Before the Mega-Conference was created four years ago, the Inland Press Association, Local Media Association (formerly known as the Suburban Newspapers of America until 2012), and Southern Newspaper Publishers Association each held its own separate spring conference.
SNPA executive director Edward VanHorn said each conference attracted roughly the same audience members, and putting the three associations together for one conference created “great synergy.”
Inland Press executive director Tom Slaughter said there was also some crossover with the exhibitors that attended the conferences. By combining them into one Mega-Conference, Slaughter said it enabled all three organizations and exhibitors to come together.
The first Mega-Conference was hosted just by the LMA and SNPA in Orlando, Fla. Inland Press joined the following year for the Mega-Conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., and last year’s conference took place in San Antonio.
Slaughter said this year’s agenda in New Orleans addresses the unique challenges of an industry that is “migrating from print to digital.”
“The print side of the business still produces a large share of profit,” he said. “We tried to find topics that are useful and important for print goals but also speak to the digital side.”
LMA president Nancy Lane said, “We’re trying to help an industry that is massively transforming. Our focus is on digital, but we’re not forgetting print. We’re also addressing new and emerging trends, successful case studies, and selling digital agency services, which is our biggest opportunity area in 2013.”
VanHorn explained that each association had three appointed representatives who, along with key staff members, met over phone calls during the summer to pitch workshop and speaker ideas.
“The topics come from within the industry and from our members,” said Inland Press director of programming and membership Patty Slusher.
The conference begins with a bonus session on Sunday, Feb. 17. “Launching Digital Agency Services: What it can do for you — and your customers” will offer advice from industry experts from large to small media companies that have experience in providing digital products within their markets. The session will also offer the most effective methods of putting digital solutions in place.
“It’s a high-level, hands-on three-hour session for executives to talk about what is happening in this space and to showcase a different model,” Lane said.
Each association is also excited about the Mega-Conference Executive Roundtable on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Speaking will be Michael Klingensmith, publisher and chief executive officer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune Media Co.; Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today; Terry Kroeger, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald and president of the BH Media Group; and Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News.
“Each publisher will bring their different perspectives and particular viewpoints to the table,” Slaughter said. Scheduled on Tuesday is “On the Front End of Media Change in the Entrepreneurial City of New Orleans” with NOLA Media Group president Ricky Mathews and New Orleans Times-Picayune editor and vice president of content Jim Amoss. The two will discuss the company’s digital efforts, in particular transitioning from a daily printed newspaper to a schedule that prints only three times a week.
“I’m excited about the NOLA discussion,” VanHorn said. “It’s something the industry is watching with great wonder.”
Slusher said that, with a conference this big, each organization has its own niche to serve. “From large newspapers to weekly newspapers, there is diversity in our programming. Our focus is on print and digital plus innovation. Two years ago, you would not have seen this kind of program.”
“I’m looking forward to helping the industry,” Lane said. “I want (publishers) to walk away with the right tools and ideas to grow their business.”
Slusher said when the Inland Press, LMA, and SNPA come together as one to host the Mega-Conference, it sends a subtle message to their members to work together. The same collaboration can be seen with the exhibitors that attend the conference.
“The vendors love (the conference),” Lane said. “A lot of them used to have to pick and choose which conference to attend. Now, one trip equals more exposure … the high-level decision makers are here. They’re the ones who sign the checks. Most of them publish medium-size papers, so they’re able to move and make decisions quicker.”
New to this year’s agenda is an hour-long Buzz Session on Monday, Feb. 18. During this time, industry research and development partners will showcase how their products and services are being used by newspapers to grow revenue and improve operations. According to Slusher, 12 exhibitors are scheduled to present their services and case studies. Each exhibitor is given four minutes to speak.
“It’s an opportunity for vendors to highlight revenue-generating ideas that were a direct result of using their products,” she said.
“What better way for newspapers to turn to these partners,” Lane said. “The exhibit hall can be overwhelming to some … and with publishers strapped for time, this will identify which company will help their business grow the most.”
Both LMA and SNPA have done Buzz Sessions at their own association meetings and saw plenty of interest from their publishers.
Content That Works chief evangelistic officer Paul Camp has attended the Mega-Conference since it originated. The Chicago-based company provides editorial products for about 1,300 clients in newspapers, television, and radio.
Camp said having all three organizations come together at once is a “huge cost benefit.”
“I don’t have to send three people to three different cities,” he said. “It could cost me $1,500 or more depending on the city.”
Camp said while other conferences and trade shows have scaled down, the Mega-Conference has grown and continues to help vendors sell products. “(They) involve the vendors in the planning of the event. We’re not being ignored. We’re welcomed under the tent, you can say. We’re embraced, not separated from the others.”
This is the first year Content That Works has signed on as a sponsor. Camp said it’s because the company will be introducing a new product at the conference, but also because he wanted to “reward the three organizations for their efforts.”
SAXOTECH, based in Tampa, Fla., provides integrated media solutions for more than 1,000 news organizations around the world. Vice president of business relations John Pukas has attended every Mega-Conference, and he plans to be in New Orleans this year.
He said what makes the Mega-Conference stand out is how the exhibitors are not treated as a second thought. “We’re partners in the same industry … I really feel strongly Mega-Conference is emerging as the event to attend … it’s grown in popularity … and they reach out to the vendors. At Mega-Conference, there is no wall.”
SAXOTECH will return this year as the Tuesday evening special event sponsor with a Mardi Gras theme party. Pukas said the event is meant to be a fun, social way for attendees to interact.
Online and mobile solutions provider Adpay, based in Englewood, Colo., has attended each year to meet with these industry decision-makers. Executive vice president of sales Deb Dreyfuss-Tuchman said at the Mega-Conference, attendees make an effort to “truly come into the exhibit hall.”
Adpay is also a sponsor this year. “For Adpay, the Mega-Conference has really evolved into our premier conference event of the year. Because of the great program, decision makers come to this conference looking for actionable ideas,” Dreyfuss-Tuchman said. “The organizations hosting are very conscious of supporting the exhibitors. Therefore, they do an excellent job of directing traffic to the exhibit hall. As a result, we are able to meet with many current and prospective partners. This helps us to generate an extremely measurable return on our participation investment.”
Each exhibitor echoed the same sentiment: They learn from the conference as much as the newspaper attendees.
“It’s a great way to see trends by talking to publishers and attending sessions,” Dreyfuss-Tuchman said. “For example, we have learned about augmented reality and video files and how to distribute them on mobile platforms … the idea to create these solutions came from conferences.”
Camp said not only does he learn from the programming, but he also learns good lessons on the exhibit floor. “It’s a collaborative environment.”
“(The Mega-Conference) gives us a good perspective on what is of interest in the industry we serve,” Pukas said. “It truly helps shape us. As much as we go there to inform, we are also there to learn.”
For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit mega-conference.com.