Posts Tagged ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’

The Washington Post, Bezos, and Growth: What We Can Learn

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Perhaps the most noteworthy sentence concerning the sale of the Washington Post to private-investor Jeff Bezos is to be found in a letter from Donald Graham, the publication’s chairman. “The newspaper business hasn’t stopped raising questions for which we have no answers,” wrote Graham, as quoted on the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine’s website this morning.

Aside from the fact that I find it commendable when a company’s leadership concedes that they don’t have answers to questions on the horizon, there are lessons here for all of us who grapple with growth.

  • The other guys: The “newspaper business” cannot raise questions. It’s not the other guys. As the Washington Post, you are a part of the “newspaper business.” The Post can, should, and must help to shape it. The opportunity passes you by while you’re thinking about the “newspaper business” in the abstract.
  • The target audience: There are indeed newspapers that operate successfully. So, what was the fatal flaw? What role did the readers play? Are they dying out, as is the case with some newspapers? Did the Post neglect to refine its target audience? So it would seem.
  • The brand: As a result, the brand wasn’t refined to keep up with the times. The Frankfurter Allgemeine plainly illustrates that some such refinement happens, even in the sector’s conservative companies. Although the Frankfurter Allgemeine wrestles with even the slightest change (something that makes sense!), the newspaper continues, for instance, to develop on-line business – and even paid on-line business – without sacrificing high editorial standards.
  • The employees: It is not the chairman’s responsibility to find answers to questions about the “news business,” the more so because the Washington Post reportedly generates only 14 percent of corporate sales. It is, however, the employees’ responsibility to move a newspaper forward. Part of this is cooperation among the editors to achieve – in the case of the Washington Post – the required high level of quality. But part of this, too, are employees who work at strategic and tactical positioning, and who consequently come into conflict with the editors. It is quite apparent that there are considerable shortcomings here.

The problems of the Washington Post lie in the more-distant past, and not so much in recent days. The brakes lie within the company, not outside it. They neglected to further, purposeful development of a company, a storied brand, and they neglected to accept that change, focus, and omission are crucial drivers of profitable growth.

© 2014, Prof. Dr. Guido Quelle, Mandat Consulting Group, Dortmund, London, New York. All rights reserved.