Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Attack don’t defend

If you come from a country that has already been bundled out of the World Cup – the USA for instance (sorry, couldn’t resist) – you may not have watched the glorious Australia vs Croatia match, where the Green and Gold managed to snare a two-all draw and advance through to the second round for the first time ever! Go Aussie.

It was a thoroughly entertaining, not least made possible by the fact that, in reality, the game couldn’t be drawn. For Australia, a draw meant victory while Croatia had to win outright. That meant that there was always one team seeking a goal with the other trying to defend their advantage.

What was obvious about that, was that the match was for the full ninety minutes dominated by the team that was behind. The one that needed the goal was always the team that seemed likely to score next. While, the leading team, who only minutes earlier might have looked fabulous when they were trying to get to the lead, crept into their shell when in front and struggled to match the intensity of their opponent.

Thinking about it, I think that goes for most things. When we attack, when we aggressively strive for our goals or to overtake someone we perform better. When we’re trying to protect a lead, focusing more on what the other guy is doing than what we’re doing, we struggle.

Certainly, you don’t need to go any further than media companies to see this in action. In the New York Times today there is article which analyses the companies that are doing online well, but in the end it notes that offline revenues still make up the vast bulk of revenues.

That’s where media companies struggle. They’re still trying to defend these massive, handsome revenues and they’re all worried what online will do to those revenues. And as much as pure play folk will scream that media companies need to cannibalise themselves, the fact is the longer the transition to online takes place, the more money traditional media companies will make. That’s hardly a lot of incentive to really make attacking Internet plays.

But that doesn’t mean media companies should just sit back. They should be attacking. Not in their core, revenue-generating markets, but in new markets. Online media is disruptive. So you can choose to be the one being disruptive or you can be the disruptor.

There is no better example of this, than the big, Australian media company Fairfax. Fairfax

operates the flagship broadsheet newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne, our two biggest cities and are one of the most highly regarded and respected media proprietors in the country. Yet, their traditional revenues, classifieds, are clearly under threat.

So Fairfax have looked to diversify their business. Good move. And how have they done that. They’ve made a number of acquisitions that have taken them into the New Zealand market, including an online auction site, a dating site, and so forth. They’re buying companies and making plays that are first and foremost aimed at protecting their existing revenue streams. Yet, you talk to people working in online in Fairfax and you keep hearing the same message, that the company struggles to really, hammer forward on the web because it’s always compromised by protecting newspaper revenues.

Why not then, attack new markets. Why not put your really, smart people, who get online, into building new businesses. Go into new markets, where you’re not the incumbent, where you’re not trying to defend a position, where you can attack with a focus on advancing, rather than protecting one’s turf.

In a media world, that every day looks more and more global, Fairfax’ international initiatives have been focused on the tiny New Zealand market. There’s are markets out there, infinitely bigger than Australia and Fairfax opts to focus on one that is much smaller than the one it already services – I don’t get it?

Even if you bomb, making a global play, you’ll win because you will have done online properly. The lessons learnt being the aggressor rather than the defender will be infinitely more instructive when that day finally does come and the economics force you to make online your priority.

But if a big, media company like Fairfax, can’t carve out a couple of global, niche markets, then when the dam is ready to burst on their core businesses, what chance really do they have plugging the holes, anyway.

When you spend all your time looking over your shoulder, worrying about what’s coming up behind you, you can bet your going to fall over, eventually.

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One Response

  1. Asher Moses says:

    I find it funny that the NYTimes article lists aggregators as being among those groups that “steal” online media revenue. Isn’t the opposite true? Sites like Digg drive loads and loads of traffic to media sites — they don’t steal anything.

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