Inside a showcase of publishing innovation


Mark Drasutis, News Corp Australia’s chief product officer, digital, shares his insights on fostering a culture of innovation and the company’s recent Innovation Week showcase.

According to Mark Drasutis, News Corp Australia’s chief product officer, digital, to foster a culture of innovation first you must define what innovation means for your business, says

“We have one for the publishing business side of News Corp which is ‘Recombining content, people and processes in new ways for growth’,” he says.

Mr Drasutis made these points at the close of News Corp Australia’s Innovation Week event staged at the company’s Sydney offices in February.

The event was inspired to a large degree by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s determination to make innovation the focus of his government economic initiatives.

“We hear this current government talk about innovation,” News Corp Australia director of corporate affairs and content innovation Campbell Reid told The Australian prior to the event.

“It struck us that there is an assumption that innovation only happens in garages – but the powerhouse of innovation is just as likely to be small teams within big businesses,” he said.

The company wanted to show that “true magic happens when the best new technology and the passion for storytelling come together”.

The event was attended by News’ commercial clients, agencies and brands as well senior politicians and staff.

It showcased the wealth of innovation across News’ diverse portfolio from its more established businesses like its news brands, Foxtel and REA Group to its more recent acquisitions like HiPages, Storyful and Unruly.

On display were virtual reality property tours, The Australian’s yet to be released Newspoll data interactive State of Play, on-field camera technology from Fox Sports, the mechanics of social media news agency Storyful and video ad tech company Unruly, how its newsroom is distributing content in the digital age and an array of commercial printing solutions.

Mr Drasutis was News Corp Australia’s head of innovation at the time of the event. He will continue to be responsible for the company’s innovation agenda following his recent appointment as chief product officer for digital.

For Mr Drasutis, there is no one innovation he considers the most exciting. Rather it is the effect of combining the different products and services from various News businesses. For example in the area of home ownership, consumers can utilise the offerings of real estate business REA Group, tradie hiring platform HiPages and content from its various mastheads.

“That innovation to make that just a simple and efficient journey for customers is actually really powerful and joining that all together is the challenge for the future,” Mr Drasutis said.

Innovation’s new reality

One notable demonstration at Innovation Week was of augmented reality technology by REA Group.

AR overlays a digital or interactive element to the real world. For example, a consumer hovers a mobile device over a printed newspaper to reveal “hidden” digital content which pops off the page and directly corresponds and moves according to stimuli registered by a mobile device’s camera.

News Corp Australia recently partnered with real estate agency Ray White to produce an AR property catalogue, which was inserted in News’ Sunday papers on February 28.

When readers use mobile app PropertyAR in conjunction with the printed product, it reveals additional information about the property listing including more photos, a map of its location and the ability to contact the relevant realtor.

Augmented reality in action. The PropertyAR app overlays a digital dimension to a printed newspaper.

Augmented reality in action. The PropertyAR app overlays a digital dimension to a printed newspaper.

Mr Drasutis is enthusiast about the potential of augmented reality technology, especially how it can unite the tactility of print with the interactivity of digital.

A possible future application of the technology would be producing digital content that is exclusively accessible by using an augmented reality app in conjunction with a newspaper.

“You’ve got this interaction where that content only appears if you have the print product. So literally like there’s a whole level of upsell there that’s quite interesting and also it drives a level of interactivity,” he says.

Virtual reality also shows huge promise. News showcased one application of VR that allows prospective buyers or renters to take 3D, virtual property tours.

However, the company has also been exploring its editorial applications. It recently conducted an internal test where they positioned a 360 degree camera on a chair at a catwalk show.

“Which meant that we could get, in theory, 200,000 people on one chair at a catwalk show and they can experience it,” he says.

“It’s what Fox Sports are kind of doing … they’re putting people on the pitch or they’re putting people in positions where you wouldn’t normally get to. People love that stuff. People love to be immersed in what they’re doing.”

Fostering a culture of innovation

Managers may espouse the importance innovation, but employees need to have ownership of the concept at a team level and both the platforms and tools to allow that culture to flourish.

Alongside Innovation Week, the company staged NewsFoundry, a reoccurring event conducted by News where individuals from across different disciplines, companies, locations and roles work together outside their normal responsibilities to solve a particular problem for the company’s customers and partners.

More than 70 participants formed nine teams which each had three days to produce a business case, working prototype and pitch for their solution to an issue surrounding “Local and Community”.

The teams then presented their efforts to a panel of judges which included News Corp Australia chief executive Peter Tonagh and News Corp Australasia chairman Michael Miller. This year’s wining solution is being provided resources and funding with the intention of bringing the concept to market.

Mr Drasutis described NewsFoundry as a greenhouse for ideas and said it was important participants had the freedom to apply new ways of thinking to solving problems.

And while some teams may not succeed – they may fail to execute their idea or it might be sub-par to begin with – that’s okay.

“It didn’t cost us that much money, it didn’t cost us months and months of business casing and literally we tried it, we tested it, we learnt and we failed. And we failed fast and just moved on,” Mr Draustis says.

Approaches to innovation

News Corp Australia showcases its 'Newsroom of the Future'.

News Corp Australia showcases its ‘Newsroom of the Future’.

News embraces a number of schools of thought when it comes to innovation and solving customer problems.

These include the Lean Startup methodology, where product and business development is based on speedy and frequent customer feedback; and the Human-Centred design approach.

Mr Drasutis says the company also embraces an open-innovation approach – an acknowledgement that not all of the best ideas will come from within the business’ own teams.

“We’re working on a project at the moment where we have someone who isn’t a media designer, designing a media experience. And the reason for that is because he comes at it from completely different angles and therefore isn’t constrained by some of the ways we’ve traditionally experienced print content, audio content and video content.

“We use partnership to drive innovation to basically bring new thought and new ideas and diverse thinking to the scenes internally.

“We work with lots of businesses across Australia and globally to support innovations and support new experiences and to support our existing products.”

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