Former NewsLifeMedia Boss Sandra Hook Talks Media In Disruptive Times

Former NewsLifeMedia Boss Sandra Hook Talks Media In Disruptive Times

Media identity, businesswoman, and non-executive board member, Sandra Hook, offers insight on new media, content, and lessons learnt from the media industry in disruptive times.

Melina Gouveia
Posted by Melina Gouveia

Having overseen the rapid growth and transformation of the NewsLifeMedia digital operations while chief executive, Hook understands the challenges businesses face when addressing the disruptive impact of new technologies.

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With extensive experience and career achievement across TV, publishing and online media at a time when the industry and its offerings began to rapidly evolve, Hook is a big believer in targeted verticals that builds audience trust and focuses on the user to capture their preference.

“Of course different digital content strategies will prevail for print, TV, radio but it will always come down to brand and audience, the compelling nature of the content to serve that audience and the relevance of the delivery mechanism,” She said. “Not everyone will make a successful digital migration.”

Hook does see the opportunities for the media industry to monetise content grow daily, though these opportunities are often are very different from past monetisation models.

“I think the only way forward is to expect that big media, if it survives, will become smaller media, fragmenting its audience and targeting communities of interest, or bolting on new media models not encumbered with legacy issues such as structure, people, processes, and budgets,” she says.

Hook does not see the shift towards a user-orientated model in the digital age as an impediment to independent and quality journalism.

“Independent and quality journalism survives now and will continue to grow and prosper – provided the media and journalists can adapt.

“Quality is subjective but let’s talk independent. For a start, just about everyone has a ‘master’ and more often than not that is the filter through which journalism occurs. But if you mean the ability to pursue lines of questioning or investigation that surface issues and ideas, then I think yes – capital YES.

“There will always be serious-minded people, questioning people, and now, more than ever before, the platforms for them to communicate and spread their ideas, concerns or findings are spectacularly accessible,” she added.

Hook sees this as sustainable for media houses, through acquisition and experimentation, failing fast, small bets in new ventures, and if “the industry stops being obsessed with scale and mass and can convince advertisers to support smaller quality content models then there will be new winners”.

With a firm understanding of corporate and strategic change, and adapting to new frontiers at both an executive and board level, Hook knows the difficulties involved for big mature businesses to innovate.

“Understanding the limits of the existing business can be a challenge in this new digital environment,” Hook admitted.

“Historically, media companies have spent vast amounts of time analysing the competition but real disruption has almost always come from a newcomer.

“Boards naturally obsess on ‘where value is being eroded’ and so talk of investing in ‘where value can be created’ can quickly slip off the agenda especially when investment is required.

“And with our smaller population and smaller operating environment (Australia) has rarely set aside investment funds for serious R&D and innovation.

“Boards know what the future looks like, and it is often not pretty; but against the odds, businesses try to buck the trends. Innovation is often talked about, but that could simply be product enhancement versus truly disruptive innovation; in some instances, that might extend to cannibalising yourself.”

Company boards understand that they need to ‘embrace digital innovation’, however the level of their understanding varies and there are huge challenges for boards especially those in a listed environment managing share price, Hook admitted.

“It is impossible to get transformative growth and profit improvement by doing what you are already doing, a bit better and a bit cheaper,” she said. “Being able to implement a strategy that may necessitate a reduction in profitability through a period of investment and transition can be a very difficult communication task.

“This alone is almost impossible for boards who are there to maintain and manage shareholder value. And yet, the investor community is increasingly marking down companies that have no-moat strategy and no new profit pockets.”

Hook predicts digital technology will disrupt traditional business models in every possible way via a consumer led revolution.

“When the President of the USA delivers his State of the Union address to a bunch of bloggers via You-tube, we have to admit that everything has changed.

“Millennials are not rusted on to traditional media, they are quick to adopt media that best serves their needs and that will continue with all future generations.

“There is a shift in the media power – 18-34s are huge users of media, but differently.

“This is a huge consumer led revolution and it is fuelling the growth of Netflix, Spotify, and targeted digital operators like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post and that will continue,” Hook concluded.

Hook will be one of the chief speakers at Daze of Disruption in Sydney on the 18th and 19th of May.