Newspapers’ culture, journalism provide firm basis for successful revenue strategies

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At Record-Journal Media Group, success in diversifying its revenue streams might be attributed to an unlikely corporate move — literally moving out of its old headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut.

“Appearance makes a difference,” Publisher and Executive Vice President Liz White said at the opening session of the Key Executives Mega-Conference Feb. 17.

“We went from an old building, which put us on three floors so (employees) didn’t see each other much, to a modern, open office that facilitated collaboration,” she said.

And from that collaboration came a charged-up events initiative that went from generating $25,000 to $235,000 in just three years — big money for a small cluster of newspapers in central Connecticut. The open office also made an apparent difference in nearly tripling digital subscriptions between 2017 and 2019, and in the launch of a separate digital brand that targeted businesses that, as White put it, “frankly don’t want to be in a newspaper.”

RJ Media’s decision to focus on culture and content first was echoed by other panelists at the Mega-Conference session.

Belo + Company Chief Revenue Officer John Wulfert, for instance, attributes its success to simply re-thinking its approach to revenue diversification.

While the newspaper industry  has been pursuing revenue diversification for decades, he said, the goal has simply been to get into whatever business was threatening newspaper revenue. A good example is how countless newspapers jumped into the direct mail business when mailers began taking FSIs away from them. Almost as quickly, individual newspapers began changing their tactics, some taking the business in-house, then out-sourcing, then taking it in-house again.

“There was no unifying theme except ‘we just lost business to something, so we need to do what they’re doing,’” Wulfert said.

Now Belo thinks of itself as selling not FSIs or ROP ads — but “intellectual capital,” the talent and experience to guide local businesses to increased traffic and revenue.

“If all we’re doing is selling an ad, and we’re not in charge of the strategy and we’re not in charge of the target audiences and we’re not in charge of the metrics — we’re just a disposable tactic,” he said. “It’s selling intellectual capital that allows us to own the entire process.”

Similarly, the Gannett-USA TODAY NETWORK has emphasized its own intellectual capital — the more than 500 journalists it fields nationwide.

“Today, we are reaching over 50% of  the U.S. That’s a big statement to make when we’re selling national,” said Howard Griffin, the network’s senior vice president, national retail sales.

Advertising packages are designed around the “premium and diverse content” those journalists produce, with sports and entertainment content being the biggest revenue contributors. Griffin said USA TODAY NETWORK’s 2.6 million readers includes 756,000 paid digital subscribers.    

But the national scope is not as important as the network’s local reach, Griffin argued. “All of us in this room have to be connected to our local community,” he said. “As large as we are — with 260 newspapers — each of our individual properties are charged to be connected with their communities. So, when you put those (local and national reach) numbers together, that makes for attractive programmatic opportunities.”

USA TODAY NETWORK has also launched initiatives in two areas that are still unexplored territory for many newspapers: Smart device voice and digital video branded content.

“Ask (Alexa or other devices) to hear the news, and you’re likely to get stories from USA TODAY and our local newsrooms in Austin, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Nashville, Phoenix and Rochester,” he said.

And GET Creative, the in-house branded content studio, is producing “a ton of video,” Griffin said, with CTV (Connected TV) partnerships including Roku and Tivo. “We believe video is the future,” he said.

But if there’s a key takeaway from his remarks, Griffin said, it’s for newspapers of any size to be the voice of their community. “Make sure people come to you because of your reporting, the charitable work you do in your community — and the marketing you do around that (community) connection.”

Download PowerPoints:

  • Howard Griffin, senior vice president, national retail sales, Gannett-USA TODAY NETWORK — download
  • Liz White, publisher and executive vice president, Record-Journal Media Group — download

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