Growth In The Media Business Infinity Hotel

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Neil Thackray, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, B2B Media


Are you trying everything? Are you intervening every day in the strategy, planning and execution in your media business? Do you wake some mornings and fear that there are not enough options for growth open to you? Are you grimly hoping that the tablet revolution will save the day? Are you creating enough capacity in your business to make growth happen?

In private moments, many media managers I know are in despair. They talk publicly about a future of growing sales with investment in apps and digital editions and data and new online ad models; but at night tucked up in bed they worry.

They worry that although they are experimenting with each new model as it appears, experience tells them that their optimism will soon be replaced with despair and stagnant growth. Remember the hope of salvation from web 2.0, from WAP phones, from 3G, universal broadband in the home, exciting new online ad formats, from tablets?

Like the sex addict who with each new conquest hopes to find love, the modern media exec is doomed to endless flirtations with new lovers only to find post coital depression and an absence of fulfilment at the end.

But there is hope. We have to find a way to do more than we thought was possible. But to get there we have to rethink the art of the possible. We will have to reassign resource and stop our teams spending all their time propping up the old model.

Media resources and infinite problems

Too often we develop strategy based on chasing the latest fad and hoping, as the serial philanderer often does, that this will be the one. We need to do more, to increase our rate of experimentation, to innovate and not just follow the latest media craze with some marginal resource, but to commit the business and our resource to doing new things.

But there is a problem. So many media companies are so stretched after years of cost reductions that they doubt they have the resource or the capacity to do more than they are. Many media execs remind me of the manager of the Infinity Hotel.

– His establishment has an infinite number of rooms, and he has filled the rooms with an infinite number of guests. As he slumps exhausted at reception a bus draws up outside. The driver comes in to reception and explains to the manager of the hotel, that he works for the Infinite Bus Company, and that outside, in his infinity bus, he has an infinite number of passengers who need accommodating for the night.

– The manager looks up and thinks about his problem. His infinite number of rooms are already occupied by an infinite number of people. He is exhausted and his resources are at full stretch. But he turns to the bus driver and says, “sure, they can have a room each, just give me a minute to prepare the rooms.”

So how does he solve the problem?

– The creative solution adopted by the manager of the Infinity Hotel was to ask all his guest already assigned a room to step outside their bedroom door.

– With all the rooms now empty he asked them to return to a room but to make sure that they only used rooms with an even number.

– In the Infinity Hotel there are an infinite number of even numbered rooms – exactly what he needs for his infinite number of guests. And now of course, all the odd number rooms are empty, and there are an infinite number of them too. Exactly the resource needed to accommodate the infinite number of guests and potential revenue arriving in the infinity bus.

The manager of the infinity hotel has a great future ahead of him as a media exec. He will approach problem-solving without the constraints of perceived resource. He will see that if he approaches the infinite number of problems (or revenue opportunities) entering his hotel with weariness he will fail and be overwhelmed. But he knows this need not be the outcome for his hotel. Nor is it for media.

When we think about all the tasks in Briefing Medias strategic plan it looks daunting. Especially for a relatively small business like ours (we have a total team of about 100 people), it often seems as if our hotel is full. Creating development capacity won’t happen by wishing it.

Changing our approach to publishing in the medical sector was predicated on releasing talent time from the old model to concentrate on the new. In our budget process for 2013 we are focussed on the creation of sustainable value where we are prepared to sacrifice some profit today for value tomorrow – not something we could easily achieve if we were a public company.

We cannot know for certain which initiatives will be successes and which will disappoint but whilst we are developing apps, improving our websites, changing our publishing model, launching new events – all the things that every media company should be doing – we are also experimenting with a huge range of new revenue projects. We see this as the most important work in the business, not a marginal activity. We have a long way to go, and we are definitely stretched, but in our head, the hotel is never full.

It is interesting that since we acquired new assets earlier in the year, our headcount has increased, our development spend has increased, and our revenues have grown by 10 percent year on year. There are opportunities everywhere, but we have to resource to exploit them.

In media we have to persuade everyone in our organisations that their principal accountability is not what it says in their job description, but rather to find new ways of working that release time and resource for building a sustainable future. As managers we have to commit to development expenditure that is sufficient in scale to make a difference. Turning away new guests because we have a shortage of resource will not deliver growth.

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