What Should Legacy Media Do? Never Waste a Good Crisis

Johan Peretti (CEO BuzzFeed)i: “Don’t you find that … mainstream media … come to Vice and say ‘OK, we need to figure this out and we can’t, so we want to buy you?”

Shane Smith (CEO Vice): “Yes, I have noticed that … and part of the problem is that it wouldn’t even save them if they bought us … staying independent allows us to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise … even if they bought us they would still have a massive legacy industrial media beast that they have to feed.”

Legacy media need to respond to technology transitions, and respond enough. As this exchange indicates, the challenge is often not the technology but hurdles inside the organization, inside the ‘massive legacy industrial media beast’ as Shane Smith puts it (watch the video at here).

The more successful the organization has been, the stronger the culture, the tighter the management, and the higher the hurdles to change are likely to be.

So what should legacy organizations do?

Never waste a good crisis.

Navigating a major technology transition will ultimately involve rethinking the entire organization, old and new: a huge undertaking requiring enormous organizational energy.

It is a crisis, and as the mantra goes, a good crisis should never be wasted. From an organization development perspective, disruption has ‘unfrozen’ organisations: staff know the challenges the industry faces and that change must happen: the perfect foundation for reinvention.

Responding to disruption is as much about innovation in the internal organization as it is about creating new products and services.

Disrupters are not intrinsically more innovative (and in time they will become legacy too). But they do place as much emphasis on innovating systems and processes as they do on innovation in products and services. The media industry has traditionally focused its creative energies on content creation. Building an excellent organization has never been a major priority – and indeed there’s often a distinctly anti-managerial element in the culture.

The unplayed ace in the hands of legacy media is the calibre of their staff.

There is not much to choose in intelligence and commitment between top employees in the media and those in Silicon Valley. But media firms tend to limit the application of that intellect and motivation to the realm of content. That represents a reservoir of creativity that can be tapped to seize the opportunity disruption presents. The leadership challenge is to harness those brains to reinvent the organization as well as the content it produces.

Core principles of legacy reinvention.

So where should that creative energy be focused? There are three guiding principles:

  • Be massively disciplined with the ‘old’ parts of the business. Experiment with worse ‘worse case scenarios’. Are there intelligent cuts you can make now? What can you simplify to increase agility?
  • Be massively innovative with the ‘new’. Would new businesses grow faster if given dramatically more autonomy from the parent?
  • Put as much emphasis on an excellent organisation as you do on excellent products. Disrupting organizations are often exceptionally well-managed and drive performance by through culture and talent. Are you placing enough emphasis on innovating the organization?


© Lucy Küng 2015. All rights reserved.