It’s no secret that the traditional media industry faces challenges. Today consumers are experiencing an unprecedented era of choice, not just in variety, but also how and when they choose to consume content. Traditional media companies are under extreme pressure to digitally transform and national broadcasters like Mediacorp are not exempt from this grim reality.
Often when it comes to digital transformation, much of the emphasis is on organizational restructuring, new processes or technology upgrades. But from experience, the role of culture is always underestimated. Without a deliberate plan to change company culture, any new initiatives will simply fall to the wayside as legacy and old habits inevitably creep in.
Recently I spoke at the Singapore Management Festival, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Management, and shared my experiences with Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey.
Media: a disrupted industry
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, among many things, the erosion of trust in media, with traditional media reflecting the sharpest decline. The shift is a reflection of influence flipping: from a traditional model where what is deemed fit for public consumption is decided by a minority such as the government or other institutions to a system where anyone can be a publisher. What good are state controls when a blogger or YouTube creator can enjoy a larger audience than a newspaper columnist or a television news program?
The changes are also impacting media companies where it hurts most: their traditional revenue models. Consumers are increasingly rejecting classic forms of advertising, from the 30-second TV commercial to the ubiquitous online banner ad. This is evident whenever a consumer pays for a Netflix subscription or installs an ad blocker on their smartphone.
In order to counteract these shifting behaviors, media companies must reinvent their approaches to content creation and distribution. Mediacorp is making inroads into these new spaces, such as its foray into OTT video streaming through Toggle, the development of its own creator network Bloomr.sg and even embracing Transmedia storytelling with popular programs like Tanglin.
Innovating means embracing risk-taking
It’s not unusual these days for large, incumbent corporations to borrow language from Silicon Valley. One of the most often invoked phrases is the need for companies to “fail fast.” Too often, this is pure lip service.
Announcing that you are encouraging employees to take risks means nothing if employees continue to fear the consequences of failure. I once worked for a company where one of its senior executives would frequently encourage risk-taking by publicly announcing, “Don’t worry, if you fail nobody will kill you.” During one such townhall, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “Yesterday I was in a meeting with him and he told all of us, ‘You’d better be right because if you’re wrong, I will f**king kill you.’”
Trust is a two-way street. If you want to build an innovation culture where employees are emboldened to take chances, a company must demonstrate that it trusts its employees.
One way Mediacorp has demonstrated trust towards staff is with its Twitter rotation curation. Since July, Mediacorp has been giving full control of its official corporate Twitter handle to a single employee for a week. During that week the employee can, quite literally, post anything he or she wants. No mandated content calendar or schedule. No screening or approval process. For seven days, the employee has the reputation of the whole company in his hands.
Often companies will focus on more outward manifestations of promoting creativity and individuality: casual dress codes, recreational facilities, etc. While Mediacorp has embraced those things in its own way (including an open seating concept within the Mediacorp Campus building), we turned as well to social media as an instrument for driving cultural change.
In many companies, especially in Singapore, the typical employee’s attitude towards social media goes something like this: “I’d better keep things low key or I might attract the attention of HR.” A colleague once told me when I asked why she wasn’t more active in LinkedIn, she explained, “My boss might think I’m looking for another job.”
Earlier this year, Mediacorp began encouraging its staff to be more active in social media by sharing their stories. Since April, over 60 individuals have been featured in the corporate Instagram account, each with a personal story in a style inspired by the Humans of New York series. These stories are meant to celebrate the different backgrounds, personalities and inspirations behind the people of Mediacorp.
During the presentation at SIM, another speaker referred to the Human Resources department as a bottleneck or obstacle towards cultural change. My experience at Mediacorp has actually been the opposite. In contrast HR (demonstrated by my co-presenter, Nadeem Ashraf), together with colleagues from the corporate communications team, have very much been our “partners-in-crime” for all of the initiatives referred to here. Far from being hurdles, these pushes for cultural change have only been possible through the triumvirate of HR, Brand & Communications and the Digital team.
Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey is still very much in its early years but I take great pride in the accomplishments we have made so far.