Looking at Your Management Options

The new normal is here, but what if it’s not enough?

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We’re well past the halfway point for the year, and in many ways, it’s starting to feel like the new normal is setting in. It’s not quite what most of us were used to, but as new buying habits, new patterns, new products, and new services have changed everyone’s lives, we’re starting to see groves form as the baseline for “normal” shifts.

These changes extend to the world of media, too. What we’re hearing virtually across the board is that media consumption and shopping habits are settling into this new normal, rather than what used to be normal in 2019. As these habits set in, it feels like a good time to see how much you’ve recovered from the pandemic.

Many operators are seeing substantial upticks in business, but it’s important to make sure you’re not just telling yourself what you want to hear. By which I mean, absolutely do not compare your business now to your business in 2020. It may be the most recent year, but I think it’s safe to say that just about anyone can sell better now than they could a year ago.

Instead, compare your numbers to what you saw in 2019 since that’ll give you a more accurate gauge of how you’re bouncing back. If you’re up from 2019, congratulations! That’s a real accomplishment that bodes well for your business. But the unpleasant reality is that even two years ago, market share was dwindling, and most of us weren’t sure what the future was going to look like.

If you’re at a spot where you can be happy with what you already have, then maybe you don’t need to do anything. But my guess is that most people aren’t in that place. And if you aren’t happy with your numbers now, then I don’t think you’re going to be happy with them in the future if you don’t start making big changes.

Why so pessimistic? Projections indicate that the ad shares probably aren’t going to rebuild, even as the pandemic feels less and less pressing. Whatever your political leanings, the previous presidential administration did make it easy to produce gripping content, and without that, we’re all looking at lessened readership.

The reality is that your mix of content and advertising probably isn’t going to get much richer than it already is. That said, if you’re already in a solid position, that might not be a bad thing.

For example, I was talking with a client who’s planning to identify what their digital distribution pattern and its analogue counterpart will look like, lock that in place for a few years, and then set an amount that they feel comfortable charging. For them, that’s a great idea; people want a predictable product set, and they’re happy with their numbers, so locking it in seems like a pretty good idea.

If you’re not in love with your numbers, the good news is you still have options. My advice would be to bolt on whatever you can.

We’re well past the heyday where publishing companies had monopolies and all the income that comes with them. Now, the game is trying to figure things out day-by-day, like small businesses have always had to. If your organic growth is maxed out, then one way to make the numbers work could be to form partnerships with local businesses in your community.

Back in the day, a media company could buy a local pizza place, run ads and coupons in the paper, and out-perform the local competition. That exact formula may not work anymore, but it could still be worth looking into a local business you could partner with or acquire to drive as much business as possible their way. This means more business for your partner, and it could lead to them becoming a material partner, if not wholly incorporated into the business.

This process is going to be highly localized, and I’m not saying that you should hitch your wagon to the first mom and pop you come across. But really think about it, what kinds of businesses in your community rely on advertising?

There was a time where furniture stores were sustained almost entirely by monthly sales and holiday promotions. It may not look exactly the same today, but I’d bet that there is a business you can partner with that’s reliant on advertising and could provide you with a mutually beneficial relationship. Maybe you just need to find them and let them know.

Ultimately, most of us have already hit the limits of organic growth that’s possible right now. Instead of trying to bang your head against that particular wall, maybe the right move is to what clever partnerships or acquisitions you can make. It’ll take some legwork, but if the new normal isn’t shaping up like you’d hoped, this may be the step that makes all the difference to your bottom line.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at doug@silverwind.biz.

Read more of  Doug Phares’s “The Corner Office articles on EditorandPublisher.com

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