Lee ‘University’ Offers Online Tips

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By: Jennifer Saba

When Lee Enterprises executives were busy mapping out online training and communications for the company in 2006, CEO Mary Junck saw an opportunity to send a clear and consistent message that Lee was serious about the Web. And what better way to school employees than with a tailor-made University?

Hence, Lee Online University (or “LOU”) was created. It started in February 2007 and went through May that year with four traveling sessions, including one at Lee’s headquarters in Davenport, Iowa. About 500 Lee employees, half on the news side and half on the business side, navigated the program.

LOU lives on today on the news side in the form of smaller, focused sessions and an internal message board through which people can discuss the best methods for storytelling or developments in software. On the business front, Lee corporate has been busy conducting sales blitzes across the company. A team of about 18 online sales experts based in Lee’s home office have been on road trips training sales teams.

The company just wrapped up 18 blitzes on real estate advertising during the past 60 days. During these visits the core team sets up sales goals, educates the staff, and teaches them how to make a pitch. The idea is for Lee’s papers to be the “digital agencies” in their markets for their advertisers.

Gregory Schermer, Lee’s vice president of interactive media, says the company tracks sales after such concentrated efforts: “I can tell you the two blitzes we just completed have yielded millions.”

Last year during the first LOU wave, for two and-a-half days presenters would tackle online news and business strategies mostly on separate tracks ? but there were some joint sessions that included both business-side and news staffers. “Having everyone together observing both sides of the house embracing online had the effect of a rising tide,” says Schermer.

Joyce Dehli, Lee’s vice president for news, was one of the members responsible for shaping the curriculum. “We were not simply going to do skill-based training, which is very important, but we wanted to take the value of journalism and translate it to the Web,” she explains. “The goal was to provide a framework for thinking about how we tell stories before we even jump into how do you shoot video or do a mash-up. We wanted to step back and think about it.”

On the business side, online and print sales people, along with their managers, got a crash course ? starting with how to measure audience and demographics. They learned about various aspects of advertising, from banners to online sponsorships, delving deep into each category. “Students” were even tasked to create their own ads.

Schermer and Junck went through the exercise themselves. “Mary built a great ad, which was marketed and sold in the Glens Falls newspapers,” Schermer says.

Those involved on the news and the sales sides, respectively, were required to team up and present projects to the entire group. The sales staffers had to identify a customer, and build a presentation and spec ads for a big online and print campaign. “It was really wonderful training,” Schermer says, adding that when the teams got home they pitched the presentations to prospects.

Lee is considering another wave of LOU over the next couple of years. “With the drumbeat of bad news in the newspaper industry, it’s important to focus on the opportunities,” says Schermer. “It’s great to focus on the upside and the future and growth.”

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