How to Bring Your Legacy Brand Into the Future

Lessons from Marketplace and the creative and consulting division of The Atlantic

News executives and managers say a reluctance to innovate is now the biggest risk to their organizations’ future success. That may not come as a surprise amidst negative coverage of recent newsroom experimentations, like the “pivot to video,” but newsrooms shouldn’t let such reports mar their impressions of innovation overall.

Consider The Atlantic. In 2010, the publication began its transition from a print magazine to a multi-platform pioneer. Today, TheAtlantic.com has reached a new high of 40 million monthly unique visitors and it continues to develop new approaches, from podcasts to premium subscription models.

The lessons The Atlantic learned are a starting point for organizations hoping to bring their legacy brands into the future. Case in point, Marketplace, a venerable public media brand that came to Atlantic Media Strategies looking for ways to expand its reach and own the financial news space.

A Case Study in Innovation

In 2016, Marketplace was the most widely heard business and economics programming in the U.S., with more than 13 million weekly listeners across nearly 800 public radio stations nationwide. But Marketplace needed to innovate. Public radio was facing an uncertain future, and a growing number of outlets were entering the business and economics space.

AMS worked with Marketplace to create a five-year transformation plan, designed to empower Marketplace to take ownership over its growth plan and set it in to motion. Our action plan would include short, medium, and long-term implementation tactics, complete with specific owners, working rhythms, change management processes, and moments for reflection.

But before we could create the plan, we needed to work with Marketplace to answer three fundamental questions:

  1. Who exactly does Marketplace serve?
  2. What is Marketplace’s value to its listeners?
  3. How will it succeed in the future?

Who exactly does Marketplace serve?

AMS and Marketplace worked together to develop a deeper understanding of the audiences the media brand engages today and the audiences it will win over tomorrow. To begin, Marketplace needed to understand its current audiences — not just as broad demographic groups, but as unique individuals.

Focus groups were central to crystallizing what Marketplace meant to these audience segments — why they tune in, what role the program plays in their lives, what they love about it, and what they have come to expect from it.

We translated these audiences from broad demographic groups into relatable and nuanced personas that could be understood more concretely across the organization.

What is Marketplace’s value to its listeners?

AMS used this audience research, Marketplace’s goals, and a review of competing programs to develop a statement that would inform how the media company could experiment, adapt, and grow — while staying true to the steadfast value it provides to listeners.

Marketplace’s unique abilities — such as raising the economic intelligence of the country via the unorthodox story, fostering casual conversation, and sharing unexpected angles on the news — went beyond the radio story. These values would need to travel across platforms, acting as a guiding pillar for the entire organization.

How will Marketplace succeed in the future?

We went on to identify and prioritize core investments that would fuel the organization’s long-term survival and growth. These included plans for content offerings, event programming, and community management. Our recommended initiatives were comprehensive, designed to strengthen Marketplace’s content portfolio, audience engagement tactics, and financial growth.

We then helped Marketplace quantify what it could achieve if it fully embraced its new, audience-centered mindset and investment plan. We looked at how other organizations had accomplished the types of success to which Marketplace aspired, with a special focus on revenue achievements and audience development. Based on this research, we developed quantitative target benchmarks to showcase the potential of the ideas, strategies, and growth path we had built together.

Lessons for Other Organizations

Today, Marketplace senior vice president and general manager Deborah Clark says, “The core of this work is so strong that it allows me to use it and evolve it practically on a daily basis.”

Newsroom managers and executives should take these lessons to heart. Innovation isn’t about destroying the values and traditions that are central to your organization. It’s about strategically developing these systems for a modern world.


Innovative digital strategies are just one of the many things we think about for clients at Atlantic Media Strategies. Learn more about our work, sign up for our weekly newsletter, and get in touch with us on Twitter.

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