Key Executive Mega Conference Day 2

By Brian Steffens on February 28, 2012 0 Comments Ideas

GateHouse Media is one of the largest community media companies in America: 431 publications, 418 websites and a combined audience of 10 million. Kirk Davis, president and COO, is an energetic and passionate proponent of local media. He kicked off the morning with five imperatives:

  1. Drive permanent structural cost realignment to fund growth and innovation.
  2. Accelerate digital growth in both revenue and audience.
  3. Grow consumer revenues (including circulation) in both print and digital, largely through new products, services and pricing strategies.
  4. Preserve the power of print by stabilizing our operations.
  5. Develop and execute new businesses by leveraging our core strengths and expanding beyond our existing geographic footprint.

What are some of the initiatives, tactics or strategies we need to pursue to pull this off? His focus areas:

Build an intentional organization. Train and incentivize our people. Have a constant pipeline of new talent. He's been successful with a program that asks potential employees (even current employees) to write their dream job description. To help them do that they ask you to answer a handful of question and you can submit a resume only after answering the questions. Davis thought the exercise would limit the number of interested parties ... but he was wrong. He was inundated with resumes AND a lot of ideas.

The spirit of innovation. This manifested itself by requiring publishers to spend time on the street interviewing business owners. Some 800 interviews and four weeks later they learned quite a lot about customer needs and desires. That gave them important information for new business services. A key takeaway: small business owners (SMBs) were having difficulty navigating the new, digital world. That led to the creation of ...

Propel Marketing. This new separate division focuses on those small businesses needs. The traditional newspaper serves about 10-12 percent of all local businesses and services. That leave nearly 90 percent of the market as an opportunity.

Davis: "Insource essential skills and tools; outsource the rest.

Other initiatives include GateHouse Digital and GateHouse News Service. The former is a strong proponent of its new private ad exchange and harnessing the power of advertising and data for increased segmenting of products and advertising. The latter provides useful content across the hundreds of properties. 


Notes and tidbits from Industry Innovators:Moving forward in a modern media world

"Are we a newspaper with a website? Or are we a local information company that happens to print a newspaper? We're the latter," says Brandon Erlacher, publisher in Elkhart, IN. He says that approach has consequences:

  • Scarcity of resources.
  • Outsourcing.
  • Real strategic planning.
  • Burning the boats.

"Our markets are oversaturated with competitors. Advertisers are confused, frustrated and scared," Erlacher says. "And they keep hearing that 'newspapers are dying'."

His company has created a new company to deal with social issues for advertisers. The company now has three main businesses: Traditional print, digital, and social/engagement.

"Focus on your unique value proposition."

Rather than try to encapsulate her vast knowledge, I recommend you seek out Mathilda Piard, social media manager for Cox Media Group Digital in Atlanta. It was refreshing to hear her talk about the user experience and the need for more research in the area of social media. "Is sharing headlines that they are not recommending a good thing?" she asks. She has more questions, but many more answers, strategies and ideas. But we can't ignore Cox's 25 million clicks just on the company's Facebook and Twitter sites.

Joe Boydston, vice president/technology and new media for McNaughton Newspaper Group in California takes a slightly different tack from what we heard yesterday, and again today. His opening salvo: "Diversification is a distraction to our core mission. Craigslist digital classifieds didn't disrupt us ... free was the disruption."

He also made a case for using the open source WordPress platform for websites. He says you can be up and running in five minutes, and you won't need specialized IT folks to keep it running. There were skeptics in the room but the examples of how he's tweaked and used WordPress is impressive. It's worth checking out. He's integrated his print production into WordPress ... I've not seen that before. Not surprising that he closed with "we're not digital first, we're digital native."

Email marketing is the overlooked and undervalued tool, says Liz Thompson, digital director of the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, MD. She had statistics that showed customers interacted with email marketing far more than with Facebook and Twitter. Her system of subject specific e-news allows readers to pick their areas of interest and "subscribe" -- building engagement and loyalty.

Closing shot: "As a group, newspaper people are the worst at promoting themselves."

Read NetNewsCheck's report on this session here.

Brian Steffens is the director of communications at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Read his other blog posts here, and talk back at and @BrianSteffens on Twitter.


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