The DDM model for digital success

Matt Sanders & Chris Jones, DDM | @Sanders_Matt | @ChrisJonesDigi | February 2, 2015

Over the past decade, lives and fortunes have been expended trying to simply adapt existing publishing models, existing media businesses to the Internet. Which is puzzling, since the news industry has plenty of precedence in not adapting, but adopting new business models.

The printing press spread news in print to communities across the globe. Then news began flowing across airwaves to radio receivers. Then news organizations spread the news with reporters in front of cameras. And each had a distinct impact on the previously established content and monetization models, as illustrated by the following graphic.

Graphic 1: Historical Media Trends

Source: Borrell and Associates

Each case wasn’t a simple adaptation of the existing way of doing business but an adoption of an entirely new model. Each required new ways of sourcing, packaging and distributing news to meet the voracious demand of audiences. Each required the development and management of a distinct value chain.

Given these historical realities, why do our colleagues across the industry believe the Internet is an exception to past successful practices? At Deseret Digital Media, we have boldly and consistently advocated that newspaper, television and radio companies need to adopt a separate model to achieve digital success. DDM’s CEO Clark Gilbert has regularly called on industry leaders to respond to the Internet’s disruptive innovation by adopting an organizing model we call dual transformation.

But what does this new model look like from an operations perspective? We’ve hosted hundreds of media executives over the past five years interested in seeing how we operate and have recently launched a transformation BootCamp training series for those charged with adopting a new model and growing it. The framework we use to help us and our friends in industry understand, visually, what this new digital business looks like is what we call the Audience Engagement Value Chain.

Graphic 2: Audience Engagement Value Chain

Source: Deseret Digital Media

While a newspaper value chain roughly flows from newsroom to print facility to distribution to doorsteps to readers, the digital value chain involves different sources and many, many more elements of distribution and engagement. In digital business, each step along the chain must add value in order to attract and retain audience.

It should be clear how different the value creation process is from previous successful news models — where it is particularly distinct from the batch processing in newspapers. By viewing the digital media business from this perspective also emphasizes, as we do in the graphic, the need to begin with audience needs in mind.

Audience needs. The 12 categories on the right represent an array of audience news needs, which range from political and investigative news to polls and quizzes. Digital organizations discover audience needs through research and through effective use of analytics. By starting with the demand end of the value chain, media companies foster a discipline and culture that ensures that all activity focuses on user needs and organizes all upstream activities to drive value through the chain.

We’ve observed that newsrooms may be tempted to view this chart from left to right — organizing themselves around available content sources, determining distribution and social strategies, and then trying to cram their audience’s need into that organization. Value is generated left to right, but only after starting from right to left — focusing first on audience.

Audience engagement. Our audiences have more choices than ever when it comes to news sources. Excellent content is rarely further than a click away as our list of competitors grows (often from outside our industry and markets). The challenges this poses for traditional news organizations also create great opportunity for us to reach, engage and grow audience in ways never before possible. Russell Banz, one of the founders of and now our VP of product, recently described the new environment in which media organizations compete due to the "unbundling" of content and how they can use that to their advantage. He suggests organizations focus their efforts on creating compelling, highly shareable content.

As more people get their news from their Facebook feeds and other social networks, publishers would do well to make sure their content is part of the mix. One way to do this is to ensure your content strikes an emotional chord. Our experiences coincide with studies that suggest people are more likely to share content that taps certain emotions, especially uplifting or inspiring ones.

We’ve centered our social strategy around our audience’s passions instead of our own branded social pages. Much of DDM’s growth is due to our efforts on social media, especially — but not limited to — Facebook.

Another great way to promote your content is through email. In fact, email is one of this year’s most touted ways of getting your excellent articles in front of a digital audience. The website eMarketer recently described email as the top channel for increased spending this year.

The Deseret News sends daily emails to promote some of the unique content from our enterprise team of writers — award-winning journalists writing in-depth articles on our six key areas of editorial emphasis. Although the page view boost from this newsletter is modest, we believe it will continue to grow into a key resource for driving traffic and building our brand. To this end, we’ve begun A/B testing pop-up up promotions on, as well as Facebook and Twitter campaigns.

Distribution. By analyzing user behavior on our websites, we discovered our various audiences engage with our content on different platforms and at different times of day. Our content strategy and publishing schedules account for these behaviors. More than three years ago, DDM recognized insufficient focus on mobile and through significant investment has made great strides to growing demand for mobile media consumption.

The following graphic illustrates just how crucial a focus on mobile excellence is in order to deliver value to users. Worthy of note is that from 2014, digital time spent doubled, but time on mobile devices quadrupled, now making up 45 percent of all time spent online.

Graphic 3: Time Spent per Distribution Media

We have mobile versions of our websites and smartphone apps to help our audience conveniently reach our content regardless of what device is in their hands. Digital leaders know that if content isn’t readily available in the ways our users want to consume it, they’ll get it elsewhere. While great for reaching audience, mobile creates challenges for publishers to monetize that traffic. DDM president Chris Lee recently explained that because mobile ads generate less ad revenue than desktop ads, one of our 2015 priorities is to expand what we call Mobile Ready Revenue, digital revenue not dependent on desktop page views.

"This Mobile Ready Revenue includes listings and automated feeds, native advertising, deals and coupons, travel bookings and other consumer-paid transaction," Lee said.

Content sources. Finally, after addressing the items above, you can determine the right mix of content sources, what is the right ratio of newsroom-generated content (including wire services and content partnerships), contributor-generated content and user-generated content? At DDM, we’ve expanded on a concept introduced to us by Betsy Morgan of The Blaze (and formerly Huffington Post) where she suggests the right mix is 1/3: 1/3: 1/3. We include a fourth category: Web-only content.

Web-only content, such as lists and round-ups, are an excellent way to meet a growing need for relevant, easily consumed articles. Some of last month’s top performing articles that fall into this Web-only category are:

4 things parents do that cause their children to secretly cry in the night
(506K+ page views,

The 23 people most likely to run for president in 2016
(214K+ page views,

5 signs you're raising an entitled kid
(114K+ page views,

These are the types of articles our audience now demand and devour. The first and third resonated with our audience because they fall under one of our brand’s main areas of editorial emphasis: the family, and specifically parenting. With Mitt Romney’s ties to Utah, the second article was particularly relevant to our audience too.

Our contributor network is a vital part of our content strategy. Writers sign up from all over the globe to contribute engaging articles. In 2014, our talented contributors provided an average 2,130 articles per month for a total of 236M page views! It’s no surprise that two of the three top stories mentioned above were written by contributors.

Contributor, web-only and user generated content add value to the excellent work coming out of our newsroom and together engage our audience in meaningful ways. And that's the key: understanding our audiences’ needs and then relentlessly delivering new value to meet those needs.