If there's another newspaper with a beer named after its innovation, we haven't heard about it.
The Pilot publishes Wednesdays and Sundays and circulates 12,500 papers in Southern Pines, N.C. It, like many other papers, looked for a way to reach millennials with advertising and news while capitalizing on the services offered by its in-house First Flight Digital operation.
What The Pilot came up with does not involve top executives at the paper, and it isn't afraid to take a risk. The name of the product is The Sway, and it's an email newsletter "that delivers bite-sized information with a funny, snappy voice," according to the paper's entry.
If the higher-ups don't always get it, that's OK.
Publisher David Woronoff said that from the time his two girls were young children, he tried to raise them to be newspaper readers. He failed, but now that they are in college he knows that they are news fans.
They told him they got their news from The Skimm, a national online source of news presented in a sassy, what-you-need-to-know format. The youngest asked why Daddy couldn't do the same thing at The Pilot.
With a grant from the University of North Carolina, The Pilot brought in a summer intern who was charged with researching the market and coming up with a concept that would appeal to young people, especially those at Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the country.
Woronoff said he told the intern, "I want you to figure out a way that I can deliver advertising and news to them."
Until recently, Southern Pines consisted mainly of retirees and older military people, said Kerry Hooper, general manager for digital services for The Pilot and First Flight Digital.
"Over the past five years there has been a huge realignment that has brought a ton of young families into our market," she said. "It's very different for us. It's very different for our advertisers. What we found as a newspaper was that we weren't reaching these folks."
After the intern presented the initial concept of a newsletter, a group of "fifty-somethings" at the paper tried to follow up. The team also included two millennials who were being treated as junior members, Woronoff said.
"Finally, I realized there's a reason why these folks aren't reading the newspaper," he said. "Part of it is, we're putting out a product for people our age. We need to create a product by, for and about the millennial age group."
That's when he took everyone in their fifties, including himself, off the team. He told the young women to create their own team and "scare us."
The Sway name is a play on words, as in "Follow this way" or "Walk this way," Hooper said. Remember the Aerosmith song? It's OK if you don't.
Woronoff does take credit for the custom beer named after The Sway. The beer was part of a sponsorship deal with a local brewery. He considered "That's The Sway it is," but quickly realized that millennials weren't necessarily familiar with Walter Cronkite.
"We're selling sponsorships, not ads," Woronoff said. The initial four sponsorships were sold within a week. Sponsors include the brewery, a multi-specialty surgical clinic, a bank and a hospital. They were selected because they weren't spending their digital dollars with the paper or the agency, he said.
"The point is, it's not an ad. It's a way for us to sell digital solutions," he said.
The Sway is emailed to nearly 6,000 addresses, or nearly half the total circulation of the newspaper.
"We're just a small-town country newspaper," Woronoff said. "We like to say we're always small-town, but we're never small-time."
For more information, reach Kerry Hooper at Kerry@firstflightdigital.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 email@example.com.