I recently spent a day in Nashville with a group of publishing peers. Our association is called the Protestant Church-owned Publisher’s Association (PCPA) and MennoMedia, previously Mennonite Publishing Network, and before that, Mennonite Publishing House, has been part of it for decades. I enjoy these meetings, partly for the sense of camaraderie, but even more so for the things I learn.
I never fail to come away challenged, encouraged and sobered. We all are feeling greatly challenged these day and we frankly share our successes and our failures. When I think that our problems at MennoMedia are unique, I realize that we are in good company. With the drastic changes happening both in church denominations and in the publishing industry, we are continually reminded that, “This work is not for the faint of heart.”
In our November meeting, our group had the privilege to hear from one of our peers, Neil Alexander, of the United Methodist Publishing House, who has announced his retirement. He shared some wisdom with us out of his 20 years’ experience as CEO. I share here the 10 things I heard from him:
- Be realistic about our situation: There are no safety nets and lots of competition. The assumptions of our core business model are being upended. There is no sentimentality and no discrimination—disruption hits everyone and you can’t make it go away.
- You are behind every day that you wake up. Hence the saying, “Everything you need to know, you will learn tomorrow.”
- MORE-BETTER-FASTER—this is what the customer wants.
- Be courageous in adapting new methods, while staying faithful to the mission. This is key: it’s a hard balance to strike, but a constant reminder of the “why” of what we do.
- Relentlessly innovate. If we don’t, someone else will—and then our job will be to manage decline.
- Prudently manage the risk. I would add here—don’t be afraid of mistakes, so long as you learn from them.
- Keep your head up—stay alert.
- “Mission” and “business” are not the same thing, but they are not enemies, either. The sweet spot is the conjunction of the two, when business and mission meet. This is a great reminder for denominational publishers who often get caught in an imagined competition between the two.
- Staff need to be highly adaptive, fearless but not stupid, must possess the ability to integrate, and have a capacity to change and grow. We must possess humility and not hubris.
- We must have a transcending purpose with a compelling objective. I like this one the most.
These are helpful insights, coming from a lot of years of experience. We have a lot to learn from each. This is one side of our work: a media and church landscape and environment that is evolving rapidly; old assumptions no longer fitting; trends coming faster and unexpectedly; plus the constant needing to adapt.
There is another side to be balanced against the difficulties in the preceding paragraph. I will share more of that in a post next week: the timelessness of our message; the need for rootedness, community and tradition; the need to non-conform to a rapidly changing and fast-paced society and environment, the need to slow down so that we hear God’s voice. How can we do our work, keeping both in mind and still keeping our souls, and our mission, intact? Maintaining this tension is essential to our work and the biggest challenge we face. How do we serve our mission, stick to our core values, do what we do best and develop our niche, in this environment? These are questions we face as we go forward.
More on that next week! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your comments and questions.
~Russ Eanes, Director