How it works.
Table Stakes Europe provides an opportunity for leaders of up to a dozen or so legacy local and regional newspaper enterprises to identify and make significant progress against core challenges that now confront them. The Table Stakes Europe programme is a challenge-centric, performance-and-accountability change methodology using a performance challenge as the vehicle through which participating news enterprises identify and close shortfalls in the core table stakes, the audience-first approach and digital transformation.
The following elements characterize the approach:
The seven core table stakes required to be in the game of 21st century local journalism;
Doug Smith’s performance-driven change methodology used successfully by hundreds of enterprises across more than 60 industries globally to drive real change;
coaches who work guide participants and their enterprises to define challenges and then make success at those challenges happen;
specific tasks and tools tailored to helping participants achieve success; and, most importantly,
the participants and their news enterprise colleagues who collaborate and hold each other accountable for results and progress.
We work with leaders of the selected local and regional legacy newspaper enterprises to identify the challenges and the teams who best suited to deliver success at the challenges. These teams will likely come from general management/business, audience-facing technology and the newsroom.
The teams gather in sessions five times over the course of a year (roughly every two-and-a-half to three months). These sessions average about 3 days each. Using disciplines and tools shared at the initial gathering, teams identify a core challenge and define success at that challenge in terms of results and outcomes.
The challenge serves as the focal point of the programme throughout the year. Teams and their colleagues back home use assigned tasks with the guidance of coaches to do the work needed to achieve success. During the second through fifth and final gatherings, teams update one another on progress against the challenges, holding themselves accountable for what’s working, what’s not and what will come next.
In addition, and as a key part of the programme, teams and their news enterprises are introduced to a discipline that helps them identify what to stop doing. Finally, and within constraints of budget, teams hear from subject matter experts whose work relates to common themes across the challenges.
Participating groups will identify and define success in terms of real results and outcomes against a core challenge.
Doug Smith has identified criteria for the challenges – criteria that significantly increase the odds of success. Some of these criteria include picking a challenge that demands a whole enterprise/CEO perspective, one that is likely to take 10 to 15 or more months to succeed at (i.e., not something that’s 2 to 3 month project), one that makes sense in light of the enterprise’s unique market and strategic context, one that will build audience-first and digital transformation capabilities, and a challenge that will close gaps and shortfalls against the 7 core table stakes. Successful outcomes will fit the particular challenges selected.
Illustrations from past participants have, for example, included goals to increase in digital only subscriptions, growing the number and levels of engagement of targeted segments of local audiences, and using events and other means to diversify and grow revenues.
The objective is for all participating news enterprises to achieve the goals they set – and, through doing so, build capabilities required for success going forward.
What are the seven core Table Stakes.
The phrase “Table Stakes” comes from poker – the amount required to have seat at the table. The Table Stakes manual is for newsrooms, identifying what’s required to play and win the game of news in the 21st century. Developed with major metropolitan daily news organizations in the US, it is meant to accelerate journalism’s shift to digital from print, help newsrooms evolve their practices, reach new audiences and better engage their communities.
More than seventy news organisations have worked through the programme since 2015, and seven common themes have emerged to tie together the granular, specific table stakes for core work, workflow, roles, skills, technology, tools, organization and culture. What emerged is not the end-all-be-all, silver-bullet list of answers. In other words, these aren’t the only or definitive table stakes. There could be others, different, fewer, more. But they were good enough to help the four newsrooms get going on putting them into practice.
All are predicated on the belief that putting the audience at the center is the only and best way to deliver value. They are:
1. Serve targeted audiences with targeted content: Think and act audience first. Be audience- driven across your enterprise. Identify and focus on particular, target audiences with needs, interests and problems that you can address well and derive revenue from. Use your local market knowledge, perspective and presence to serve these audiences far better than competitors. In doing this, don’t trap yourself into serving individuals alone – don’t overlook businesses and organizations as potential content customers you can serve.
2. Publish on the platforms used by your targeted audiences: Go to your audiences rather than expecting them to come to you. Take responsibility for publishing and promoting on the platforms used by each of your chosen target audiences. Do so in ways that serve their needs and interests in using each platform and take best advantage of the particular features and dynamics of the platforms themselves. In other words: Be platform optimal, not platform agnostic.
3. Produce and publish continuously to meet audience needs: Organize to provide an “always on, always there” flow of digital-first content matched to the life rhythms and habits of your target audiences, their time and attention availability, and their particular moments of need, interest and problems they need solving, across the platforms they use. Put differently, publish at the convenience of your chosen audiences instead of the convenience of the newsroom and print schedule. End fruitless either/or battles between digital versus print by emphasizing digital first, print later and better.
4. Funnel occasional users to habitual and paying/valuable loyalists: Guide your audience through the stages of a “funnel:” from random/occasional use, to increasing use, to habitual use, to paying for your content/products/services – and to valuing your brand and content enough to recommend it to others. Use the same step-by-step funnel approach to maximize value you get from advertising as well as any other ways you earn revenue from users/customers. Do this through the focused use of data and analytics, technology, content and platform tactics, multiple types and approaches of “offers” and “asks,” and continuous testing.
5. Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build. Innovate, test and develop as many ways as possible to gain revenue from the audiences you build, and the relationships you develop. Avoid the search for silver bullets – for the answer to the new business. Do this by collaborating across all functions of your enterprise with a focus on innovating to growing consumer revenue and advertising and creating, testing and growing a range of new products, services and businesses of value to your target audiences and community.
6. Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible cost: Use partnerships, third-party services, shared resource arrangements and flexible staffing to expand your capacity and capabilities across all areas of your enterprise: content creation, marketing and distribution to target audiences, new services and products, access to needed skills, technologies, tools and data, and more. Do this in ways that lower investment requirements, reduce and add flexibility to your cost structure, increase speed, and better share risks compared to doing it on your own.
7. Drive audience growth and profitability from a “mini-publisher” perspective: Drive growth and profitability in your chosen target audience segments and key publishing platforms by developing cross-functional “mini-publisher” teams and team leaders who use a general management perspective and strong sense of ownership and accountability to drive performance. Expand the scope of these teams’ responsibility beyond content creation, content distribution and audience development to include revenue generation, financial contribution and brand development.
After your application is validated, additional curriculum, content development, and materials will be adjusted depending on the English-language skills of people in the selected news enterprises.
The Table Stakes coaches might make site visits to selected enterprises prior to the kick off. If onsite visits are not possible, we’ll do a range of phone calls/video conferencing. We will ask the teams in participating enterprises to take quizzes about the 7 core table stakes and ask them to read selected portions of Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News and Make Success Measurable.
For any participating newspaper that is not yet a WAN-IFRA member, the enterprise is expected to become a member before the kick off of the programme. Membership fee must be paid by the publisher and are not part of this programme funding.
The accountability, cross-learning, relationship, and network building from in-person gatherings increase the odds of overall success. In these gatherings, teams update one another on progress against their performance challenges including what results have been achieved, who in their enterprises are getting involved and contributing, what is working well, what is not working well, and key next steps needed to deliver more results and get more folks involved.
At the conclusion of each session, we assign the tasks needed for identifying and achieving more results, getting more folks involved and contributing and foreshadowing the story of success the teams want to tell in the next gathering.
The gatherings might be held at one centrally located location, or, if participants favor it, could also happen at the participants’ own offices. We ask all participants to commit to confidentiality in order to foster the candor and feedback needed for everyone’s shared success.
There are 5 in-person gatherings beginning with a kick-off session. The second in-person gathering is held 7 to 10 weeks after the kick-off session. The third through fifth gatherings happen in roughly 10 to 14-week intervals.
The in-person sessions are crucial for accountability and learning, but the real work of the Programme happens at the newspaper enterprises themselves between the sessions. Participating teams use the task assignments to guide the work of themselves and their colleagues back at the office between sessions. These task assignments explicitly reference to core tools and methods of the Program, thereby providing participants the structure and discipline needed to make progress.
Coaches guide the challenge teams throughout the Programme, both between sessions as well as in preparation for, and during, the sessions.
The coaching happens through regular phone calls. Challenge teams select a team leader (or at most two co-leaders) who will work directly with the assigned coach. While occasionally the coach might work on the phone with the team as a whole, most often the calls are with the team leader (or co-leaders).
These coaching phone calls focus on the work needed to achieve success at the performance challenges. Typically coaches have phone calls more often in the first third or so of the Programme than the latter part, and particularly in between the kick-off and second sessions because of the importance of helping teams shape well-defined performance challenges. As part of these calls, coaches also guide teams in preparing their challenge updates.
01. KICK-OFF (3 to 4 days)
Through the applications as well as site visits and/or pre-kick off phone calls, participating news enterprises will identify a possible challenge to make the focal point of the kick off. We use the kick off to help participant teams “learn by doing” – that is, we take them through most of the core methods, disciplines and tools and ask them to apply those methods/tools to shape a “version 1.0” of their performance-challenge as well as begin to reflect on what will be involved in making the challenge successful. At the conclusion of the kick-off, we assign coaches to the teams and provide the teams “Assignment #1”, the specific tasks that teams – along with their newspaper colleagues – must do in order to arrive at the 2d gathering with crystal clear performance challenges and game plans for success.
02. SESSION 2 (3 days)
Teams present to one another their respective performance challenges as well as steps they have taken to get going and/or the steps they will take. We provide teams a template to use for these presentations –one that is designed around the core tools and methods. We ask teams to submit draft updates a week or so in advance so that they can get feedback in advance of the session. In addition to team updates, we provide additional methods, disciplines, and folks whose expertise is relevant to the performance challenges. At the conclusion of Session 2, teams get the assigned tasks needed to drive forward to Session 3, including, importantly, identifying the shorter-term results and wins that can highlight the story of success the teams will share in the third gathering.
03. SESSIONS 3 AND 4 (3 days each)
In these gatherings, teams update one another on progress against their performance challenges including what results have been achieved, who in their enterprises are getting involved and contributing, what is working well, what is not working well, and key next steps needed to deliver more results.
Session 3, in particular, is aimed to introduce and ask teams to use a discipline for identifying what to stop doing – an essential step required for teams to succeed because, by stopping things that don’t add value, local news enterprises identify resources to deploy toward the challenges as well as other, higher value efforts. As with Session 2, and when needed, we bring in folks whose expertise is relevant to the challenges at hand.
05. SESSION 5 (2 days)
In addition to final updates on their challenges, we also ask teams in Session 5 to identify the performance challenges they would tackle if they were just entering the Programme. To do this, we go through an entire review of the core methods, tools and disciplines and, as in the kick-off, ask the teams to use those tools/etc. to identify and describe the new challenge.