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How Marketers Benefit from the New York Times Innovation Report

Content Kings At this point, the leaked New York Times innovation report might well serve as the best piece of investigative journalism The Times has produced all year.

The report's value for journalists and publishers is well documented. Mashable’s summary provides brief, insightful commentary. The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard offers a lengthy and adroit examination.

But I believe the leaking of this report has greater import for marketers and advertising agencies.

What makes this leak worth our attention is its professionalism, its subject matter (a storied, valued and large bureaucracy) and the report’s breadth, honesty and clarity. This is a story you can sink your teeth into and find nourishment. It is a textbook for why digital innovation stumbles inside marketers and ad agencies and what to do about it. Kudos to the team who researched and wrote the report — they have done us all a service by putting distinct language to a 20-year-old conundrum.

The Nieman subhead aptly describes the report's value: “It’s an astonishing look inside the cultural change still needed in the shift to digital.”

Yes, the issues are primarily cultural and yes, "still needed."

The Times report is a mirror of our age, and of the challenges corporations still face. 20+ years into the commercial Internet, we are still mostly adrift — clinging to old habits, treasuring declining assets. “It is essential to begin the work of questioning our print-centric traditions,” says the report. Which traditions does your organization still cling to?

Many who lead the creation of ideas today lack basic tech fluency, despite compelling reasons to get on board. Witness Healthcare.gov. Inside The Times, a lack of fluency bets unprofitable attention on the home page, all while, “Only a third of our readers ever visit (the home page)… And those who do visit are spending less time (there).” Willful ignorance — and there is no better label for the behavior — is abundant and astonishing.

Three marketing experts, Edward Boches (former chief creative at Mullen), Scott Monty (recently retired global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company) and David Armano (global strategy director for Edelman Digital) have all skillfully summarized the report in the context of marketers and advertising agencies.

Boches notes, "Anyone who has struggled with transforming their company for the digital age has dealt with similar challenges [as those articulated in The Times' report]. The corporate operations, reporting structures, departmental organization and decision making that worked in the pre-digital era tend to be ineffective in the digital age — detrimental at best, deadly at worst."

It might have made sense to separate creative and business a decade ago, but no longer. The Times makes it clear this separation actually hurts creative ideas and business profitability.

Monty summarizes, "While it can be argued that the digital progress at The Times has been extraordinary, it's incredibly informative to know that they're still being held back by their traditional processes and thinking: filing stories by print schedules, organizing apps according to print sections, traditional skills being prioritized in hiring."

The issue is truly cultural. There is no other way to get around it. And so the solution the report articulates is cultural — those who want the benefit or advantage of digital must themselves be “digital first.”

Armano puts it bluntly, "[A]nyone who works should read it." He continues, noting this is a "glimpse into an industry under tremendous pressure and illustrates what it looks and feels like for a large, established organization with a rich heritage to come to terms with a world that looks very different than it did when tried and true formulas worked."

We are fortunate a brave cadre of reporters were empowered to self-examine a large, creative bureaucracy and in the discovery and telling, illuminate common conditions and articulate the means to a better expression of the idea of digital for all of us.

Read all of the links above — you’ll be smarter for it. You can also read the entire report -- it's embedded below.

And in my opinion, as the leak spreads, hope grows.

The Full New York Times Innovation Report


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Tim Brunelle
Tim Brunelle is VP Creative Director at BBDO Minneapolis. He has been at the forefront of marketing innovation and storytelling since 1992. He's developed brand strategy, directed films, written and directed advertising and design as well as user experience for marketers.
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