Washington Post creates Chief Experience Officer position

Romenesko+ memo
Post publisher Katharine Weymouth says the paper is creating this CXO post, as it’s called, “to strengthen the voice of the consumer in our product development and execution.” Laura Evans, who has spent most of her nine years at the Post as chief researcher, has been named to the position. Weymouth writes in a memo announcing the appointment:

One of the three foundational elements of our strategy is a relentless focus on the customer. While we all care about the customer and try to advocate for the customer, we do not currently have an executive owner of the customer experience. That was acceptable when we published one newspaper a day—when we had a well-honed product with over a century of research behind it. In a day when we have evolved to a 24/7 news operation
publishing on multiple platforms, and when we operate in a hyper-competitive market, the customer must be the primary driver of our product-related decisions and changes.

New products and major changes to existing products will now require approval by the Chief Experience Officer, says Weymouth. Her full memo is after the jump.


From: Katharine Weymouth
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2011 11:02:16 -0400
Subject: Announcement of New Role: VP, Research & Chief Experience Officer
To: All Post Employees,

We are pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Laura Evans is
promoted to Vice President, Research & Chief Experience Officer. In her new
role, Laura will continue reporting to Steve Hills on the business side and
working closely with Marcus and his team on the news side, but will report
directly to me for product decisions involving our content.

The Chief Experience Officer (CXO) is a new role at The Post, and I’d like
to take a moment to explain what this role means and how it will function
moving forward. We do not create new executive positions lightly. We are
creating this role to strengthen the voice of the consumer in our product
development and execution.

As you know, one of the three foundational elements of our strategy is a
relentless focus on the customer. While we all care about the customer and
try to advocate for the customer, we do not currently have an executive
owner of the customer experience. That was acceptable when we published one
newspaper a day—when we had a well-honed product with over a century of
research behind it. In a day when we have evolved to a 24/7 news operation
publishing on multiple platforms, and when we operate in a
hyper-competitive market, the customer must be the primary driver of our
product-related decisions and changes. Today, we have scores of products
that touch our customers in myriad ways—ranging from our flagship newspaper
to our growing suite of mobile apps. We must understand the customer
experience across and within all of these and other platforms. That
understanding must be guided by accurate data and expert analysis of those
data. In this regard, the CXO role is a natural extension of Laura’s
previous role, where she worked with key leaders across the company to
guide our consumer-related decisions with a deeper understanding, based on
research and data, of our customers’ behavior, preferences, and interests.

We have some of the best designers in the country. Our Visuals Editor,
David Griffin, our Design Director, Janet Michaud, and Sarah Sampsel, our
Director of Digital, Mobile and New Product Design, and their teams, will
work closely with Laura in creating our design and the user experience,
across all our news products. I believe—as Steve Jobs famously said—that ”
design is not just how it looks and feels. Design is how it works.” That’s
the mantra that our company follows, and where Laura has much to offer. How
do we make our products easy to use and navigate? How do we ensure our
readers enjoy the experience of using Post products, so that they spend
more time interacting with our journalism? By adding Laura’s
customer-focused expertise and capabilities throughout the process, we will
be better able to achieve those goals.

What will change is that new products and major changes to existing
products will now require approval by the CXO. Today, we use research and
analytics often to vet designs. Going forward, our CXO will be regularly
involved at the beginning of the process—setting priorities, guiding
concepts and testing ideas. This process and structure will take us out of
the realm of personal biases and opinions and into the realm of the
best-run product companies—where products are launched and iterated based
on metrics, data and user feedback. We have taken great strides already in
becoming more externally focused. This is another essential step to ensure
that our products reflect that focus.

What will not change? The News department’s role in determining what we
cover, how we cover it, and how we present daily news to our readers and
viewers will not change. Laura will work with the design and editorial
teams in the newsroom—as she has in the past—to collaboratively address
issues with current products and aid in the building of new ones.

Some restructuring will occur as a result of this change—involving
positions whose primary focus will be analytical in nature and which we
believe will benefit from moving to Laura’s organization. These functions
include digital marketing, circulation marketing analysis, and dashboard
building and analysis using our cross-platform data warehouse. Because of
Laura’s deep connection to our products, and her success in developing
useful and clear analysis to drive action, we believe these structural
changes will make us better as a company. As is the case today, she will
continue to work closely with Rich Handloff, Director of Consumer
Marketing, and his team.

Laura has been with The Post for nine years, functioning as our chief
researcher for most of this time. She has been a critical component in most
of our design changes, including the recent Sunday newspaper changes and
our digital pay wall and pricing analysis. Laura has also helped to create
company traffic goals, dashboards, and forecasts which have not only helped
us understand what success looks like, but also aided in our recent digital
traffic increases. Prior to joining The Post, Laura worked in the research
division of Weber Shandwick, and as an analyst for a nonprofit association
for women-owned businesses. Laura is currently completing her Ph.D. in
Political Science with a concentration in Quantitative Methods at The
George Washington University. She holds a Masters degree in Applied
Politics and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Law from American
University.

Please join us in congratulating Laura in her new role.

Katharine Weymouth
Publisher, The Washington Post
CEO, Washington Post Media

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  • Reykjavik

    Publishing has a historical problem not faced elsewhere in the digital world: editors fancy themselves as product owners and tend to favor their own guts over data or the voice of the customer. Yet editors have little of the background that product management professionals in the high-tech world have, although they talk the big game. The “church-state” separation that you see in magazines and newspapers and really nowhere else in the digital world also has hampered publishers’ digital effectiveness. Spend a few months in a high-tech company and it’s a dramatically different world in terms of product development processes. Good luck to Laura, but unless she has real power in The Post, the postion is doomed to ineffectiveness.

  • Anonymous

    Another desperate move by the Washington Post to remain relevant in a world that has moved past their infrastructure. Instead of trying to adapt, they must rather re-invent. There are newer and more powerful methods of information dissemination to be discovered, and the Washington Post should be on the forefront of such a discovery, rather than desperately attempting to keep up with the technology of five years ago. Their android app is inefficient and cluttered, the iPad app is nothing but a clone of the New York Times, and their website layout is cluttered and aesthetically unappealing. Pathetic. 

  • Anonymous

    More fluff from Weymouth. She understands nothing about the bsuiness, but is empowered to run it.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    Ah — it’s more of the approach of pretending a greater focus on design will somehow make things better.

    Also, I expect people will lean on Jobs’ quotes quite a bit in the future. But regardless of what he’s credited as saying, few people will continue to buy a product that doesn’t work, no matter how it looks. (Time magazine got that wrong, too. Badly wrong. So badly wrong that I have to wonder if the writers bothered to research much of anything before the iPod.)

    Newspapers have been rolling the dice on design for close to 20 years now. So far, circulation and credibility have dropped in response. Not much of a payoff. Continuing to claim otherwise is not only lying, but also a false product claim that probably needs to be investigated.