Forbes’ Editor Randall Lane Explores Digital Transformation & the Future of Media

Mike O'Connell

If you believe the talk that the media industry is in a downward spiral, Forbes Editor Randall Lane (@RandallLane) would like the opportunity to set you straight.

“I actually think,” he said at a recent PAN-hosted forum, “there’s never been a better time than right now to do media.”

Lane shared his thoughts during an Oct. 12 breakfast event, “Digital Transformation & the Future of Media,” for clients and invited guests at PAN’s downtown Boston offices. David Fialkow, co-founder and managing director at Boston VC firm General Catalyst, moderated the discussion.

Watch the video below for highlights from the event.


During the 90-minute session, Lane and Fialkow covered a range of topics including media strategies, authenticity, personalization, reasons young entrepreneurs are succeeding, and ways society can deal with “fake news.”

Regarding the media’s future, Lane acknowledged that outlets face challenges with declining print circulations, evolving platforms and a huge percentage of ad spend gravitating to Google and Facebook. But he argued that media outlets can – and should – succeed if they deploy the right strategy.

Forbes, for one, is doing better than ever – with 26 million followers across social platforms, 59 million unique monthly web visitors and a 6 million-plus print circulation. Lane said the company’s multi-platform strategy – feeding content across platforms and promoting it aggressively across the brand’s social media and print platforms.

“What we’re finding is the more we share our content and the more we put content out on one platform, the more it helps the other platforms,” he said. “It’s not a zero-sum game. Too many people see it that way.”

To highlight how print and online channels reinforce each other, Lane pointed out how he posted his recent Q&A with President Trump, Inside Donald Trump’s Head, online a month before the print magazine’s official circulation date. The article posted at 5:30 a.m. ET on a Monday. News anchors were talking about it by 7:30 a.m. ET.

“That’s news, you just put it out,” Lane said. “You’ve got a hot story that’s internationally important. It’s not going to hurt the print sales because literally more than 1 million people read the story online. They’re all going to talk about it, and more people will say, ‘I heard about that.’”

Here are a few other takeaways from the Lane and Fialkow session:

1. Consumer brands need to be “authentic”

Lane highlighted Forbes’ BrandVoice section as the type of vehicle that can help brands get their message out. BrandVoice is a paid guest column that a number of major brands contribute to. It’s clearly labeled, but, he said, it’s quality content vetted by Forbes editors.

“Millennials are more open to brands than any generation ever,” Lane said. “The key is transparency. It’s absolutely spot clear, and consumers are fine with that. It’s great for the brand and for the partner. And it’s great for Forbes because we’re not playing any games with our readers.”

2. Expect to see more personalization in advertising

Lane said the benefits of ad targeting outweigh the risks for brands. “I don’t mind seeing an ad for the same couch that I looked at online. It’s reminding me of something that I need. It’s better than a ‘random 47-year-old white guy ad.’ And that’s even better than it used to be, which was ‘random ad which had nothing to do with me at all.’ People are OK with that.”

3. Today, younger entrepreneurs have an advantage over their elders

Lane and Fialkow are two of the leaders of the Forbes “30 Under 30” project, which recognizes entrepreneurs under the age of 30. They served as hosts of a “30 Under 30” conference in Boston early in October.

Lane said entrepreneurs in their 20s are digital natives, helping them “see products that people older could not see because they grew up with [a cellphone].” Also, he said, younger entrepreneurs are in a better position to take risks – like skiers who strapped on boots at age 3: “When they fell down, it didn’t hurt.”

 “The best time to start a company is in your 20s,” Lane said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

It may take a generation to solve the ‘fake news’ issue

Lane said the best way to deal with fake news is to teach children to be critical thinkers – to encourage them to seek out stories with facts that present both sides of an issue. He said it may take 20 years to educate a new generation because many of today’s readers are polarized or “gullible” enough to get influenced by stories written to deceive their audiences.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Lane said. “When I do figure it out, I’ll raise some money with [Fialkow] and we’ll go do it.”

What are your thoughts about the future of media? Go to @PANcomm and we can continue the conversation.

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Topics: Thought Leadership

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