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Panpa Bulletin : November 2010
Feel the fear and do it anyway If newspaper companies are to sur- vive and thrive into the future, we need to embrace entrepreneurial skills. This is the word from the top of Australian media in the form of chairman and chief executive of News Ltd, John Hartigan, and his ideas are supported by research internationally from the chief execu- tive of INMA, Earl Wilkinson, both of whom spoke at the recent Future Forum. The trouble with the concept is that courtesy of some spectacular failures, newspapers have shortened and redefined the word entrepre- neur, to become shorthand for an irresponsible risk-taker with other people's money -- in short, the kinds of crooks that only good journal- ism can hunt down and reveal to an unsuspecting public. In the eyes of journalists, entrepreneurs are not people to admire or aspire to become -- rather they are name and shame front page headline fodder. So how will we cope now that we're told we need to get with the program? If we're going to embrace the tag, we need to go back to the original definition of the term and under- stand that entrepreneurs are business minded people who seize opportu- nities, look through obstacles and have a vision for a future that can be outside the awareness of those who clock on and off at sort-of-regular hours each day. They take risks. And sometimes they fail. According to organisational man- agement expert, Professor Rosabeth Kanter, one of the great skills of an entrepreneur is their ability to sell to everybody, to talk and talk an idea until everyone is on board. It's possi- bly the concept most foreign to local newspaper companies that prefer to keep change under wraps until it is perfect and can be launched, com- pleted, upon the unsuspecting and as a result, unwilling. "Every entrepreneur knows a great idea is not enough," Professor Kanter writes in Leadership for change: enduring skills for change masters. She says the strength of entrepreneurs is to sell the idea widely, attract the right backers and supporters, entice investors and defenders, get buy-in from stakeholders and build coali- tions. Entrepreneurs are experts at un- derstanding the politics of change and they have the skills of a commu- nity organisation. She argues that managers inside big companies can also adopt this approach, becoming "intrapreneurs". "A foundation of community and a base of strong relationships inside large organisations can speed up the change process because people already trust one another," Profes- sor Kanter writes. "For independent entrepreneurs, their file of phone numbers is one of their most impor- tant early assets. For intrapreneurs, potential coalition members are not limited by the walls of the company; they can extend to suppliers, cus- tomers and partners." So a good list of phone numbers and a willingness to talk to people are key skills -- perhaps we journal- ists are not so different after all? At the Future Forum, Mr Hartigan described the skills he expected from journalists who seized opportunities. Life will no longer be just about fill- ing the template. Rather, it will be increasingly about imagining what the next template will look like, how it will read and how it will engage. "The editorial stars of this new age are those who are innovative, creative and entrepreneurial," Mr Hartigan said. "They know what audiences want and can exploit the new technology. They know how to put together content that people will pay for and instead of assuming our market power is unassailable we have to think as a entrepreneurial startup and be flexible. Being the first to market will be a necessity." In his address, Earl Wilkinson gave a checklist of culture change, which when I read it again much later, realised that it too was a 101 on how to be an entrepreneurial publisher. "Did you take advantage of the recession? Did you shift an edito- rial culture to a market culture?" Mr Wilkinson asked delegates. "Did you lower the threshold for product failure? Did you integrate speed to market into corporate culture and did you raise marketing research dollars?" Mr Wilkinson exhorted publishers to get "comfortable with ambiguity and discomfort" and be willing to tackle major cultural and perceptual challenges in our industry including dealing with leadership issues, and changing our approach to collabora- tion and imagination -- all entrepre- neurial takes on running a business. "There will be rapid fire product development and news media com- panies need to be willing to fail, but fail fast." Because the true skill of entrepre- neurs is just that -- how they handle failure -- and their heartiness in the face of it. True entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and get right back on the horse. They feel the fear and do it anyway. So as long as we don't leverage ourselves to stupidity, or build busi- nesses with time scales that are out of kilter with the expectations of our in- vestors, or even lie or cheat (and that is hardly fitting for the fourth estate), we might just pull off a new brand of entrepreneurial news media. Entrepreneurial publishing 101 ... Earl Wilkinson, CEO of INMA at the PANPA Future Forum Kylie Davis is the new National Real Estate editor at News Ltd and former owner, publisher and "entreprenette" at The Village Voice newspapers. Kylie Davis Opinion www.panpa.org.au The PANPA Bulletin | NOVEMBER 2010 | 27 Ferag Australia Pty Ltd Unit 6b / 190--196 Bourke Road Alexandria, NSW 2015, Australia Phone +61 2 8337 9777 Fax +61 2 8337 9788 firstname.lastname@example.org ww w.ferag-australia.com HighspeedSetting p Quick set-up times p Fine adjustment while running HighspeedFoilwrapping p 30,000 polybags per hour p Automatic roll changer HighspeedFeeding p JetFeeder: fast and dependable p Wide format spectrum HighspeedRepair p IRC Repair system p High net output Highspeed Polybagging PolyStream