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Five Leadership Roles for a 'Digital First' Strategy

06 Jul 2012

As the 'digital first' mindset gains momentum across the publishing industry, media companies continue to alter their organisational structures to accommodate new digital roles and responsibilities.

There's plenty of debate about whether companies should be hiring digital specialists or layering digital responsibilities onto existing staff roles (answer: both). But to really drive home the importance of a digital first mindset, media companies have to start at the top. A clear commitment to digital initiatives from the top of the masthead is a prerequisite to a cultural transformation.

Lately, we've been seeing an increase in top management positions that emphasize digital and/or multi-platform publishing. Here are five C-level job titles that might put your leadership team - and the rest of your company - in a better position to pursue a digital future.

Chief Digital Officer

The Chief Digital Officer title has roots in marketing and advertising. Some from the agency side have criticised the title as a "musty throwback," hearkening days when advertisers were just discovering digital and needed someone to teach them about the evolving ecosystem. One could argue that this is exactly what publishers need.

What does a CDO do? The job likely involves P&L responsibility for all aspects of a publisher's digital business (online, mobile, social). When David Kang (pictured) was introduced as CDO of Wenner Media (publisher of Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men's Journal) in January, he described his role to paidContent as overseeing "a brand-centric model" that serves fans "based on preferences, data and a seamless multiplatform experience with multiple revenue streams."

A recent job posting on LinkedIn included this description:

A leading Media/Publisher Company is seeking to hire a Chief Digital Officer with responsibility for digital sales and marketing, social media, product development and innovation, audience development and growth, portal partnerships, strategic planning and tracking, as well as establishing technology and content strategies.

Desired Skills & Experience

• Minimum 10 Years experience with revenue responsibility, digital media management, and digital business development
• 5 years executive level responsibility for Digital Media
• Experience managing websites with at least10 million plus monthly unique visitors and 100 million page views
• Proven results in digital revenue generation and budget oversight
• Proven Social Media skills and relationships
• Management skills and established relationships with Digital vendors and producers
• BA/BS required/MBA preferred

That's a pretty full plate. Here are some notable chief digital officers at media companies:

• Vijay Ravindran, Washington Post
• Liz Schimel, Meredith National Media Group
• Vivian Schiller, NBC News
• Arturo Duran, Digital First Media
• Jon Miller, News Corp. Digital Media Group

Perhaps the highest-profile CDO outside of publishing is Rachel Sterne, who in January 2011 became New York City's first-ever chief digital officer, with a mandate to shepherd the city's sprawling digital media initiatives.

Variations on the CDO title include:

• VP, digital strategy and operations (Scott Havens, Atlantic Media)
• VP/GM, digital media and mobile (Kate Gutman, Readers Digest International)

Chief Strategy Officer

Any title that includes "strategy" is about as amorphous as it gets - think business development, growth initiatives, and other big-picture roadmap stuff. While CSOs are fairly common at startups and tech companies, the title is rare in the publishing space. That could be changing: On Monday, Meredith named Jon Werther as its new chief strategy officer.

The role is not new for Meredith, but the position apparently has been vacant since the previous CSO, Wendy Riches, left the company in 2010. (I left messages for a Meredith spokesman asking why the position was unfilled for nearly two years but have not heard back.)

In a press release, Meredith said Werther "will work with Meredith's senior management team on evolving corporate and business unit strategies, sourcing and evaluating new strategic opportunities, and leading key strategic initiatives."

A lawyer by trade, Werther (pictured) previously held a variety of roles at Time Warner, AOL and Simulmedia, a television ad network. "Jon brings outstanding skills and experiences to this position, particularly in the digital media field," Meredith Chairman and CEO Stephen M. Lacy said in the press release. "I'm looking for him to be a valued advisor as well as a 'disrupter,' someone who helps us look at strategy and business opportunities from viewpoints we may not have conceived or considered before."

Key word: disrupter.

I found one other CSO at a media company: Demand Media's Dave Panos.

Chief Growth Officer

Similar to Chief Strategy Officer, this title signifies a forward-looking approach to the business.

I haven't seen many of these titles in the publishing industry either - which begs the question, why not? Hiring a CGO could send a strong signal to your team that the emphasis is on finding new ways to grow the business, instead of squeezing every last dollar out of legacy revenue streams.

Like CDOs, chief growth officers are far more commonplace in marketing and advertising. GroupM, the media management arm of WPP, this week named Mike Tunnicliffe as chief growth officer for North America. According to MediaPost, Tunnicliffe will oversee a team supporting "the new business and organic growth efforts of the Group's media shops."

Chief Content Officer

The chief content officer role has been gaining steam at companies outside of the publishing industry that are ramping up content marketing efforts. Traditional media companies already have de facto CCOs in place - they're just called editorial directors or editors in chief. But as the definition of "editorial" expands to encompass everything from data products to apps, the CCO title might make more sense for a publisher's top editorial executive.

The title is appearing on more media mastheads, from behemoths like Bloomberg (Norman Pearlstine) to startup news aggregators like Trapit (Liz Lufkin, pictured). A scan of LinkedIn turns up more CCOs in B2B media than consumer publishing (and more still on the agency side).

Other notable CCOs include:

• Kinsey Wilson, NPR
• David Berlind, UBM TechWeb
• John Gallant, IDG Enterprise
• Ann Handley, MarketingProfs
• David Longobardi, SourceMedia
• Marty Moe, Vox Media
• Rachel Fishman Feddersen, AOL Patch

Chief Product Officer

As publishers expand their product offerings across print, online and mobile platforms, adding a chief product officer to shepherd this strategy may make sense. The CPO's duties are broader than that of the chief content officer, and a CPO is likely to have a background in technology or marketing, or across multiple disciplines, not just editorial. The CPO is often responsible for setting product strategy and overseeing development and product marketing teams.

One notable CPO in media who comes from the editorial side: Lewis Dvorkin at Forbes. Dvorkin joined Forbes in June 2010 when Forbes purchased TrueSlant (press release pdf), which Dvorkin founded in 2008. Dvorkin (pictured) has a journalism background (including editorial stints at Forbes, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times) and now oversees all digital and print products at Forbes.

Since returning to Forbes as CPO, Dvorkin has implemented a new publishing model that encompasses everything from journalist compensation models to pay-to-play blogs from marketers.

Source: Emediavitals

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