As indicated, media viability challenges require a high level of flexibility from media managers. There is a continuous need to innovate, for example to reach (untapped) audiences, develop new formats and find alternative income streams. Despite this need, studies show that many independent media lack the business skills needed to become more resilient.
For this reason Free Press Unlimited developed a toolkit called ‘Roadmap for Media Growth‘. This toolkit guides media through the important steps of business development and helps them pivot new ideas, and create a business model that works for them. In this process, they are supported by a coach.
The goal of the programme
Business modelling is not a one-off process. In this fast changing world, especially as a result of digitalisation, updating a business model is a continuous process. For this reason, the programme aims to instill an entrepreneurial culture and mindset in the media organisations, as well as to capacitate the teams to conduct business model development without (much) external assistance. Ultimately, this should render a media business more resilient and adaptable – and in effect less vulnerable.
The Roadmap for Media Growth also aims to, as the name indicates, establish growth from the holistic perspective of the business model canvas. This means that the toolkit stimulates transformation on many different levels, and can achieve growth in various ways, including an increase of audience reach, finding new partnerships, creating more visibility or gaining more income.
Roadmap to Media Growth was developed first and foremost for the media partners of Free Press Unlimited. Consequently, the approach taken in coaching on business model development differs from the many accelerator programmes around the world. Rather than selecting media based on their potential success in the accelerator, media coached with Roadmap to Media Growth are already pre-selected as Free Press Unlimited partners based on the value they offer to the media sector in the context in which they work.
This difference with accelerators is reflected both in the toolkit itself and in the approach that Free Press Unlimited has emphasised in the coaching process. Three points in specific are important to mention here:
- Media are stimulated to take ownership over their own business development process; the coaches do not suggest ideas themselves, but rather follow up on suggestions of the teams;
- The toolkit aims to find and foster the business skills that are already represented in the media organisation. It is based on the idea that most teams have multi-talented people – and that a person with all needed business talents does not necessarily need to be sought outside of the current team. This way, budget can be saved at the earlier stages of business development.
- The goal and approach ensures that media understand how to tap into opportunities that are in line with (or at least do not contradict to) their mission and their dna.
As with other capacity support initiatives set up by Free Press Unlimited, there is a continuous need to be aware of the unequal power relationship that any development organisation has with partner organisations. This unequal power relationship has its roots in the fact that the media development organisation is the granter, and the medium the grantee. But, it also stems from a longer history in relations between the developed, and powerful nations from ‘the West’ and the underdeveloped countries in ‘the South’. The coaching efforts done with the toolkit should therefore follow the approach guidelines above closely, thereby not intervening with the (editorial) independence of the medium. Ultimately the coach guides the teams to make sure that they keep an open view towards opportunities and possibilities, and support them in the process to further explore them in a systematic and measurable way. We believe this will lead to sustainable transformations and viable ideas.
The complete process of this programme consists of coaching meetings, assignments, team meetings and assignment reviews.
Participating teams receive regular coaching sessions. Every 2-3 weeks the coach meets online with the participating team. In these meetings, the coach supports the business development process. The teams can ask questions, but are also encouraged to explore new opportunities, systematically research ideas and test assumptions that are encountered on the way.
In addition to the meetings, the teams need to conduct assignments. These assignments are explained through manuals, which the team receives before every coach meeting or per sprint. The coach is available in case of any questions, or when additional explanation is needed. The team works on the assignments independently. They are delivered to the coach for review and input.
In total, the process takes about 6 months to complete. In this time, the team will have invested approximately 40 hours working as a team on the assignments, and another 20 hours together with the coach.
In the ideal situation, the first meeting between the coach and the team is face to face. When the programme was first piloted, this was possible. The teams attended a ‘summer school’ that served to have the business modelling process in a pressure cooker format; in one week the teams learned about all aspects of a business model, brainstormed for ideas, and developed a list of assumptions, together with a plan to test these.
For the future, we wish to have a face to face meeting again at the start of the process. In this meeting, the focus would be on building trust, and understanding the context in which the medium operates. We envision that the end of the COVID-19 crisis will make it possible to start up the process with face to face meetings again.
Above visualisation presents the content of the toolkit. It consists of six sprints, and is presented as a circle, because this is a process that continuously repeats and is iterative. In a way, all the documents that are the outputs of the toolkit are living and breathing documents.
Each of the sprints have tools, which are developed into manuals and that the teams, with coaching support can work on. In the middle of the visualisation, two particularly important (and iterative) tools feature – underneath the organisational scan. These are the Business Model Canvas and the Product Roadmap. There are also four reference books visible at the core: Testing Assumptions, Entrepreneurial Skills, Audience First and Reader Revenue. The first two of these reference books provide general information vital to the business modelling process, and the last two emphasises two important trends in the media sector, that highlight the importance of audience members in the business model development.
Good to know
From the work done so far with the toolkit, there are a few important take-aways for future use.
First of all, business model development is a time-consuming and demanding process, both from the perspective of the team involved, as well as from the perspective of the coach. There is no one size fits all result, and the process therefore requires flexibility and patience. To ensure that this is present with everyone involved, a feeling of ownership and the motive to change are important factors that the coach should always strive to stimulate. A certain entrepreneurial and open mindset is needed to really take the business to the next level. Often, it is sufficient to have at least one instigator with this mindset on board in the team. However, it is good to ensure that this person also has the decision-making power to make the transformation happen.
Secondly, and connected to the first point, trust and commitment are of essence. It is therefore important to focus on a good start to the coaching. A coach should ensure a safe space, and inclusive conversations from the first contact moment with the team. It is good to start any coaching process with an open conversation about the motivation of people to work in the media sector. This will also provide the coach with understanding of the daily challenges that the media workers face in the contexts in which they operate.
The media that have participated in this programme so far are very pleased with the results it has given them. One of them, after receiving also mentorship through other initiatives, indicated that this programme has been most beneficial to them so far: Another wishes to continue to coaching, to get even more out of the programme. A few of the quotes that illustrate what the coaches and the toolkit have done for participating teams:
‘The coaches were accessible and understanding. They also gave enough time to work on the different topics. They were always available.’
‘…the most important lesson was understanding our target audience. Thanks to this, we were able to redefine their editorial line.‘
‘We liked it that the coaches explained how we can use and develop the tools in a real project. It wasn’t just theory, it was practical and useful for the projects we are already working on.‘
More concretely, the impact reached with this programme so far is on the level of transformation and testing assumptions. The media that are or have been coached using this toolkit have made far reaching changes to their businesses, such as restructuring and assigning new roles and tasks (related to for example business management). In addition, the media have started talking more to their (target) audiences. Based on this, formats and content has been adjusted. Also, one digital medium in Mali managed to attract a partner interested in buying content.
The toolkit provided ends with the Presentation sprint. In this sprint, media are asked to pitch their idea in detail. Of course, the process does not really end here. Ideally, media with a solid pitch receive seed funding, and where needed follow up coaching, to really implement and adjust their idea until it delivers the anticipated growth.
For more information
Please contact Saskia Nijhof (firstname.lastname@example.org) about the implementation of this toolkit at Free Press Unlimited, and Rutger Schuurman (email@example.com) for more information about business model innovation and coaching.