point about target market. It’s even more important online where there are no “walls” and the medium is amazingly fragmented. One thing that most traditional media owners are not aware of is that their audience will be different on the web. Usually the overlap is less than 50%. So while you need to be true to your brand, you can also extend it if you’re careful to maintain your core brand values.

    I like the Funeral home fan page idea. It would make a fantastic club promotion!

    – Greg

  9. Conrad Buck permalink
    September 22, 2009


    I totally agree with you on the extension of your target market, I just quite didn’t get that in my previous post. While on one side the market can shrink (if your approach is wrong) the flip side is that you open up a whole new demographic to your services.

    Eg. I could be a financial adviser who managed wealthy boomers portfolios. All my clients don’t necessarily conduct business online and all my meetings are face to face or on the phone. Why do I need a website if my clients or prospects won’t visit it? I have a great reputation and am referred offline continuously.

    Step out of the box –

    If I’m a financial adviser and I have an active web presence I can target the younger wealthy demographic who may be attracted to a financial advisor who is experienced but also is obviously clued up on digital media and web. Plus I would break down the walls and stereotypes about financial advisers being behind closed doors, old school and somewhat out of touch. Plus in this day and age professions like financial advice MUST be on the front line, exposing themselves (no derogatory intended) to break down negative images of crooked portfolio management.

  10. September 22, 2009


    100% agree. I once attended a Publishing course at Stanford and there was a lecture about the “Great Digital Threat.” After looking at the numbers she presented, I said “you mean over the next 10 years we lose a few share points and get a whole new business? Where’s the threat?”

    Everybody in the room gave me dirty looks. The kicker is, I was the only one there who HAD a successful digital business:-)

    – Greg

  11. September 22, 2009

    You’re on the money. Some of the radio stations that I work with still don’t have a basic website. There’s a great deal of talk about needing one and having one, but very little in the way of executing a solid online product. And the reasons for not executing generally come down to talent, money, time and expectation.

    Your points are well taken and in the right cases, will be passed along.

  12. September 22, 2009


    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    – Greg

  13. Jim Cameron permalink
    September 23, 2009

    Excellent points! I have recently been involved in the ‘transition’ of traditional advertising media into the digital realm. In that environment, careful attention needs to be focused on how the traditional media’s management receives compensation and incentives. If an interactive program is placed under their jurisdiction… online advertising/texting campaigns/etc…but their income and performance review remains directly tied to the revenue of ONLY the traditional media, then the digital part of the equation will remain the ‘add-on’ to the presentation…or worse yet, it’ll continue to be the ‘value added’ freebee!!!
    I can offer many more observations if anyone is interested.

  14. T A Balasubramanian permalink
    October 11, 2009


    Excellent points!

    I think the basic difference between old media and new media is that the former is focused on maximizing visibility, while the latter is all about maximizing interactivity.

    On a different note, I don’t know if there is a transition happening between the two media – maybe they are destined to co-exist?

    For example: I see a lot of direct mail and a whole new wave of special magazines coming onto my desk these days – maybe because email in-boxes are getting steadily saturated?

    If TV commercials are anything to go by, they seem to have a preponderance of ads that promote websites and web features for products like cellphones (Connect to FaceBook on our new model!).

    So it seems that the visibility cavalry and the interactivity troopers might march together on the media frontline, after all.

  15. October 11, 2009

    T A,

    Yes. I think you’re absolutely right. From my own experience running a multimedia company it seems clear that integration is key to the success of any media company, whether it’s online or offline. Moreover, most media have done quite well during the internet age. There are some exceptions, newspapers are getting killed, but for most media businesses the opportunities far outweigh the threats.

    – Greg

  16. October 25, 2009

    Hey Greg,

    Right on the money as usual. I totally agree with all of your points, but I really, really like #3. For me that’s one of the most powerful. For the most part all of these companies are doing is taking commercials from tv and just planting them on their internet channels (which is ok) but you’re not going to be able to make the same amount of money with ads online as you did off. Many companies are going to have to rethink how to offer value because the ad revenue model alone, as you stated, is not going to cut it. If you imagine a world without ads or limited advertising what would you offer? I think questions like this allow opportunities for creative thinking about innovative products, services and experiences that audiences and customers could value.

  17. October 25, 2009


    Thanks for your input. I think there are a variety of solutions to the problem. The main point is that they will be different solutions than most media companies are used to.

    – Greg

  18. Rick permalink
    November 11, 2009


    Would you be so kind as to expand on your comment about the need to learn inventory optimization in the new media revenue model.


  19. November 11, 2009


    It’s the same in all electronic media (i.e. TV and Radio). There is a fixed amount of prime and fringe space. You can always sell your prime space, but the key to profitability is selling your fringe.

    That requires efficient pricing and packaging. You need to look at your inventory like a buyer would and try to create efficiencies through buying less demanded space and freeing up inventory on high demand pages. New Media differs somewhat from offline media because there are more pricing options. For instance, you can sell ROS on a performance based metric like PPC or CPA and sell home pages by CPM.

    TV stations actually do something like this by selling time to infomercials during low demand dayparts.

    – Greg

    – Greg

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