Local & Regional Media: Let it Burn.

Why the recession is great news for local and regional media companies.

Digital is often seen as the ‘saviour’ of local and regional publishing however profits are dwindling and advertising revenues are at the same level as they were 50 years ago. Everyone is scratching their heads trying to figure out how digital can fill the void but can digital really save media companies that employ such hefty cost structures?

Personally, I think the answer is no.

While reading a book published by HBR, I came across an interesting analogy by Adam Werbach that helps explain how the recession could actually be the real the saviour of regional press.

Don’t Put Out the Fire

Forest fires are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. They rid the forest of old underbrush that otherwise could serve as fuel for an even larger fire.
Recessions are the economy’s forest fires; while painful, they seem to be necessary. Rather than compensating for dips in the economy, prepare for them as opportunities to rid your company of excess and develop your organisation’s resilience.
When the fire is out, discover the room you now have for new things to grow — new ideas, new strategies, and new opportunities.

The analogy rang particularly true with the local and regional media industry — the industry in which I work in today and an industry that finds itself in no shortage of underbrush.

The biggest problem is that publishers are still hell-bent on saving their print business; chasing their tails to increase print revenues and drive circulation back up to the seemingly unrealistic levels achieved in the glory days.

But, why?

The recession presents the perfect opportunity to rid the business of excess, re-aligning cost structures with current market conditions and creating a business that can achieve, sustain and grow profits.

So, instead of spending effort trying to put out the fire of changing consumer demand, let the fire burn — relieve the business of excess levels of management and legacy staff who, regardless of the number of years of service, have either failed to embrace digital or simply do not provide sufficient value to a media business in a digital age, and let go of under-performing products that are consuming valuable resource and effort.

Then, when the fire has burnt out, focus efforts on the products and channels that meet the changing needs of those consumers in order to compete in today’s environment — and tomorrow’s.

The recession shouldn't be seen as a threat to local and regional media companies, rather an opportunity to create leaner digitally-led businesses that are better positioned to grow once the effects of the recession have subsided.

Fail to let the fire burn and there’s every chance we’ll be facing an even bigger fire in the future.