Deseret VP: How Disruption Can Drive Digital Media Companies
Deseret Digital Media, a division of Deseret Management Corp., the for-profit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is often mentioned in conversations about companies doing disruptive things in local media. The company is chiefly a network of digital media sites and assets focused primarily on the Utah market, but is increasingly projecting a national and international reach. Its websites and digital services include DeseretNews.com, KSL.com, OK.com and Ruby.com, FamilyShare.com, Utah.com, Deseret Connect and the Deseret News Service.
Eric Bright, the company’s VP for eCommerce, will be appearing on a panel next week in San Francisco at Street Fight Summit West. The session, titled “Local News as a Loss Leader,” will look at how local digital media companies are creating ancillary businesses to help local merchants market themselves. Bright has over 14 years of experience in e-commerce, online and offline marketing and general business management, and I caught up with him recently to talk about disruption in the local space, and how legacy companies can create forward-looking projects while still optimizing their current offerings.
Deseret Digital Media is, by self-definition, a “disruptor.” What does that mean within a company that has many “legacy” – print and broadcast – roots.
DDM was initially formed to extend and enhance our respective brands that began over 160 years ago in print (the Deseret News) and 60 years ago in broadcast (KSL TV). There was no way a digital-focused organization could thrive within an offline legacy organization with the myriad distractions associated with maintaining those original channels. We don’t really look at DDM as “fitting” within the legacy organizations — it really is a separate and distinct organization really only attached to the DMC parent through financial statements.
Interestingly we have also had disruption within the disruption. Within DDM we have a content organization and a marketplace organization. When DDM was first formed, both organizations lived in the same group. We realized we would never reach our full potential if we kept it that way. The marketplace group was carved out of the content group, set completely apart and then let loose to build a marketplace organization free and clear of any content-related barriers or burdens.
Can disruption backfire and cause more harm than good for the company?
I would assume so. We’ve not seen long-term harm through our various “disruptions.” Is there short-term pain? Absolutely. People naturally don’t like change, and those most impacted by the change (or who feel like they “lost” something in the change) usually cause a culture drain for a while, until they find something different to get behind. The transition time is usually always painful at some level, but in the end works itself out and the benefits of the change are realized. …
We go into the disruption with set objectives and the board (as well as our DDM management) have given us great latitude to achieve those objectives. As long as we adhere to the corporate mission and value set, they’ve been great to give us the latitude we need.
Deseret’s president, Clark Gilbert, has written and talked a lot about disruption within a “legacy” company and how the two can and should coexist. Would you sum up this train of thought?
Clark works hard to establish what he calls Transformation A and Transformation B within the same organization. Transformation B is the disrupting organization, with Transformation A being the legacy organization. He separates (physically and ideologically) the two orgs from each other and let’s them go after their respective objectives without the differences and distractions of the other organization getting in the way of respective progress.
Transformation A is laser-focused on how to grow the legacy org, and Transformation B is laser-focused on the new (and generally very different) business model. In our DDM org, we have seen tremendous growth in both Transformation A (advertising business model) and Transformation B (ecommerce business model).
DDM has set ambitious objectives — 10 million unique visitors and one billion page views monthly (producing four billion ad impressions), as well as becoming the “most targeted digital marketplace in the country.” How close are you to achieving those objectives?
Those numbers are 2015 targets, but, without disclosing actuals, I can say we are right on track with uniques and page views aggregate across all of our platforms. Our ad team may well be on their way to the four billion monthly ad impressions. But in marketplace we are focused on more efficient site experiences, quicker paths through the funnel, higher conversion, and building customer equity. It makes for an interesting tension within the organization, but also allows for an ultimate win for both the incumbent (ads) and the new (ecomm).
We’ve seen examples of disruption working within large companies. What about small companies, down to the entrepreneurial level. Can disruption work at that level? Should it?
At their core, entrepreneurs are disruptive. They spend their days looking for new and better products and ideas. I wouldn’t say disruption is at all a problem for entrepreneurial companies — the problem is in focusing and finishing. Very often that drive to always find the new and innovative can be distracting. To make it work you need that entrepreneurial zeal for innovation blended with the grit and determination to quickly and efficiently get ideas to market. Then iterate. Or pivot. But don’t iterate and pivot until you have something in market.
If you’re an entrepreneurial publisher, say, how can you learn about the best practices of disruption?
If you have passion about an idea, an innovation, or a disruption — if you have some skills and then surround yourself with people who can fill in your shortcomings — you can build something great.
How do you learn about disruption? Find some benchmark examples, study them, figure out how they might apply to your situation. Then give it a go. Watch what happens, listen to customers (internal and external), follow your gut, make adjustment. Then give that a go. Keep repeating that process.
Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.