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Re-branding is a difficult endeavor for any company or industry facing massive disruption. Do you double down on what made you great in the first place, or do you accept the inevitability of creative destruction and re-make yourself in the image of your competitors? Perhaps there is no better place to watch this competitive dynamic play out than in the world of mainstream media, which has faced massive disruptive from social media rivals such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Philadelphia Inquirer tries to re-brand for the digital era
To see how a media re-branding might play out in the real world, consider the case of The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the proudest and most prestigious newspaper brands in the mainstream media world. The paper has been publishing for more than 190 years, and has established a reputation for authoritative, impactful reporting both locally and nationally. When the digital era arrived, the newspaper made the prescient choice of selecting Philly.com as their URL, and that website address is still ranked as one of the Top 10,000 in the world. And, as best as possible, the Inquirer has attempted to adopt all of the bright shiny toys of the digital era – especially social media – in an effort to stay relevant. But, as advertising revenues have continued to shrink, the paper has been forced to make bolder and bolder moves to stay open.
In a highly controversial move that will likely be studied by journalism students for years to come, the Inquirer has decided on a completely new re-branding to celebrate the concept of “one brand, one mission. This will involve the creation of a new logo, the transition of the website from Philly.com to Inquirer.com, and the rolling up of affiliated sister media companies (including the Philadelphia Daily News) into one brand and one website. At the same time, the company is offering buyouts to staffers in an effort to streamline operations and make the company more profitable. From the perspective of top management, this is much more preferable than putting the company up for sale and waiting for a deep-pocketed hedge fund or private equity firm to take over the company, gut the newsroom, lay off staffers, and debase the hard-hitting news component of the brand’s mission.
Choosing the right strategy for the digital era
Fair enough. But does anyone in their right mind think that a change of logo and website URL will solve all of the problems facing the Inquirer? In the era of digital search, it could be argued that moving from Philly.com to Inquirer.com is a massive mistake. Not only will it confuse readers, but also it will confuse the Google search algorithms.
There are other steps that the Inquirer should be taking as well, and a lot of that involves going all-in on video content and social media. People are consuming news content on their mobile devices, not on the desktop, and everything needs to be done to adapt content for this platform. People don’t want to read long, 2000-word articles on a tiny smartphone screen. But they do want plenty of options (like sharing buttons) so that they can tweet out the article to friends, and they do want social media content that is fun, entertaining and relevant. If newspaper brands are really serious about making their pay walls work, then they need to realize that much of the “news” in the market today is really a commodity product. People don’t want to pay for news on Inquirer.com if they can get it for free somewhere else on the web.
The case study of the Philadelphia Inquirer should be must reading for other media brands trying to reinvent themselves for the digital age. With all due respect to the folks at the Inquirer, setting up a new website and updating a 200-year-old logo is not the answer. They need to be making even bolder moves to stay open in the digital era.