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2018 San Francisco Innovation Mission With a dozen media executives, we’re headed to the Bay Area for an immersive set of meetings with progressive and transforming traditional media, compelling “digital native” publishers, emerging audience platforms, and leading data providers.

9 big takeaways for those who attended this week's Regional Innovation Mission

For 3 action-packed days this week, a dozen local media executives took San Francisco by storm, meeting with a variety of progressive and disruptive companies as part of LMA’s latest Innovation Mission.

The group included audience, content, data, product and strategy leaders. As the trip wrapped up, here’s a sampling of some of some of their top takeaways and potential action items.

David Cohn (Advance Alpha Group) reminded me to take the blinders off, have fun and be creative. He introduced new language about how to have hard innovation discussions within your company.

NerdWallet is so focused on understanding the problems to solve for its users. You can build a content strategy around that and then bring it back around to revenue.

The business model isn’t how you make money – it’s how you make decisions. That’s a great reminder to focus on keeping it simple and keep coming back to that.

The Information runs events that aren’t profit drivers, but are good for loyalty with their readers. We’re thinking about doing more of this. Can we have more touchpoints with customers? Let’s understand the larger utility that comes from events in our communities.

Both NerdWallet and The Information understand their readers’ needs. What are the gaps? How can you make their lives easier?

It’s exciting to see revenue models around content, where content solves specific problems. We can see content as an investment rather than a cost.

I loved the SF Gate mission statement. We can adopt something like that that everyone works together at the grassroots level to create.

The idea of platform intelligence is important. We have to adjust to each platform as it changes.

Anaplan’s cultural message – no siloes, one mission, grassroots involvement – spoke a lot to me.

9 photos we're loving from this week's Regional Innovation Mission in San Francisco

3 questions for a media executive: What we learned about creating automated stories at scale

Ed Stoner, Director of Content for Swift, writes about his experience visiting Hoodline as part of this week's Regional Innovation Mission.

What does Hoodline specialize in? Using data science and machine learning to create neighborhood-level, automated stories at scale.

What’s one thing that stood out as the “wow” part of the visit? Journalists and engineers in a small office in San Francisco are creating lots of local content quickly about communities they’ve never set foot in … and their processes are constantly improving and being optimized.

Any lessons learned that you will take back with you? Automation is advancing quickly as technology around AI and data science improves, presenting some opportunities and challenges to the way we produce content now.

This is a tool that makes it easy to update stories and follow content topics that readers are most interested in

Above are screenshots of Circa, a tool that allows readers to add new content to stories and helps readers follow topics they are interested in.

Alpha Group, an arm of Advance Local, is helping power new products through an innovation lab in San Francisco.

The Regional Innovation Mission toured through their space this week and met with David Cohn, who is leading the lab.

Cohn shared some of his learnings and best practices for building a successful innovation lab within a legacy media enterprise.

During the meeting, Cohn touched on a variety of topics and approaches but ended his presentation looking at Circa, which allows readers to follow a story.

THE CHALLENGE

• A story ends as soon as it’s published.

• New articles get created every time there is something new to tell.

• It’s hard to keep up with stories that readers actually care about.

THE CHANGE

• With Circa, each new point relevant to a story in-line gets added, opposed to creating new articles each time.

• As a story evolves, readers are informed of the changes by notifications.

• Cohn said people that follow stories are far more likely to come back multiple times a day.

HOW IT WORKS

• Readers can simply tap the follow button and get notifications when there are updates added to the story.

• Whenever an update is added to a story, the reader is notified within the app.

Some of our favorite images from the Regional Innovation Mission

Hoodline is trying to improve the bottom-of-the-article experience with quality recommendations

Hoodline, a platform that uses machine learning to tag and recommend stories to users is trying to turn bottom-of-the-story recommendations into a good user experience.

The Regional Innovation Mission group visited with Hoodline this week and learned how the company is creating automated stories (text and video) from private and public data sources.

The group also learned about recommended widgets and tools that the company is making available to publishers.

Hoodline is offering widgets based on either the publishers content or a mix of the publishers and Hoodlines content. Revenue shares are part of the arrangement.

What Hoodline says it’s able to do is personalize content based on user location and interest whether produced by the paper or Hoodline’s resources.

Wondering what Hoodline’s content is all about? An ABC television station that is partnered with them features lots of the content right here.

3 questions for a media executive: What we learned during our visit to NerdWallet

Eric Cotton, Managing Editor of the Record Journal, a daily newspaper in Connecticut, writes about his experience visiting NerdWallet as part of this week's Regional Innovation Mission.

1. What does NerdWallet specialize in?

The first stop on LMA's 2018 San Francisco Innovation Mission was to NerdWallet, a successful startup offering tailored financial tools and advice for the average consumer.

With an emphasis on high-quality, trustworthy content and distribution mainly through SEO, the company has grown to 300 employees since 2013 with annual revenue exceeding $100 million, in a space otherwise occupied by cursory media coverage and financial corporations that actually benefit from consumer confusion.

"We break down complexity and help consumers make personal finance decisions with confidence," VP of content Maggie Leung told the IM team.

Not just another startup looking for a buyout, NerdWallet is in it for the long haul, Leung said. The company hopes to build consumer trust over a lifetime of financial decisions.

In support of its big picture content strategy, NerdWallet hired a stable of talented writers, among them Pulitzer Prize winners, and a full copy desk, applying the best practices of traditional journalism to the personal finance sector, said Leung, formerly of CNN and The Washington Post.

"We believe in quality because you can't get it wrong. In personal finance, if you get it wrong you screw somebody," Leung said.

Of its 300 employees, 80 are focused solely on content. Leung said the company doesn't rely on freelancers and staff writers are spread all over the country, better representing a cross- section of consumers. Leung wants to empower NerdWallet users as they make the personal finance decisions that matter to them, "like having a nerd sitting shotgun."

The company is pursuing a membership model for users, while receiving commissions from some of the products and services it covers, one of a number of contrasts between NerdWallet and traditional media. Leung stressed the company doesn't let revenue shape coverage, however. "We've consciously sacrificed revenue to preserve user experience," she said.

NerdWallet provides free syndicated content to traditional media partners as a means of building its brand and reputation for credibility.

2. What's one thing that stood out as the "wow" part of the visit?

Leung's passion and the power of rich evergreen content that meets an unfulfilled audience need.

3. Any lessons learned that you will take back with you?

I'm eager to look at the syndicated content NerdWallet offers, will review our SEO strategy and think about opportunities for content aimed at filling practical needs of our audience.

Why media and technology executives say they have so much love for Nuzzel

The Regional Innovation Mission stopped in at Nuzzel on Monday to learn about their news monitoring and research tool.

Nuzzel provides personalized news and curated newsletters through the the web, mobile apps, messaging bots and newsletters.

Here’s how it works:

• Nuzzel covers any set of topics or keywords

• It continuously tracks the most comprehensive set of important news sources

• It allows you to be the first to know your industry's trending news

• It will allows you to track your brand or your competitors

• You can keep up with news about clients and their markets

• You can arm your sales team with important news about prospects

A lot of key people in media and technology say they love Nuzzel. Here are a few:

How NerdWallet attempts to make their content very different than traditional publishers

NerdWallet, which provides financial information the average person can understand and use in their every day life, has developed content streams around the product’s platform.

A visit to NerdWallet kicked things off at the regional Innovation Mission this week.

Here’s NerdWallet’s mission statement:

“We're on a mission to provide clarity for all of life's financial decisions. Our tools and advice make it easy to expertly pay off debt, choose the best financial products and services (think credit cards and insurance) and tackle major life goals, like buying a house and saving for retirement.”

NerdWallet is trying to ensure its content is different than other traditional financial content outlets. This slide from Nerdwallet attempts to explain the difference.

Wondering what their content looks like? Here are three recent stories:

College money lessons you didn’t learn in high school

How to make June’s Fed rate hike work for you

Savings hikes can spiced up your retired life

3 questions we'll try to answer on this week's Innovation Mission

This week's regional Innovation Mission return trip to San Francisco is indeed on a mission, and a very specific one at that. The mission: to empower local media companies to identify their “key customer franchises,” engage with them at unprecedented levels, measure their value, and build diverse, sustainable businesses on the shoulders of that value. Easier said than done, certainly. But not impossible, and vitally important, particularly as we grapple with the need to find revenue streams that overcome traditional media losses and stem digital advertising struggles.

This week we'll plan to address these essential questions head-on through visits to the SF Chronicle/Hearst, Advance Publications (Alpha Group innovation lab), Google, NerdWallet, and others.

1. Who are your most important, and most valuable customers? In other words, if two or three “key customer franchises” account for the majority of your engagement and revenues, how do you smartly use data to identify them, and their current and potential value? Google calls this “relative user value.” It’s critical to understand this by channel: direct, search, social, referral, etc. Where do they come from, what do they do when they arrive, and what value do they carry? Once you know this, “second-level questions” can be addressed, such as how to build stickier relationships by delivering unique value, and how to turn brand loyalists into ambassadors that in turn bring new high-value prospects into your pipeline?

2. What do your key customer franchises want and need from you? How do you know? Do you understand what path they take with your content, and, to channel Clayton Christensen, what jobs they want to get done? If you do, then you’re in a prime position to build a recurring habit with your brand, and that habit can unlock value in a number of ways. For a great example, see NerdWallet. Rather than viewing itself as simply a media company building audience and delivering content, NerdWallet instead views its larger purpose as empowering consumers to make informed, confident personal finance decisions in all aspects of their lives. This problem-solving approach breeds trust, and that trust connects to value (including paid product recommendations that allow NerdWallet to directly monetize consumer decisions).

3. If you are creating value for these customer franchises by helping them accomplish important jobs, what are the many ways that you can reap value from these relationships? Put more directly, what are the most promising revenue streams? There isn’t a single model, nor is there a silver bullet. But, there are lots of possibilities if you truly own valuable customer relationships. Subscriptions, membership programs, online communities, offline events, products & merchandise, product recommendations and ecommerce, high-impact sponsorship and branding campaign – progressive publishers (both traditional and digital) are seeing success with all of these, and more. For the SF Chronicle, subscriptions are critical (with a membership program baked in), but the transforming newspaper giant has also built successful custom agencies and compelling vertical content franchises (check out NoCal Brewery Map)

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