In a disrupted industry, how can you future-proof your career?

Here’s the plain truth: If you’re an early- or mid-career employee of a company that still depends heavily on print revenues, you need a plan.

Jobs have been disappearing from these media companies at an alarming rate for more than a decade.

Print-based newspaper and magazine companies are fighting hard to replace declining print revenues with digital revenues and other business models. But very few — if any — are winning. The jobs keep going away.

At this point, even your aunts and uncles and your neighbors down the block know that your industry is in trouble. Here’s the big picture, as described in my first post.

At, I’ve been writing for five years about strategies for local media companies. But the subject here is not their survival — it’s yours.

Think about your future

In a shrinking industry, with jobs disappearing all around, what can or should you be doing about your own future?

That question came up recently in a career mentoring program I chair.

The NEX GEN program of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association is an excellent model that pairs eight rising mid-career professionals with eight experienced mentors for a year. The program involves regular one-on-one consultations, visits and several all-group video confabs.

At our last one, in June, we addressed the elephant in the room — what’s your future in this business, and what can you do about it?

We mentors had no easy answers to offer. There are no job guarantees in this business now, if there ever were.

But our suggestions carried a central theme: You need to be pro-active. Standing still won’t cut it.

Winning at musical chairs

Any mid-career media professional today needs to work from the assumption that — for the foreseeable future — it’s a game of musical chairs.

Every few months, chairs will be eliminated. Your goal — unless and until you decide you want to leave the industry — is to have a chair every time the music stops.

Whether you’re in sales, in content, in systems, circulation, finance or any other department, this means doing your best to be indispensable.

To remain indispensable, you need to make sure you are always growing, always gaining skills and developing relationships of trust with those around you.

In fact, you would owe this to yourself in any job, even in a growth industry. When you stop growing, you start stagnating.

There are two key types of growth in our industry:

  1. Skills that will always have a chair in a media company that is trying to adapt.
  2. Skills that are transportable if you don’t wind up with a chair where you are.

These are often the same skills.

Learning these skills primarily takes two forms:

  1. Preparing yourself, on your own, for what you believe your company will need to do next. With web resources now infinite, you can learn much outside your company’s formal training programs. Your goal is to be the most prepared of those around you.
  2. Volunteering to take on the next-wave challenges that you see developing. In most companies, those who sincerely want to do more and better usually wind up on the “stay” list. You want to be visible as that person.

What skills?

Digital skills top the list, of course. In both sales and content, it couldn’t be more obvious that digital solutions are winning away our advertisers and our readers. So our companies are tremendously challenged to put people on the street who can do cutting-edge digital solutions.

But it’s more than that. Those who are winning in both sales and content are those who have a laser focus on what the customer most wants and needs.

In sales, it’s not just “Can you sell digital?” It’s “Do you understand the customer’s business and today’s most effective solutions well enough to nail a proposal that reaches exactly the right people wherever they are?”

That’s not just a set of learned skills — it’s also a belief system. Legacy media companies that focus on providing the most effective set of solutions for the customer’s desired outcome will have the best chance of success.

Both inside and outside the print media business, there will be plenty of jobs for salespeople who have both strong digital knowledge and a sharp focus on how to build an effective overall plan for a client.

In content/news, it’s not, “Can you write/shoot a good story and tell it in digital form?” It’s “Can you understand the reader’s life, interests and needs and use today’s storytelling tools to build content they will eagerly consumer and share?”

I’ll say it again: In both sales and content, it’s not just about learning skills. It’s about focusing on the results we can deliver for the customer, whether that’s an advertiser or a reader.

And it’s not just digital. Most legacy media companies are jumping in new directions, and they need people who can help.

Such as:

  • Packaging, selling and executing events that benefit sponsors and the public.
  • Developing content specifically for business clients, to help them be seen and be chosen by potential customers.
  • Creatively using social media tools for building audience and engagement, both for our business clients and for maximum reach to readers with our own content.
  • Exploring and discovering new types of solutions for businesses, such as data-driven marketing, predictive analytics and lookalike marketing.

Beyond technical skills

Technical skills will only take you so far. Building superior skills in developing more open, honest relationships will take you much farther.

Can you get better at telling the truth that needs to be heard? At reading and offering answers, information, advice, knowledge and assistance that’s really needed?

That is what’s essential in your relationships with your supervisor, your customers, your sources, your readers — anyone with whom you work. These are skills that build value in relationships. And when relationships of value also supply effective technology, those relationships tend to endure.

Are my skills transportable?

All of these skills are highly transportable. If you focus on preparing yourself to supply the next needs of those around you, there’s likely to be a place for you.

If that place is not with your current company, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, if you’re growing in the ways outlined above, you may discover that your current employer isn’t able to keep up with you.

Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business school innovation guru who coined the term, “disruptive innovation,” is often asked, “What can I say to my boss when it’s clear to me what we need to do in our company, but I can’t get him/her to see it?”

His answer: “Update your resume.”

It comes down to this: It’s up to you to drive your own growth. And it’s up to you to find a company inside or outside this industry that is as serious about its own growth as you are about yours.

If you accept those challenges and see to it that you meet them, you will have a future.


Posted on July 25, 2017, in Advertising, Audience, career, content marketing, Digital media sales, Disruption, innovation, job growth, job security, Media business model, media management, News, Sales, skills. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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