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Newspapers Experiencing Success (Current Headline, Not 1987)

By Scott Olson on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:40 AM |


Four newspapers are achieving success by trying new things Last week we wrote about a program Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc. has developed to work with print publications to consult them on how to take their businesses into the future. One of the first ways they can do that is to understand they are a business, not just a publication. This week we want to highlight four organizations that have recognized their business model needed to change and how they are taking action to achieve success. You may have seen the recent story from Journalism.org titled Newspapers Turning Ideas Into Dollars, which went in-depth on these organizations and what they’re doing to become the newspapers of the future.

The common thread with each of the highlighted publications is they all understood one important factor: they needed to focus, more so now than at any other time, on their local audience and what they needed to do for them. That might sound simple, but often in business the tendency is to look at what others are doing successfully and try to apply it in a totally different situation. With circulations ranging from 13,000 to 92,000, what works for one of these businesses is not likely to work for all, which makes this story even better.

For instance, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California recognized the opportunity to support local businesses (i.e. advertisers) by creating a digital agency. The agency (Media Lab) focuses on web development and increasing the advertisers’ local presence in social media platforms. "Option one is we build you a better website," says [Greg} Retsinas [Press Democrat digital director]. "Option two is we search engine optimize it [with] a lot of behind the scenes architectural coding...Option three is social media. And social media includes Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, brand management, reputation management." Talk about new revenue streams, and ones that could pay the bills. The average Media Lab customer is contributing a minimum of $1,000 per month to the bottom line. Others looking at the agency model include The Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Their agency model, StarTribune Star Tribune Radius is a digital agency focused on serving the needs of local small businesses and putting them in touch with their target audiencesRadius, offers local services that include mobile, social video and reputation management. One of the keys to the success of the Media Lab platform is the incorporation of publication veterans and insight from outside the industry. Greg Retsinas, the director of the agency, has his roots in journalism. "We went locally and took people who had no media background," to fill out the team, said Retsinas.

Moving to The Naples Daily News, the transition to profitability took a different route. In this instance the publication understood the benefit of focusing on business categories versus location when assigning sales territories. This allows the sales representatives to determine the local businesses that are most influential in the community and share with them the effectiveness of reaching the local market through the publication’s properties. This allows the sales team at the Daily News the ability “to share national industry trends, they're able to share regional trends," says one sales director. "They're able to own that vertical, own that business unit and then it's just proven exponentially successful."

At the 162-year-old Deseret News in Salt Lake City, the transition includes developing synergies between the Crocodile, the Mammal and the Exchange Team; with the Crocodile representing the legacy print model, the Mammal being the digital business and the Exchange Team the conglomeration of those teams and citizen journalists who fill the gaps left by staff layoffs at a publication in transition. Thanks to this model, the Deseret News is seeing changes in the short term. “When looking at the family of Deseret properties, the biggest piece of the revenue pie currently comes from the local broadcast holdings, followed by the Deseret News and then DDM. But the latter is the fastest growing component.” By focusing on the combination of all the properties, both in practice and by physically bringing people together into one building, the publication is projecting the digital business to soon encompass half of its overall revenues.

While digital adoption in markets like Salt Lake City, and more progressive areas like New York City, are quickly growing and delivering results, at the Columbia Daily Herald in Columbia, Tennessee, that adoption is much slower. With median income and education levels below the state average, the publication is searching for ways to reduce costs of the most expensive subscribers: those who receive the paper via the mail. The difficulty in making that transition in some areas includes issues such as technology adoption in general. "’Some people don't own a computer here,’ adds Thomas Browne, the paper's first (and currently only) digital ad rep.” Despite these challenges Columbia continues to implement digital initiatives while continuing to find print-oriented efforts including “‘The Man Magazine,’ a male lifestyle magazine that is distributed in two wealthier communities outside of Columbia.”

So there you have it, four publications, or dare I say businesses, in four different markets experiencing different challenges and finding unique solutions to overcome them. The idea here is similar to what we talked about in a previous post about the naysayers, basically that instead of criticizing ingenuity and testing new platforms, give these businesses credit for the willingness to take calculated risks and take action. Finally, what we need to recognize in all these situations is the local focus of each action. Engaging local businesses to support the publication is clearly the key to long-term success. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of local advertising or best practices for integrating print and digital initiatives, click the buttons below to download our report or eBook on the topics.

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Scott Olson is the director of marketing at Mediaspace Solutions. His career has spanned marketing positions in the non-profit, software and utility sectors providing various marketing experiences. You can connect with Scott on FacebookGoogle+Twitter or LinkedIn.

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