Building a business case for COPE (part four): other organisations taking a reimagination approach

Last month I posted about the proof of concept I’ve been asked to develop to demonstrate the potential for re-using content from our research reports in other products. Having read that post, my boss asked me whether there were any case studies out there from businesses who have used the ‘re-imagination’ approach, and were there any supporting stats that demonstrated improved reach, readership and download numbers.

Re-imagination is another (more elegant in my view) term for what is variably called ‘content leveraging’, ‘content derivatives’ and ‘divisible content’. There’s a terrific infographic that illustrates the idea from Column Five.

It’s an idea that recently emerged from the field of content marketing and demonstrates the current shift in marketing from advertising to publishing. It might not be called ‘create once, publish everywhere’, but it shares many of the same characteristics, particularly the atomisation of content to maximise its re-use potential.

I confess, that having spent a while scouring the internet I struggled to find the case studies and requisite stats that I needed to convince my boss of the validity of the ‘re-imagination’ argument. This might be because it’s a relatively new approach and gives businesses commercial advantage. If CIPD were to engage a content marketing company they would no doubt be able to furnish us with examples of content leverage in action. But the trouble with content marketing companies is that they understand content as marketing collateral, but not content as publishing assets.

Content is our product, not a means to sell a productThe key difference between the content marketing approach to re-imagination and the approach we’re trying to make the case for at CIPD is that for us content is our product (not a means to sell a product). So I needed to look beyond the world of content marketing to other knowledge businesses and publishers that are taking a re-use and re-imagination approach.

The Project Athena team have, for a while now, been reaching out to other organisations similar to CIPD in size, purpose and content use, who are using DITA XML and a CCMS to develop a COPE content management framework. (And I’ll be blogging about this soon.) But these organisations, however useful to the Project Athena team in terms of insight and advice, don’t quite have the glamour or cache of the BBC, the Guardian, et al. So when we tell our Executive Team that ‘the Institute of Engineering and Technology are doing something similar to us’, ‘the Rail Safety Standards Board use DITA XML and a CCMS’, they nod their heads and then ask ‘What about the Guardian?’ ‘Aren’t the BBC using COPE?’

So with these things in mind, the Project Athena team have been looking for other, more recognisable, content rich, knowledge organisations, that are taking a similar ‘re-use and re-imagination’ approach.

The BBC: Re-imagination and the re-packaging evergreen content

The BBC have been following a ‘Create once, publish everywhere’ policy for some time now. As an example of re-use in action, Mike Atherton, former Information Architect at the BBC explains how the BBC populated a new wildlife site by re-using existing content: atomising old footage into granular, platform-neutral units and adding semantic metadata. Old content was successfully re-imagined into a number of newly curated collections.

Traditional news organisations

Traditional news organisations are facing the challenge of declining print and advertising revenues coupled with competition from new entrants (often based on a hybrid model of original news and aggregation services) such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy, the Huffington Post, Flipboard and LinkedIn (Pulse).

CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles
They are having to quickly adapt their business and operating models from a print paradigm to a digital first philosophy. In fact most media organisations had already (like CIPD) moved to a ‘platform first’ philosophy, where ‘traditional media extend their contents to an accompanying website, but their focus is still on the primary platform’ (A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?). But at a time when TV, radio and newspapers are no longer the primary places people go to acquire information, news media must be developed using a ‘platform free’ approach, where ecosystems of content assets are gathered and built around a news article.

A platform-free operation requires an all-inclusive approach in content production. When planning a reporting project, we need to consider all forms of content: video, audio, article, photo, interactive features (data/map), etc. Get all these contents equally well produced, then push them through appropriate platforms.
A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?

What is clear from the case studies below is that CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles: the structuring, tagging and atomisation of content; search optimisation; the creation and leverage of rich media alongside textual content; communal and social engagement; the management of these content assets and activities in the appropriate content management systems; and the re-packaging, re-imagining and re-purposing of both evergreen content and new content for multiple channels to reach and engage the widest possible audience.

The Guardian/The Observer

In 2011 the Guardian announced the adoption of a digital-first strategy to reverse long-term revenue decline. (In fact the Guardian was the first to coin the term ‘digital first’.)

In writing about the announcement, journalism professor and Guardian contributor Jeff Jarvis outlines a new approach to news broadcast that sounds a lot like re-imagination.

[Think of]…news as a collection of pieces of Lego that can be stacked into many shapes… [making] better use of the “cutting-room floor of journalism” strewn with facts, interviews, anecdotes, and insights that don’t make it into an article, all “missed opportunities to engage readers”.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Guardian increasingly broadcasts in video, podcast and infographics. They have pioneered a community-centric approach to news, with lively comments forums below most articles, Live Webchats, and their Comment is Free section, where they ‘host hundreds of discussions every week on a wide range of topics, from across the world’.

And the digital first strategy is paying off. They are now the third largest English language newspaper in the world, and their 2013 results showed that just two years after the initial announcement, digital revenues had increased by 29% (exceeding the decline in print) and digital traffic growth rates of 15.5%.


PostMedia Network is the largest publisher of English-language daily newspapers in Canada. In 2011 it too announced a ‘digital first strategy’ and the formation of a Digital Advisory Board. Jeff Jarvis, who sits on the Digital Advisory Board outlines their emergent digital first journalism approach, a kind of reverse re-imagination:

Postmedia made articles the by-products of its recent national election coverage. The company had its reporters on campaign buses feed Twitter and Tumblr and post photos and videos all day, increasing the coverage and its currency. A “twin” back at Postmedia’s news service … turned these reports into blog posts and then, at the end of the day, into articles.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Financial Times

In 2013 the Financial Times also announced their digital first strategy. In a move aimed at securing the FT’s future ‘in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants’. In his email to staff, Editor Lionel Barber wrote:

…we must recognise that the internet offers new avenues and platforms for the richer delivery and sharing of information. We are moving from a news business to a networked business.

…we need to become content editors rather than page editors. We must rethink how we publish our content, when and in what form, whether conventional news, blogs, video or social media.

The New York Times

In May 2014 an internal report from the New York Times was leaked to Buzzfeed. The NYT’s Innovation Report makes for fascinating reading. It offers a hugely detailed and unique view into a traditional news organisation struggling with the shift to digital. Having carefully analysed the digital habits of successful competitors, the report presents a detailed and thoughtful blueprint for how to become a truly digital first news organisation.

The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest.
…At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers. We have always cared about the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t done enough to crack that code in the digital era.

New York Times, Innovation Report, May 2014

News organisations can no longer depend on the audience navigating to a news item via the website home page: the NYT found a third of readers never visit the home page, and those who visit spend less and less time on it. Instead journalists must find their audience through a diversity of channels – social media platforms and news aggregators. The competition, as NYT states, is winning not necessarily because of better content but because of ‘sophisticated social, search and community-building tools and strategies’.

The NYT identified ‘Audience Development’ as their primary strategy in the move to a ‘digital first’ organisation.

[There are] several areas that we believe can position us for continued growth: discovery (how we package and distribute our journalism), promotion (how we call attention to our journalism) and connection (how we create a two-way relationship with readers that deepens their loyalty).

1. Discovery

We need to think more about resurfacing evergreen content, organizing and packaging our work in more useful ways and pushing relevant content to readers. And to power these efforts, we should invest more in the unglamorous but essential work of tagging and structuring data.

2. Promotion

‘[we must] take the process of optimization for search and social more seriously.’

A key factor behind NYT’s falling digital presence is a lack of promotion. For example, for each story the Huffington Post publishes, it generates a photo, a search headline, a tweet and a Facebook post. NYT admits it needs to ‘change our tools and workflows to optimize our content for search and social’.

3. Connection

‘…is critical in a world where content so often reaches its broadest audience on the backs of other readers’.

The Innovation Report also has some interesting points to make about the re-packaging (or ‘re-imagination’) of published content, the importance of metadata and the atomisation and longevity of content.

Re-purposing of old content

The NYT have been experimenting with ‘repackaging [their] content so that it’s more useful, relevant and shareable for readers’. For example they created a Flipboard magazine of the most prominent obituaries of 2014, which ‘became the best-read collection in the history of [Flipboard]’. But without their own curation platform, traffic was diverted not to the NYT site, but to a third party channel.

Collections would allow us to curate or automatically group our content in many different ways: by section, topic, byline, etc. They can be used to put a new frame around old content and connect the dots between pieces written over time in ways beyond the usual news format.

The importance of metadata

Without structured, tagged data, the NYT is ‘hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.’

All your assets are useless to you unless you have metadata

John O’Donovan, Chief Technical Officer, Financial Times, quoted in NYT’s Innovation Report

The importance of atomising content

In assessing the competition, the report cites Circanews, where each article is

broken into ‘atoms of news,’ such as facts, quotes, and statistics. That allows editors to quickly surface relevant content and context during breaking news.

The longevity of content

On the longevity of content the Innovation Report cites the viral promotion of a 161-year-old NYT article:

On Oscar night, The Times tweeted a 161-year-old story about Solomon Northup, whose memoir was the basis for “12 Years a Slave.”

But it was Gawker who seized the initiative and generated a story based on excerpts from the NYT piece, ‘It ended up being one of their best-read items of the year. But little of that traffic came to us.’

But ultimately the NYT has a crucial advantage over digital upstarts such as Buzzfeed and Huff Post: context. With a ‘treasure trove of evergreen content’ it can build roadmaps of discovery that give readers a greater understanding of the background to any given news item.

Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival

Create Once, Publish Everywhere, re-imagination, platform-free, digital-first, single source, nimble content… Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival. All these approaches are, in their most fundamental sense, about building the necessary content agility to support business agility in the Internet age.


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