10 Problems, 10 Solutions: Newspapers Share How They Overcame Some of Their Toughest Challenges

By: Gretchen A. Peck

For centuries, newspaper organizations did it all. They reported and crafted the columns. They laid out the pages and applied the ink to newsprint. They sold the ads and fostered relationships with businesses that bought them. And still, they somehow managed to deliver them to the merchants and doorsteps of subscribers. Many of them did all of it on a daily basis. It was easier to be a “jack of all trades” when print was all that mattered, but the arrival of social media, digital, and mobile has complicated the process.

With that in mind, E&P reached out to professionals from across different newspapers to find out about challenges they’ve faced and overcome—in many cases, with a little help from their vendor partners.

Extending the Brand

News publishers have been yearning for ways to diversify and add value to their publications in order to strengthen and broaden the publishing brand rather than dilute it. At the Austin American-Statesman in Texas, that quest led to the launch of Austin360, a brand-extension publication focused on Austin’s rich entertainment scene and hyperlocal news.

Steve Dorsey, vice president of innovation and planning, said, “Much like Hookem.com is our (University of Texas) sport sub-brand for the Statesman, and Ahora Si is our Hispanic news title, Austin360 focuses on the entertainment, culture and lifestyle, food and dining, and things to do in Austin. The brand manifests as a daily and weekly print section, a vibrant website and social media source.”

Last summer, Austin360 also launched a live (video and streaming) concert series called “Studio Sessions.” Musicians are invited to an in-house studio to perform 30-minute mini-concerts, which are broadcast on both the Austin360.com and on Facebook Live.

“We wanted to take advantage of our shiny new rebuilt on-site video studio,” Dorsey said, “including green rooms and a full functioning multi-camera video crew, coupled with our prime location in downtown Austin, to invite local and touring musicians to perform a live set in front of a studio audience to promote local appearances—think radio station drop-ins, but on live video.

“We also used the project to build up collaboration among sales, new and marketing staff on a new shared project, taken to a new scale. This effort required us all to work together on every episode, like never before.”

According to Dorsey, the concert series sold annual sponsorships from $60,000 to $90,000. The program also directly resulted in a spike in social media traffic thanks to the Facebook Live broadcast, where they saw tens of thousands views, hundreds of shares and measurably more activity in the comment threads.

“While this has not really been about generating subscriptions, the project has definitely been about connecting happy sponsors with happy viewers through the creation of fun experiences and great music,” Dorsey said.

Creating Effective Campaigns

As GateHouse Media’s executive director of promotions, Rebecca Capparelli is always looking for ways to grow their audience. She discovered that by working with Second Street’s engagement technologies, she could leverage promotional messaging, interactive content and email. The developer’s platform also enables publishers to obtain, parse and understand audience insight data. One of the features of Second Street’s solution that she most appreciates is that it acts like “a real-time dashboard, giving (them) the opportunity to measure and optimize results for each campaign.”

With the help of Second Street, they were able to launch six company-wide promotions a year; programs like “Cutest Baby” and “Pro Football Pickems” found great success. Another example was a “Back-To-School Sweeps” promotion for local advertiser Belden Village Mall. The goal was to help the advertiser compel readers of The Canton Repository in Ohio to opt in to the mall’s mobile-based rewards program. The prize was a $500 shopping spree. The publisher was able to deliver 2,675 contest entrants and a 67 percent mobile opt-in rate for the advertiser.

Another campaign—this one for a regional airport and published by the Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton—sought to encourage readers to attend a special event to debut new non-stop flights. It was built around a sweepstakes with a prize of free airfare. It attracted 8,284 content entries, a 68 percent email opt-in rate for the airport and more than 500 attendees at the event.

GateHouse Media’s advertisers are taking note of the results in co-branding promotions of this kind. “In our first year, we increased revenue five times and our email database 100 percent,” Capparelli said.

The Wire app was created for secure messaging, phone and video calls, especially in the case of communicating with sensitive sources.

Protecting Sensitive Sources

“Leaks” and “whistleblower” have become household terms, but many in the U.S., including journalists, may not have heard about Wire, a new digital app that allows users to communicate discreetly and securely. Though it’s intuitive and designed with journalists and sensitive sources in mind, anyone can download and use it.

The app was created by a Swiss developer, and most of the users are based in Europe. Siim Teller, Wire’s head of marketing, estimated that only 10 percent of the app’s users are based in North America, but that number is growing. But you will not find user testimonials on the developer’s site or in advertising; that’s part of the assurance of anonymity.

“Wire does not profile its users, so we only know about the journalists who advertise themselves as using Wire,” Teller said. “In countries where press freedom is an issue, the journalists might be incentivized to keep the knowledge of their app usage a secret.

“All user communication on Wire is secured with end-to-end encryption, which means that only the sender and the receiver can read what is being sent, or hear what is being said in calls. Wire does not have the encryption keys to decrypt the conversations. Wire also allows people to register with their email address at app.wire.com, and then log in with that account on their phone, without having to give up their phone number.”

The app is easy to use, and anyone who has used a mobile messaging app will pick it up immediately.

“Journalists should use Wire, as it’s set up in one of the best jurisdictions in the world when it comes to protecting privacy—Switzerland,” Teller said. “All requests for user data have to go through the Swiss court system. We periodically publish a transparency report that shows that, so far, there have been zero lawful requests for user data in the last three years.”

Revitalizing Stagnant Ad Markets

One of the challenges that the ad team at the Tupelo (Miss.) Daily Journal faced was that at least two categories of advertising had “plateaued,” said general manager Danny Smith. They were employment and automotive advertising.

“We’ve always had consistent advertisers who are seeing results, but we had not been able to bring in the volume of new business we desired,” he said. “Needless to say, we need those ‘plus dollars,’ and our print and digital products need the added volume.”

To bring life back to those ad markets, Smith enlisted the help of Janet DeGeorge of Classified Executive Training.

“Janet is very knowledgeable about the employment and automotive industries, and the tendencies of employment and automotive advertisers,” Smith said. “But the one thing that stood out to us is her level of preparation specific to our market and our products. She does her homework.”

To help the paper, DeGeorge designed advertising programs and messaging with the sales team.

“Packages are the key to the program,” Smith said. “Advertisers purchase print and digital packages that provide maximum reach. That’s something that we all talk about, but Janet’s program is a practical, nuts-and-bolts step-by-step process that’s easy for the sales team to adapt to and easy for the advertiser to grasp.”

The newspaper’s sales team rolled out the new program to their employment ad clients three months ago, so it may be premature to estimate the full impact. “But revenue numbers are trending upward, particularly over the last two months,” Smith said. “We’re still rolling out the automotive initiative.”

Working with a Digital Agency

Thomas Shaw

Shaw Media needed some extra support that would enable its sales teams to focus on customer relationships and selling, according to Thomas Shaw, general manager, Suburban Group, Shaw Media. The company has more than 550 employees working at publications across Illinois and Iowa.

“Technology and digital solutions change so quickly that we decided to rely on external partners for most of our fulfillment needs. We focus our resources on selling,” Shaw said.

One of those partners is Guarantee Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Hartland, Wis.

“Guarantee Digital is one of our valued fulfillment partners for our marketing services efforts,” Shaw said. “We sell solutions, such as reputation management, social media management, listing maintenance, which (Guarantee Digital’s) team fulfills on our behalf.”

The company has also provided training and seminars for the publisher, according to Shaw, who measures the return on investment by the company’s digital marketing revenue growth.

The Warsaw Times-Union advertising team includes (left to right): Sue Kaminski, outside sales; Laura Sowers, outside sales and classifieds manager; Paul Smith, advertising manager and outside sales; Jessica Rodriguez, comptroller and outside sales; Deb Swick, composing and graphics manager; and Tamara Roller, preprint coordinator and outside sales.

Paywall Comes Down, Ad Interest Goes Up

At the Warsaw Times-Union in Indiana, sales manager Paul Smith and his team is responsible for outside sales, walk-ins and classified customers. The team is largely tasked with keeping the newspaper filled with print display ads, but has also had some notable success with selling ads on the companion website, which had a paywall in place for almost a decade. But that paywall came down this month, primarily at the behest of advertisers.

“We’ve got a large advertiser that has a policy in place that prohibits them from advertising on any site with a paywall, and that’s just one of many advertisers who have said they’ll advertise (digitally) once the paywall comes down,” Smith said.

He also noted that the ad team is filled with print experts who have a wealth of expertise in sales, the local market and in their advertisers’ businesses and marketing needs, but what they lacked was experience on how to sell digital advertising to their customers.

For that, Smith turned to Spark Digital Sales Group, based in Minneapolis, Minn. Kim Evans of Spark Digital visited the newspaper in November 2016 to train the team on extended-reach selling and create on a revenue-sharing relationship.

“The training didn’t involve sitting in a classroom,” Smith said. “This is in-the-field training, where we meet with the customers together for a 15-minute presentation. And that’s all it is, 15 minutes or less, so the customers really appreciate that. Using her tablet, (Evans) demonstrates the impact of extended-reach advertising and search engine optimization. She shows them what it means to leverage Google Ads and to ensure that their ads appear in the top-five positions when people search for a topic that applies to them…Every customer she helped us sign last year plans to renew this year.”

Evans will be returning to the newspaper this month, and Smith sees the partnership as blossoming to a semi-annual event, where they meet with new clients each time.

“We’ve been doing a good job selling ads on the website, but working with Spark Digital gave us a shot in the arm, especially when it comes to extended reach advertising and Google Ads. That’s where we really needed the help,” he said.

Global Ad Distribution delivers more than 20 publications for Pilot Media, publisher of The Virginian-Pilot. The titles include mid-week and Sunday opt-in publications, as well as at least one TMC (Total Market Coverage) title.

Distribution Help

When it comes to distribution, Pilot Media, publisher of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., relies on the expertise of Nevada-based Global Ad Distribution. While much of the distribution is still managed internally, the publisher is able to offload some of the logistical burden of delivering “free-audience products,” including opt-in publications delivered mid-week and on Sundays.

This year, Pilot Media also turned to Global Ad Distribution for delivering what circulation director Mark Quan referred to as “niche, free, wrapped print products.”

It’s a hands-off relationship, he said, noting that the circulation operations manager is in contact with Global Ad Distribution a few times a week and when a question arises; otherwise, the circulation department is able to focus its resources and attention to the delivery of paid products.

“The free audience products that they manage tend to be very labor intensive, so having Global Ad Distribution managed those for us allows us to focus our resources and much of our day-to-day management on our other products,” Quan said.

Winning Social Media

In some ways, fates aligned in Salt Lake City, Utah, where local businesses were increasingly using social media presences to market their goods and services. At the same time, the City Weekly was seeking ways to distinguish its web presence from competitors’ vying for those same ad dollars.

Christian Priskos

Digital director Christian Priskos knew they had to add value to the digital advertising proposition. That mission led them to an app called Friends2Follow, which allows publishers to sell social media driven advertising that’s controlled by the advertiser.

For example, a local restaurant may purchase an ad package that includes a print component and this social media upsell. In the restaurant sections of the newspaper’s website, the advertiser’s social media posts are published on the fly on that section’s page. It allows the advertiser to extend the reach of social media messages beyond their own Facebook or Instagram audiences to the newspaper’s digital audience too.

Priskos said advertising packages that combine print, digital and these social media components have been popular with a number of categories of advertisers at City Weekly, such as arts and entertainment, dining, and—an entirely new market of advertisers for them—tattoo parlors.

“Historically, for us, they did not advertise with the newspaper,” he said. “Their product is very visual, and they post pictures to their Instagram pages quite frequently. In the case of those clients, we have been able to build packages around print advertising and a social media ad in our ‘Inked’ section on the website, where they share their posts. We got 15 new advertisers right there.”

Creative Consultations

Scott Brown, director of operations for Alabama-based Tennessee Valley Media, is perpetually looking for new ways to streamline workflow and capitalize on efficiencies. So when word came down that GateHouse Media had launched the Center for News and Design in 2014, he was intrigued, especially since it had become increasingly difficult to hire and retain talented creative and production staff. Brown said they signed on as commercial clients in 2016, approximately the same time they began to work with More Content Now as a third-party editorial content provider.

“We gained efficiencies through the process that we could not achieve on our own,” he said. Those efficiencies became even more pronounced when the dailies were able to share pages with common content, such as weekly pages devoted to topics like health and food.

Today, Brown estimates that the Center produces as many as 13,000 pages per year for them. “We’re very pleased with how it’s worked out,” he said. “Since we’d been having a hard time finding and retaining highly skilled design staff, the transition solved that problem immediately. On the financial side, we figured we saved on (internal) staffing, at least the cost of nine-and-a-half full-time employees. It certainly provided significant savings.”

Managing a Productive Workflow

Right now, multi-title publishers are experiencing some of the frustrations that challenged multi-site print businesses after the arrival of digital workflow and computer-to-plate (CTP) or direct to press imaging. That was the case for the McClatchy Co., where Herman Spencer serves as corporate technology manager at the Raleigh-Durham location in North Carolina.

“McClatchy has 30 different properties, 30 different markets, and every site had its own flavor of output and different methods for generating plates for the printing presses,” he said. “There were different input and output systems, and even some homegrown systems that had been scripted internally. That’s just the software. There was also hardware—some old systems and some new.”

The editorial systems across all the McClatchy properties were first consolidated to a single workflow based on CCI Europe’s NewsGate with the same goal for the publisher’s production system. After adjudicating developers, McClatchy chose NewsWay from New ProImage America, Inc. Led by Spencer and two production colleagues, McClatchy began implementation in February 2016.

Today, the typeset pages coming out of the editorial system are approved and sent to NewsWay, where they are preflighted and normalized. They pass through an ink optimization phase, designed to save ink and money on press. From there, they are sent to the centralized RIP, where the file is separated into four colors output and sent on (via FTP) to local CTP devices.

The workflow—from the time files leave the news desk to the time they are sent to plate imaging—is managed at the Fort Worth, Texas production site. The publisher also standardized file naming conventions across the titles and sites, and that simple change has been profoundly positive.

Without disclosing the precise investment in NewsWay, Spencer noted that ROI is guaranteed. “We’re seeing a return on our investment in a number of ways, especially waste,” he said. “We now have a standard workflow that we know works, so the amount of mistakes and waste that went into re-plating our presses has gone down considerably.”

Gretchen A. Peck is an independent journalist who has reported on publishing and printing for more than two decades. She has contributed to Editor & Publisher since 2010 and can be reached at gretchenapeck@gmail.com.

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Published: September 11, 2017

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