Peter A. Kreisky, Chairman of The Kreisky Media Consultancy, spoke to attendees at the FIPP World Congress today in Toronto, Canada, about his research into how CEOs and media organisations are and should be reacting to the changes in media.

Peter Kreisky ()

His presentation, titled ‘Digital-First: The Challenge of Culture Change’ opened with a brief overview of the history of reshaping the magazine industry. He showed a picture of Niagara Falls and drew attention to a boat below it, dwarfed by the enormity and vastness of the rushing falls. He said that was how digital media appeared to publishers in 2008 as it really began to overtake the industry.

But today, he says, the magazine industry has changed. Instead of being magazine publishers, companies have embraced the new identity  of magazine media and are fast becoming digital content companies.

The most striking sign that Digital First is here, Kreisky says, lies in the new content models, formats and delivery platforms as well as new subscription models and revolutionised marketing skills and advertising formats.

Changing the culture. This is the toughest challenge.

Kreisky interviewed 16 CEOs and other top executives in 14 companies and seven countries. He visited companies like Axel Springer, Hearst Magazines and Immediate Media.

He asked each company a series of questions to open discussion: What is the importance of culture change? What is the scale of the difficulty in doing so? And, how much progress has the company made?

Eighty per cent agreed that changing the culture was extremely important, most agreed it was going to be difficult and all companies felt the process was incomplete. Changing culture remains a work in progress.

How to identify leading culture changers

Kreisky created a scale of proactivity from low to high and classified the companies he interviewed as ‘Disruptors’ (high proactivity), ‘Accelerators’ and ‘Fast Followers’ (low proactivity) in leading cultural change.

What he found

Through his research, Kreisky identified two key lessons: that companies need to 1) “Bring the audience inside” and 2) “Build a culture of co-creation”.

One of the best examples he named of bringing the audience inside was Time Inc.’s Media Upstarts – a grassroots organisation that “engages energy and passion” and creates a “connection to the outside community.” Kreisky says such organisations help to make a company “more energised and dynamic and relevant to the emerging world outside.”

Kreisky suggested strategic disruption can advance culture change – evident in Axel Springer’s strategic transformation and Hearst Magazines’ “From Months to Moments” – encouraging top executives to repeat, relentlessly so, their messages of transformation, leaving the past behind and moving forward with energy and conviction.

Then, Kreisky urged magazine media companies to eliminate barriers to collaboration. He spoke about “busting silos”, creating unified high energy workspaces and reimagining a hierarchies, illustrated at WIRED,  where every function overlaps and the publisher and editor are in the centre and of equal power.

Furthermore, an investment in talent and new values will help companies to embrace culture change. He mentioned how EMAP looks for personal integrity and curiosity in new employees and how Immediate Media’s managers work for their teams and not vice versa. Kreisky showed Axel Springer is shifting its values: to speed from perfection, to thinking in networks from leading the team and to willingness to change from stability.

He underscored that continuous innovation is key to staying relevant and thriving in the magazine industry.

In closing, Kreisky said leaders must continue to move swiftly and boldly and quoted his friend, Fabrizio D’Angelo, CEO of Burda International: “We are already on the Titanic lifeboats” and if we don’t move quickly to acquire digital speed “we won’t reach the shore.”