In 2020, Independent Publishers Must Invest in the Quality of their Brands

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This past year was particularly bad for publishing and journalism, with massive layoffs at major media companies to go along with the sale of some of the most trusted publications in journalism. It’s hard to look at the past 12 months and not feel that the future is scary, especially as an independent publisher. 

But the door is far from closed to success in publishing, and there are clear paths to prosperity for newer and leaner independent and local outfits. Even as more and more ad dollars go to a handful of giants, publishers have a chance to turn the tide, provided they invest in talent, maintain the integrity of their brands, and build an audience advertisers find worth pursuing.

Invest in talent

First and foremost, independent outlets need to invest in talent. Media has undergone a changing of the guard where experienced journalists have been replaced with cheaper labor. And while these writers may be eager, their lack of true journalistic experience often shows in the final product.

True journalists are experts in their craft, and they know how to report a story and ask the right questions to make sure the full story is told. Today, even on large news sites, major stories where it’s important to disseminate all the facets of a topic often leave the reader with lingering questions.

Build a community

Talent also plays a major role in evangelizing the publication itself, whether that’s on social media or in other networking opportunities. Successful publishing isn’t about putting the stories up online and hoping readers find them. Writers and journalists need to become brands unto themselves, engaging with their readers and followers and building deeper connections.

This is critical even on the local level, whether that’s at an established local newspaper or a smaller, community-focused website. Solid reporters know how to cultivate sources in a community, but just being present at community functions and talking to locals can lead to scoops on breaking news and build a sense of camaraderie among readers, writers, and publication. Being part of a community news source requires you to actually be part of that community. Talented writers talk to individuals about what they want to read in addition to what’s happening. Local media especially can’t operate as faceless companies — they must be present and engaging. 

Develop a brand

Investing in talent and fostering community both play into another critical aspect, which is marketing and maintaining the quality of a publishing brand. While cheaper labor can churn out content, chasing clicks or leaving readers with unanswered questions ultimately harms the value of a media brand. That’s a damaging scenario. 

To truly stand out, all editorial decisions must adhere to a standard of quality, no matter what. This means never diluting the product to blindly follow trends or new profit sectors. Voice and quality matter above all else, and can help even upstart brands establish a foothold in a constantly shifting internet economy.

Turning it into profit

Publishers that put these components in place have what it takes to succeed and build revenue. Developing a reputable brand through talent and editorial standards fosters loyalty among the audience, whether that’s on a national or local level. That kind of loyalty is still incredibly attractive to advertisers, even in an era where Google, Facebook, and Amazon soak up the majority of ad spend.

At a very high level, digital advertising is built around brands finding their target audiences. Major brands invest heavily in data to do this, but even local and independent publishers can capitalize because they are building their own unique audiences.

This really matters on a local level. Smaller local advertisers may be lured to invest in the latest technology, but the fastest way to get to local audiences is via local media. In other words, they’ll spend where the audience goes. While national brands might be looking at smaller audiences and demographics, local publishers are building unique audiences in their own right — local audiences that appeal to local advertisers, without forcing those advertisers to invest in extra data or technology.

Independent publishers that invest in talent and build a clear, consistent brand voice will engender loyalty, which in turn leads to increased advertising dollars, and, it is hoped, advertisers’ loyalty. In a tightly contested publishing market, that should be enough to thrive through 2020.

Jessica Patel is Executive Director of Content at 101 Network.