Twenty years ago, newspapers relied heavily on their print product to generate revenue and market themselves. In today’s business, there is no longer a line in the sand for publishers. Newspapers have had to think outside the printed box in order to stay relevant and produce new revenue streams. Whether it’s finding partners outside the industry, hosting events or experimenting in non-traditional markets, newspapers are creating original, successful business development projects.

The following pages contain just a handful of these ideas—each of them a testimony that newspapers will continue to expand on the innovation that originated on the printed page and have now expanded into new territories. 

The Dallas Morning News | Speakeasy
Formed in late 2012, Speakeasy (yourspeakeasy.com) was created when The Dallas Morning News partnered with local advertising agency Slingshot, LLC in order to address the growing digital marketing needs advertisers were requesting.

According to Grant Moise, Morning News senior vice president of business development and niche products, when advertisers began asking for digital services about four years ago, the paper worked with small boutique firms. The paper brought in about 20 accounts within a two-month span.

Moise said over time, the smaller firms weren’t able to handle the rapidly growing business, so publisher and chief executive officer Jim Moroney got together with Slingshot chairman and CEO Owen Hannay to form Speakeasy.

Operating as a separate entity, Speakeasy provides turnkey solutions in an array of services including content marketing, social media and promotions. Currently, the company is responsible for 70 accounts, with the sales team at DMN attributing for about 85 percent of clients and Slingshot’s clients making up the remaining 15 percent.

“We knew who our clients were,” Moise said. “During the early stages, our common advertisers such as cars, hospitals and furniture stories came on easily.”

In its first year, Speakeasy reached $1.5 million in revenue and if the path continues, Moise expects it will add $2.5 million by the end of this year.

He considers Speakeasy to be a success story because it has been able to assist a diverse set of clients. “It proves to marketers that audiences are huge in social media,” he said. “They get better understanding of how to turn them into paying customers.”

Looking ahead, Moise said they will look into expanding Speakeasy geographically to other offices and partnerships. Moise sees the digital marketing space expanding in the industry, citing examples such as Hearst’s Local Edge, Digital First Media’s AdTaxi and their own agency, 508 Digital.

What’s your advice to other newspapers if they want to develop a similar project?
Moise: “Don’t do this on your own. Partner with someone in the agency field. Keep pushing the envelope. It’s something you have to do for advertisers during these changing times.”

Postmedia Network Inc. | Gastropost
When Canada’s Postmedia Network created Postmedia Labs in the summer of 2012, its purpose, according to Duncan Clark, vice president of strategic initiatives, was to explore ways for a media company to evolve and experiment, and essentially operate as a startup. One of the ideas to come out of the lab was Gastropost, a community for food lovers. Gastropost is currently featured in the Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, National Post, The Province and the Vancouver Sun.

Gastropost sends its members on weekly food missions that could involve a specific ingredient, a particular cooking style or something that invokes a certain emotion. Members are asked to share their food experiences on social media. Then, once a week, the “best of” photos are printed in the newspaper in a double-page spread. Gastropost also operates as a separate website from the newspaper. Alberta’s Gastropost can be found at edmonton.gastropost.com and calgary.gastropost.com. Gastropost Alberta launched in Edmonton in October 2013. A month later, it launched in Calgary.

Sandra Marocco, regional director of integrated programs and strategy, said the papers had to shift their way of thinking when this project launched. “Instead of asking what can the community do for us, we asked, ‘What can we do for them?’ ”

Tapping into the food community was an easy choice. “Food lovers were naturally taking pictures of their food,” she said. “Gastropost was a way to add value to that community.”

Since Gastropost is meant to engage and inspire others, just posting the photos on the website wouldn’t be enough. Marocco said their “a-ha moment” was when they added traditional print into the mix.

“It was validation for people who wanted to see their photo and name in the paper,” she said. “We reached out to food lovers on Instagram and asked permission to feature their photo in the paper. We had a 99 percent response rate. It gained traction and became viral.”

With Taste Alberta, funding was secured from industry groups and local grocer Save-On Foods. Total project revenue resulted in $750,000 with another $250,000 potential for its second year. Marocco said by bringing on Save-On Foods as a partner, they could provide readers a perk, such as a coupon, to increase local product sales.

Community managers at each participating paper are responsible for managing the project and dealing directly with partners and members. Partners are also invited to join an advisory board to help create food missions tailored to each community.

In addition to the weekly two-page spread, every month a full-page is dedicated to the Alberta food section and the story’s subject matter is related with the Gastropost mission of the week. Marocco said for example, if the mission involved milk, the story could focus on a local dairy farm.

Gastropost has also seen success with its engagement levels, reaching members through email, a direct website, social media accounts and the printed product. According to Marocco, both Edmonton and Calgary papers have a combined total of 3,500 members (readers who sign on through email). Factor in social media followers and Gastropost has the potential to reach millions.

Marocco said she can see other niche communities, such as fashion and golf, using the Gastropost business model as long as they stay true to the original mission: “Continue with the external focus, not internal focus.”

“Gastropost is a community,” she said. “This is about how we can add value to the community, not to our brand.”
Marocco said Postmedia Labs and the ideas that form there continue to be a “critical piece of our toolkit.”

“I believe newspapers need to invest in new business opportunities in order to maintain the legacy side of the business,” she said. “It’s absolutely necessary in today’s thinking.”

What’s your advice to other newspapers if they want to develop a similar project?
Marocco: “Set up a different, separate team with developers, act like a start-up, and focus on the external and serving the community. Ask yourself, ‘Does it add value to the community?’ It has to be a big yes.”

The Herald-Standard | SWC Properties
Located in Uniontown, Pa., the Herald-Standard is a daily newspaper with a 22,000 circulation. After conducting focus groups in 2012 regarding the paper’s strengths and weaknesses of its current print and digital products, the paper found it did not provide substantial real estate information. Publisher Bob Pinarski jumped on the opportunity to change that.

In early 2013, the Herald-Standard launched SWC Properties (swcproperties.com). Named after Stanley Willis Calkins, parent company founder, the paper’s new business initiative recruited Scott Cavinee as the broker. With nearly 20 years of experience, Cavinee and the Herald-Standard spent three months developing business and marketing plans, and content for the daily classified section, improving the Friday real estate section, and creating the housetohomeshow.com, a broadcast and digital counterpart to the print product.

Cavinee admitted he was skeptical at the beginning about the partnership. “Truthfully, I didn’t understand how advertising would affect the business. I believed good realtors built good relationships with the community and that was enough.” But after seeing the synergy between both companies, Cavinee said he was amazed with the volume that resulted as a result of marketing. Since the launch, SWC Properties has maintained a 20 percent market share of the county’s real estate, making it one of the fastest growing real estate companies in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Advertising revenue has doubled year over year, not only because of the SWC Properties advertising but also from the other brokerages that see the value of the marketplace.

Pinarski said, “The Herald-Standard real estate revenue, excluding SWC’s spend, has been up over 25 percent during the past 12 months. This demonstrates the impact SWC has had in developing our real estate marketplace.”

SWC Properties employs 10 agents and commission is 4 to 6 percent. “Their volume is so incredible,” Pinarski said. “They do as much work as a brokerage with 30 agents and get the same results.”

Each agent is required to be a Herald-Standard subscriber. Agents are also required to purchase a subscription for all their buyers at closing, which has resulted in about 15 new subscriptions a month.

In addition to beefing up its real estate section in print, the Herald-Standard’s launch of housetohomeshow.com has increased its digital presence. The paper’s photography/video and digital departments produce the show weekly. The show runs 24/7 online and is broadcasted on a local cable access station twice a week. According to Pinarski, the website sees 700 to 1,200 visitors a week. He said his sales team heavily promotes the website on calls, bringing in additional advertising.

“It’s another vehicle for them to sell,” he said. “They can reach out to furniture stores, pest control, landscapers…this has reenergized the sales team.”

On the editorial side, Pinarski said Cavinee has helped feed the newsroom with story ideas for the real estate section. A recent story idea from Cavinee about a 76-year-old woman searching for a fixer-upper resulted in a six-part series documenting how she was going to flip the house.

With a projection of $500,000 in revenue by the end of year, Pinarski said SWC Properties shows the power of the Herald-Standard franchise. “After 25 years of hearing print doesn’t work, (SWC Properties) proves that theory wrong.”

As the Herald-Standard expands into other markets, each new bureau office will also include a SWC broker. In 2015, Pinarski plans to explore opening an insurance company following the same model as SWC Properties.

What’s your advice to other newspapers if they want to develop a similar project?
Pinarski: “The key is finding the right person to head it up. It’s critical to find the right broker who believes in the strategy. Flex your marketing muscles in a new environment. Be more creative with stepping outside the franchise and expand, not just with your media portfolio.”

The Washington Post | Washington Post Live
As a newspaper, The Washington Post is no stranger to forming meaningful conversations, and in 2010, the paper created Washington Post Live (washingtonpostlive.com). The program hosts 20 to 25 live conferences a year revolving around top issues of the day. Most events are held in Washington, although conferences have also taken place in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver and Paris. According to general manager Robert Bierman, conferences bring in hundreds of attendees and reach thousands more through live-stream and archived video clips. Events are free and open to the public.

The Post newsroom develops editorial direction and content, and our editors create a special section for the newspaper and site,” Bierman said. “The forums feature Post journalists, top-level government and business leaders and subject matter experts to talk about a variety of issues—everything from health and technology to business and education.”

Named general manager in May, Bierman is responsible for growing the business and managing operations, evaluating and coordinating the business resources needed to produce the event (audience promotion, logistics, sponsorship sales), and ensuring each project is considered a success by their participants, speakers and sponsors.

“In my experience leading events, I have learned it is important to cultivate strong relationships with our partners in the newsroom,” he said.

When it comes to revenue, Bierman said in-person gatherings offered opportunities through sponsorships and advertising in the paper’s special sections.

Coming up next for Washington Post Live is the launch of America Answers, a national forum where some of the smartest minds in the country will share their ideas for solving some of the nation’s biggest challenges. The first challenge, The Daily Commute, will take place in October.

“I believe conferences and events will continue to be an important part of a publisher’s business,” Bierman said. “They present a unique opportunity for direct engagement with important audiences.”

What’s your advice to other newspapers if they want to develop a similar project?
Bierman: “Be certain that anything you do in the in-person gatherings space is something you would be proud to put your brand name on. Financially, this can be a good business, but the greater value is in the benefit your brand receives from smart events that gather the best of your community.”

The Elkhart Truth | Flavor 574
When the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth launched Flavor 574 (flavor574.com) in April, publisher Brandon Erlacher knew they were heading into uncharted territory—and that was a good thing.

“Since we were building a totally new brand and aiming to reach a new audience with it, we started the social media accounts for Flavor 574 (named after the local area code) a few months ahead of the website launch,” he said. “That allowed us to build up our following and generate some buzz in the community while going through the website construction behind the scenes.”

According to Erlacher, the website features daily news and features on specialized topics like wine appreciation or cooking with kids. Readers can subscribe to weekly email digests based on three core topics: Eat, Drink and Make, or subscribe to a favorite columnist.

In addition, users can search through a restaurant guide based on things like type of cuisine, price range and amenities. Restaurant clients can purchase featured listings in the guide, which gives them more exposure on the site and the opportunity to showcase daily specials, food photos and social media.

In June, Flavor 574 published its first digital magazine issue. Set to come out quarterly, the magazine is intended to connect readers with longer-form, more visual stories filled with interactive features and multimedia.

“Our goal with the magazine is to make it as fun to read as it is informative—and the journalists who create the stories seem to appreciate this as much as our audience does,” Erlacher said.

Flavor 574 has bridged a line between the newsroom and sales staff with Gwen Ragno, editorial project manager, who coordinates the creation of content, social posts and the magazine. She also is the liaison between sales, newsroom and the paper’s Flavor574 initiatives.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge to integrate workflows, but we’ve made lots of progress over the first three months and are still working out the kinks,” Erlacher said. “The newsroom has been the first to embrace the shift, thanks to some company-wide efforts to become a more flexible and adaptive team. Sales has made some good progress and has booked enough revenue through the end of the year to cover our costs.”

Erlacher said part of the mission with Flavor 574 is to “foster an audience that is highly engaged with everything we do.”
“We chose food as the niche topic for this new publication because we know that food is a topic that our readers are particularly passionate about,” he said.

An example is Flavor 574’s email newsletters. Although it’s a small list compared to the newspaper’s, Erlacher said open rates range from 40 to 60 percent, and a recent web ad that ran on both the newspaper’s and Flavor 574’s website got three times the click-through rate on the Flavor 574 site as it did on the paper’s.

“Advertisers have been impressed with the ROI they receive from the product mix,” Erlacher said. “We have been surprised at usage patterns and track when readership occurs, for how long and on what device. This will drive future product development and advertising opportunities.”

Right now, the paper is working on launching video projects for Flavor 574, including a series featuring its food writer visiting restaurants and food producers, and an online-only series focused on home cooking. Live events, such as cooking shows and wine tasting, will also be explored.

What’s your advice to other newspapers if they want to develop a similar project?
Erlacher: “This is not just another special section or newsroom beat. It is taking various content sources and creating a product that is fun to read, as well as being informative. We are providing advertisers an opportunity to connect on a deeper level with a very passionate audience. Other newspapers should think about the integration of a product like this throughout the brand.”


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