LMA NATIONAL INNOVATION MISSION Follow media executives as they travel from New York City to Seattle, visiting a variety of innovative companies. Attendees will take back tons of best practices and we'll share them all right here.

Last day of Innovation Mission visit featured companies with determination, enthusiasm and an innovative spirit

The last day of the 2018 Innovation Mission could not have been more perfectly scripted. After spending four days learning about innovation from companies on the cutting edge of technology, we spent our final day with a deep dive from local media companies each with a slightly different focus.

At the LMA, our mission is to help companies discover new and sustainable business models. Today was proof positive that there are multiple paths to success.


We started the day with Sinclair Digital. As the largest owner of broadcast television stations in the United States, Sinclair Broadcast Group has issued a clear commitment to digital. With an enviable 50-plus developers on their team, plus 115 employees at Compulse (their digital agency services company) they are illustrating their commitment to building out a digital brand to support and enhance their core business. In addition, Sinclair Digital Ventures is home to several brands that were acquired or developed to test out new business opportunities in the digital space.

At Sinclair, their focus is scale. And it should be. With 183 local content sites, they have a great deal of ground to cover. Training is critical to their success. And creating systems and processes for that training is paramount. They have a well thought out system for ensuring that each of their local properties has the precise information they need to do their jobs as quickly as possible. As an example, they built a CMS system for their team built exclusively around the needs of a news team. Their goal was to reduce the time it took to upload a video story from 40 clicks to 8 clicks. At scale, that precision allows their news teams to focus more on content production than button pushing. Their attention to process and training is their clear path to digital success.


Our next stop took us to the enthusiastic team at KING5, a TEGNA station. We heard from the station's leadership team about their culture of innovation. While many companies have adopted a device-agnostic content strategy, TEGNA rejects that notion and declares that we need to create content specifically for the platform in which it will appear. This, they believe, is an expectation of their viewers. That focus on creating content specifically with the viewer in mind is of utmost importance according to Frank Mungeam, VP of Audience Engagement at TEGNA.

"We can't take the content that we produce for television and dump it on all platforms because it is easier for us. We need to consider what the consumer wants and expects."

The ideas to serve the customer were flowing from the team. Everything from their new YouTube show, Local Lens, to their curated daily newsletter email, Take 5 to their beautiful Heart Threads content ... it was clear that innovation is alive and well at TEGNA. Employees are encouraged to surface ideas to their department heads. In doing so, they may be selected to participate in an innovation exercise where they get time away from their day-to-day functions to test out their idea. This culture of innovation is a key differentiator when hiring younger people. According to Mungeam: "We can't take young, talented people and drop them into a 30 year old machine and expect them to thrive."

But likely the most impactful takeaway from this innovative company is what they don't do. They begin their discussions about innovation with a review of what they will STOP doing. This way, rather than worrying about how they're going to find a way to cram a new idea into their packed workflow, they can focus on the innovation with the knowledge that something will be removed from their plate to focus on the new idea. This cleared head space is so critical to help team's flourish. And it was clear... innovation is very much alive and well in the walls of TEGNA.


Our final stop on the Innovation Mission was the Seattle Times. From the moment you step in the door, you understand that their full commitment is to Journalism (with a capital J). It is their reason for existence. They make this clear with a public declaration in their lobby. And this mission is heard and felt from the passion displayed by their leadership team. Conversations from data collection to subscription models were all highlighted with the clear mission of sustaining local journalism. Not for money's sake, but for democracy's sake. It was a clear source of pride for the team. And one that extends to their recruiting efforts. They recognized that people graduating from college right now understand the threat to journalism. Their mission resonates.

The rigor they had around their subscription model was truly impressive. Their decisions are data driven. They measure relentlessly to ensure they aren't wasting resources on a project that doesn't support their mission. Recently, they made the decision to apply more resources to their newsletter strategy than they do their social media strategy. The decision was a simple one when their data showed that newsletter users convert to subscribers more than social users do. They're turning "unknown" social media users into "known" email subscribers which gives them an opportunity to have a 1-1 conversation with them about subscription.

As a self titled "121 year old startup," they state their innovation strategy as "building a culture of fast, cheap experimentation that results in a shared, actionable plan." With a clear mission and the disciplined culture of data driven innovation, the Seattle Times knows where they're headed.

Be it process and scale, customer focused innovation or saving journalism, it is clear that there are multiple paths to success for local media companies. With the determination and enthusiasm we witnessed today, our industry is in good hands.

A few photos from our last day on the Innovation Mission tour

Lessons learned from our visit with Amazon that everyone can incorporate into their companies

By Toby Collodora, Vice President, Content Strategy, Cordillera Digital

Some Innovation Mission attendees are writing about their experiences throughout the week. Here is one from a visit to Amazon on Wednesday.

From the minute the meetings started on Wednesday, it was clear that there was a culture around Amazon that I have never seen. Almost immediately, an Amazon team member referred to his colleagues as “Amazonians." Nearly just as quickly, the Amazon team started talking about the customer, and never stopped. Their culture is centered around the customer, what’s best for the customer and working back from the customer’s point of view to create products and solve problems.

With more than 100,000 experiments launched by the Amazon team every day, there’s no doubt the company’s culture cultivates innovation. Here are a few lessons from Amazon that we can all incorporate into our own companies.

A stubborn vision

One of the great quotes and theme of the day was:

“Be stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details.”

It’s something that we can all take back to our organizations today and use. Be clear, consistent and descriptive on the vision, but let teams execute the vision in the ways they see best.

Meetings are for productivity

At Amazon, meetings are for getting stuff done. In order to facilitate meetings where the focus is on in-depth discussion and collaboration, Amazon employees write six-page narrative, which meeting attendees spend the first 20 minutes of the meeting reading. After they’re all on the same page with the details, they can have a productive, thorough and focused meeting. While I don’t know that writing narratives is the right strategy for every company or every situation, I applaud the notion of productive meetings, with clear topics and focus.

There’s just so much content

OK, this one isn’t a direct lesson, but it’s something that we should all be talking about. Content teams are well aware of this, but I hadn’t seen it quantified in numbers before today. There was 400 percent more content choices per person in 2017 than there was in 2007. Four-hundred percent. That’s amazing and terrifying at the same time. But what I really think about is the sea of competition, and how much harder we have to work to get our high-quality local news content surfaced and consumed in that sea.

How Amazon strives to be 'Earth’s most customer centric company'

By Matt Sandberg, Director of Marketing & Innovation, Swift Communications

Some Innovation Mission attendees are writing about their experiences throughout the week. Here is one from a visit to Amazon on Wednesday.

Here are three things I took home from the IM visit to Amazon:

1. Everything starts with the customer: How does a company the size of Amazon (currently comprised of over 20 organizations) continue to diversify through Innovation? With a singular mission:

We want to be Earth’s most customer centric company.

Their formula is simple: Everything they do starts with the customer and works backwards with a commitment to make their customers lives easier. To maintain this edge Amazon is: “Stubborn on the Vision, but flexible on the details.”

“Customers buying habits are constantly changing, and we have to keep up with that or we will be disrupted.”

Amazon leaders build written narratives that outline ideas and feedback direct from customers so teams can figure out how to build solutions based on that feedback. Meetings start with everyone reading the written narrative (no longer than 6 pages) and they have discussion from there. This process is key as it ensures that all employees are internalizing the observations and proposals included in the narrative before engaging in deeper conversation about how to proceed.


2. The cloud is the great equalizer: The media landscape has changed drastically over the past decade. In a world dominated by tech giants one IM attendee asked how we can plan for the future when these companies seem to be in control of that future? Cloud computing has advanced so far, and become so cheap, that it has allowed companies such as Airbnb to compete with behemoths such as Hilton, so what's stopping us?

Machine learning, and now the subset of deep learning can be very powerful tools to not only improve your existing business, but create new businesses with very little cost and resources. Here are a couple places to start:

• Look at existing processes and how you can improve them by making them faster, cheaper and more efficient

• Look at existing audio, video and text assets that lack proper tags and for very little investment machine learning can update these assets with tags that can easily referenced or packaged for new opportunities.

• Personalization. Analysis of existing assets and consumer consumption can lead to personalized recommendations.

3. Voice Roadmap: The voice journey has just begun and IM’ers showed great interest in what the roadmap looks like for Amazon in this space. Right now Alexa provides short audio or video clips. Customers have an appetite for more, so Amazon is developing solutions it refers to as “double-click” so the consumer can initiate a drill down, or lean back experience. This will drive how Amazon thinks of the news experience moving forward.

The rubber really hit the road as the conversation moved into needs/solutions that media executives are looking for to help us be successful in this space. It was encouraging that Amazon is seeking our collective feedback (as the customer) and looking for ideas that can be incorporated with their roadmap via future written narratives. A sampling of solutions Media companies are seeking include;

• Monetization: Amazon is working on this strategy right now, so we are excited to provide feedback before their solution is built rather than after.

• Attribution: Amazon not in business of answering questions so they want consumers to know where answers are coming from, such as “this answer provided to you by….”

• Discoverability: How does Amazon determine what sources to use to answer a consumers question? There was much discussion on ways Media Publishers can modify (not add) workflows to make content more discoverable for Alexa and more importantly prioritize local news.

• 1st party data: Amazon has not given thought to what data we might want. We need to come back to Amazon and let them know what kind of data we are looking for.

• Metrics: Again what metrics are important to us, such as completion rates, time of access, and of course location.

• Customer Journey Conversions: How can we bake in conversions into newsletters, downloading a podcast, or purchasing a digital subscription?

4 things we learned about Amazon's culture, business strategy and product approach

By Shannon Kinney, Founder of Dream Local

Some Innovation Mission attendees are writing about their experiences throughout the week. Here is one from a visit to Amazon on Wednesday.

The Innovation Mission visited Amazon on Wednesday for a full-day deep dive into their services, plans and more. Here are four things we learned:

1. Relentless obsession with the customer drives innovation: In the media industry, we focus on revenue, not customers, on margins, not experience. At Amazon, they focus on the customer first, and work backwards. This is more than just customer surveys or reading feedback, it’s an entire point of view that drives product development, how they measure success, and what they focus their resources on. Customer Obsession is their North Star metric and is the core of their culture, and came out in every presentation we heard from the Amazonians.

One quote I found to be particularly impactful for our industry to consider:

“We don’t think about how we can sell more, we think about how we can help our customers have better outcomes”. Imagine how our businesses would change if we shifted in that way?"

In every meeting at Amazon as part of their standard meeting etiquette, there is an empty chair at the front of the room representing the customer, to symbolize that “the customer is in the room." It helps them keep the customer at the forefront of everything they do.

When building products, their product development process begins with writing the press release, to highlight the positive impact it will have on their customers and then developing the solution.

2. Thinking big and focusing on the right things: To competitors and partners that focus too heavily on margins first, Bezos says “your margin is my opportunity” meaning he’s less obsessed about that then the opportunity to impact the customer. The media industry is heavily focused on the revenue and margin, not the customer. This is resulting in significantly less innovation on the digital front, and also many digital efforts are incremental at best versus creating game-changing new content delivery options, products, content and business models

3. Failure is a critical part of the innovation process, and produces learnings: In Bezos’ 2016 letter to Amazon shareholders:

“Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent, you have to experiment -- and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.”

In the media industry, we often build incremental improvements of products, or digital versions of legacy products which will not transform our industry. My favorite quote for the day, which I believe helped many of us in the room understand our roles in our companies even more deeply:

“As an innovator, you have to be willing to be misunderstood for a LONG period of time."

4. The local advertising business is still immature and primarily self-serve: We were wowed by the presentation from the Amazon Media Group and the unique advertising experiences they are creating for their large clients. Like Facebook, Amazon can track users across devices, they have a broader ad network, and have immense reach. When it comes to supporting agencies, optimizing local businesses product feeds and author pages, the business is still being developed. We are looking forward to many follow ups with these teams to develop new relationships to grow this business.

Tweets and photos from the Innovation Mission's amazing visit to Amazon

The Innovation Mission rolled into Amazon today for what was billed as the visit of the week-long experience. And it didn’t disappoint.

Attendees learned about OTT, voice, innovation and much more.

We have rounded up a bunch of outstanding Tweets from the day (tip: there are a lot of takeaways in those Tweets so read them) and a few photos from the day (above).

4 key principles to ensure your people and business strategies are aligned

By Lisa Bishop, Chief Digital Officer, Heartland Media, LLC

Some Innovation Mission attendees are writing about their experiences throughout the week. Here is one from a visit to Mercer on Tuesday.

We were in for an exceptionally mind-blowing experience when Brian Baker from Mercer Innovation Hub opened up the day on Tuesday with this statement:

“There is a natural collision between certainty and ambiguity. It’s our challenge to create an organization that has the oxygen for both.” But how? How do you lead transformation through times of uncertainty?

Mercer Innovation Hub is charged with driving innovative solutions as it relates to human capital management. In our full-day, hands-on experience we were immersed in how Mercer uses their approach to innovation to tackle various problems and projects. The team showcased four projects they are currently developing and allowed us an under-the-hood look at the progress and ultimately, their final product.

The first prototype project, Upscaling, identifies and better prepares companies and their employees by building an action plan for developing and retaining skills so their workforce is relevant to their business in the future. It also provides insightful information to employees so they may better ascertain how durable their skills are and at what levels their job may be at risk for automation and ultimately obsolete. It also affords employees the opportunity to react and be proactive to the coming changes so they minimize their impact.

Mercer Match was the second project that is in full production and in use by several organizations. It is a recruiting tool that uses gamification to create behavioral profiles. Organizations can use the profiles to benchmark and match potential hires against their highest performing employees.

The third project, All in Good Health is a consumer facing app that looks to solve the complexity of modern health plans. The app simplifies the consumer’s healthcare coverage, payments and billing, where to find doctors covered under their plan, and an integration that pulls in company health plan information, as well as, plan information from the providers themselves.

The final lab we toured was a project around Chat Bots and HR. By using conversational text activated technology in the form of a chat bot to augment HR (but not to replace) for answering day-to-day FAQ’s around benefits, company vacation policies, time off, etc., Think of it as a way of taking your employee handbook online and having a chat bot field questions that might otherwise be bogging down your HR team from being able to focus on other areas of their job.

Their approach to innovation appears simple at first glance, but unraveling the layers of what takes an idea from inception to execution is far more complex. There are two keys to success Mercer uses when it comes to approaching a project: Design Thinking, and absolutely shrinking the project. Their advice: start small and just pilot something. If it fails it fails. But if it works, you create some daylight between yourself and your competition, and it will build the business case for further expansion.

The day moved along from the Lab to tackling the topic of “Building Your Workforce for the Future.” Some staggering stats Mercer shared with us from their research specific to helping companies solve this challenge:

• 35% of today’s core skills are going to change by 2020.

• 1 in 4 executives expect significant disruption in their industry in the next three years.

Mercer Global Talent Trends 2018 report cited that 65% of jobs for children in middle school do not exist yet! If we’re doing nothing to help people who have today’s jobs prepare for the future, how are we going to prepare our future workforce?

As leaders, our people strategy and business strategy must be in alignment. Mercer armed us with four key principles to takeaway:

1. Align - set strategy to compete in a changing world

2. Analyze - use data and insights to take first steps

3. Design - define workforce strategies

4. Drive - deliver on the plan with speed and accuracy

Ultimately, the goal is to have our workforce of the future built for speed, working with purpose, people-led and technology enabled, intentionally diverse, and permanently agile.

We ended the day with an intense, fast-paced 90-minute Design Thinking exercise where we identified four problems in our industry that we attempted to solve. Our small groups came out with some thought-provoking and actionable solutions for each respective organization represented.

Walking away from the day it was clear to me that if we do not begin to address the need to innovate our structure, workforce and our people, we will miss out on an extremely important aspect of our relevance to future talent. Ultimately, the growth and sustainability of our organizations are dependent upon us doing our part to develop the workforce of the future.

Nancy Lane: These are my favorite quotes from the NYC leg of the Innovation Mission

Local Media Association President Nancy Lane has written a piece looking at the most memorable quotes she has heard on the Innovation Mission so far.

The group is in Seattle and will spend the next few days at Amazon, Tegna, Sinclair and The Seattle Times.

Lane says in her blog that the New York City portion was tremendous.

"Before we get to the next leg of the tour, it’s important to note that our time with disruptors in New York City was important and memorable for many reasons. Many of the takeaways will be covered in the full report," she said.

Go here to see her blog post and discover the 14 quotes that have resonated most with her.

13 Tweets from a unique visit to a global HR company that's attempting to reimagine the future work force

The third day of the Innovation Mission took attendees to Mercer, a global HR consulting firm.

Mercer is charged with reimagining the future work force. They work with 28,000 companies and their employees around the world to drive innovation and solutions in all areas relating to human capital.

During the visit, attendees learned about The Hub's tools and listened to the Mercer team discuss some of their research and then the whole group took part in a design-thinking workshop.

We've rounded up a few of the best Tweets from the day here that's loaded with good insights and interesting links.

A few snapshots from Day 3 — our last day in New York City — of the Innovation Mission

16 Tweets from visits to Betaworks, Facebook, NY Media Lab and Spoken Layer

Monday took the National Innovation Mission to a host of companies in New York City that offered lots of big takeaways for participants.

The group visited the following companies: Betaworks, Facebook, NY Media Lab and Spoken Layer.

There were tons of big takeaways for participants in voice, Instagram and more.

Here’s a roundup we created of 16 memorable Tweets from the day.

Some of our favorite photos from Day 2 of the Innovation Mission

Facebook meeting provides updates, conversation on challenges publishers are facing today

By Erica Smith, Online editor and director of digital strategy, The Virginian Pilot

Some Innovation Mission attendees are writing about their experiences throughout the week. Here is one from a visit to Facebook on Monday.

The Local Media Association and Facebook aren’t strangers — the two groups have met several times over the years, including a visit to Facebook’s California headquarters during the 2016 Innovation Mission. Much of what’s shared during those visits falls under a nondisclosure agreement. Compared to previous visits, though, this one was different.

In general, there’s been a “frenemy” relationship between the two entities. During this visit with the Local News Partnership team on Monday, the two sides were still a bit leery, but there’s less skepticism and distrust over the other’s interests. In fact, during Monday’s stop, Facebook leaders pointedly asked for and listened to feedback on several features. Facebook officials also openly discussed real-world problems facing publishers, and provided updates on Instant Articles and projects now in beta testing with select publishers, including the breaking news tag and Today In.

They also talked about data access, including CrowdTangle and Facebook Analytics, and how those tools could help publishers.

The visit ended with a hands-on tour of Instagram, where IMers learned how to create rainbow text, selfie stickers, and layered effects. There was an awkward mention of how “older people” use the app, but otherwise the session was insightful, and included new Instagram features, like action buttons on profiles and interactive poll stickers.

Some of our favorite photos and Tweets from Day 1 of the Innovation Mission

Below are some photos from Day 1 of the Innovation Mission and we've wrapped up some of the best Tweets from Sunday right here.

3 visits we're so excited about heading into the National Innovation Mission

This week, the Local Media Association’s National Innovation Mission kicks into gear with a tour that will start in New York City and end in Seattle.

These are three things we’re excited about experiencing this week.

1. Everything about Amazon

This is definitely the crown jewel of the Innovation Mission. It’s a full-day at Amazon with insights in a variety of really important areas for media companies. Participants are going to meet with seven teams from Amazon including executives in machine learning, OTT and Alexa. Plus, participants will receive a Kindle Fire that is pre-loaded with helpful apps and access to their own Amazon account manager.

2. What’s happening at Lenfest?

It’s our opening session on Sunday and promises to be interesting. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is the first-of-its-kind non-profit organization whose sole mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. Lenfest gifted to the Institute an initial endowment of $20 million, which has since been supplemented by other donors, for investment in innovative news initiatives, new technology, and new models for sustainable journalism. Attendees will learn more about what Lenfest is up to and some of the best practices it’s discovering in the industry.

3. Discovering an innovative HR consulting firm

Attendees will visit Mercer, a global HR consulting firm that works with 28,000 companies. We’ll spend time at the Mercer Innovation Hub learning about some of their fascinating tools and the Mercer team will share some of their research and a group discussion will take place around some required reading.

Visit to Mercer will showcase how a global HR consulting firm is innovating and solving the human capital challenge

One of the highlights of the upcoming National Innovation Mission will be a several-hour stop at Mercer, a global HR consulting firm.

Conceived as an innovation accelerator, the Mercer Innovation Hub adopts a focused, dedicated, and independent approach to disruptive innovation. The Hub is made up of a diverse group of Mercer colleagues from various businesses and regions, who use the power of their collective creativity, experiences, and skills to develop market-leading solutions.

The Mercer team will share some of their research and a two-hour design-thinking exercise will focus on an industry problem.

We caught up with a few executives at Mercer to learn more about their company and what IM participants should expect on the visit.

Tell us a little about Mercer: Mercer is a human capital consulting firm, serving 110 million individuals across the globe by supporting their financial security; gaining access to affordable, quality healthcare; and preparing for the work of the future.

The Mercer Innovation Hub sounds like an amazing place. What are you all trying to accomplish with it? The Mercer Innovation Hub was created to accelerate how Mercer addresses the unmet needs and pain points of employers and employees worldwide. The Innovation Hub, with several teams across the globe, supports the main business of Mercer by developing new products and services as well as championing innovation culture with our consultants and clients. Another key part of our new strategy is to proactively engage with the start-up community and acquire external talent and capabilities. We believe these activities will further accelerate the pace and the reach of our innovation efforts.

Is design thinking a core part of how Mercer operates and innovates? If so, why? We apply the design thinking methodology to all projects to uncover and prioritize clients’ unmet needs and pain points. This helps us uncover client issues that may not be addressed by current product offerings in the market. It also helps us validate our approach to solving client needs for existing products and services. To make this work we combine design thinking with elements of lean start-up principles to develop new ideas quickly and effectively while incorporating market feedback along the way.

What kind of tools will Innovation Mission attendees learn about on this visit that might be practical to their line of work? How to create a problem statement – a tool that helps shift the thinking away from solutions and towards customer (whether internal or external) problems

As a company that’s focused on the human capital challenge, what are some things you see as successful strategies for companies that are solving it? For an organization to have success, we believe it will need to be more dynamic than the forces and trends that impact and reshape the organization. Technology disruption, societal changes and preferences, and other market forces are changing the competitive landscape at an accelerating pace. The work that organizations provide their clients will change, requiring a workforce that is ready for the future. We believe a workforce for the future will be (and subsequent to your questions, successful strategies will require a path to being) people-led and technology enabled with a workforce that is integrated to maximize employee productivity and value. We believe it will be built for speed, data-driven with exponential learning and a lab mind-set. We think it will be intentionally diverse (people, opinions, and actions) and have a clear purpose (socially responsible with careers people crave). Finally, we think firms need to be permanently agile, adaptive to changes, with a fluid talent eco-system that includes full-time, part-time, gig, and silicon-based workers.

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