Despite the industry-wide focus on digital, many a newspaper company is still trying to figure out how to make money at it. Revenue from digital often makes up only a small percentage of total annual revenue even if the percentage is growing.
But McClatchy's answer to that question – as asked on the Mega-Innovation Award entry form – is an eye-popping 72 percent. Yes, digital revenue made up 72 percent of total revenue over the past 12 months.
"We are really trying to change our company from inside out," said Jeremy Gockel, head of innovation for McClatchy.
Although the corporate headquarters is in Sacramento, Calif., Gockel and his innovation team are based in Raleigh, N.C., where they have only to walk next door to The News and Observer to try out something collaborative.
In its entry, McClatchy said most markets have completed rebranding from a traditional newspaper company to "a true digital media company." That includes creating its own digital marketing agency, exceleratedigital.com, in 2016 to reach large regional and national markets.
"We moved from a model of going out and trying to sell something, to going out and sitting and listening," Gockel said.
The McClatchy sales staff is trained to determine an advertiser's needs and offer – or create – products that meet those needs, he said. "What exactly does an advertiser need to be competitive in the marketplace? What keeps them up at night?"
An emphasis on video services has helped advertisers with cutting-edge video programs. Using the presidential election as a starting point, McClatchy invested in improving political ad revenue over the long-term.
And in a highly visible change, The McClatchy Company, so named since 1857, was rebranded as McClatchy. In the same all-encompassing spirit, the company closed its McClatchy Interactive digital hub and reintegrated it into the company as a whole.
Within the company, the focus on innovation has led to a variety of in-house competitions, team-building, performance incentives and training opportunities. McClatchy wants employees at all levels to feel empowered to suggest a change, and to not be afraid of failure, Gockel said.
If an idea works locally, it may well be adopted regionally or nationally. The company emphasizes innovations that can be scaled for different-size markets, and a team with a good idea is encouraged to try it out quickly to find out if it works rather than getting bogged down in meetings about it, he said.
"We really push our teams and reward them for moving fast. Sometimes they might not make the right decision, but we learn even in our mistakes and be sure to empower people to go to the next stage."
According to its entry form, McClatchy is trying to shed an "old media" image. Gockel said employees should meet problems and challenges with products and applications that can be applied quickly.
Gockel sees his own role as being much like a cheerleader. "I think McClatchy has done an admirable job in trying to encourage its employees, no matter where they fall on the corporate strata, to take risks, to be excited about the challenges."
For more information, reach Jeremy Gockel at email@example.com.
The Mega-Innovation Award is sponsored annually by the Inland Press Association, Local Media Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.