Shoptalk: Welcome to the Newspaper Publisher's New World

By: Bob Brown

For the past few years, newspaper publishers have prowled their buildings, asking why, and getting some amazing answers. Institutional knowledge is wonderful, but institutional resistance is intolerable. We must invoke a brilliant strategy to conquer this new world. Burn the boats. There is no turning back. Managing with that mindset will make a huge difference in our decision making. There is hope for our great institution we call the newspaper. Understanding the metrics and managing the human capital is a given. Every once in a while, we need to look up and see what’s dead ahead.

So, what are the things that keep you awake at night? Here is a list, in no particular order, of the opportunities we have over the short term. We must embrace the challenge and get to work.
Build stable local business over national. Look at advertising revenue and make thoughtful decisions on which business has the best ROI and growth potential. Hint: It’s our local business. Gather them in and keep them close. Find ways to promote them and the newspaper with events and new digital solutions as well as the cash-register-ringing ROP. We love our national and major account friends, however, for many of them we need to change the conversation from, “what can you do for me” to “how can we help each other.” Build advertising locally and eventually they will see us as a great marketplace for ads.

Content, content, content! Too many publishers forgot their newspapers are the source of local news. Good content costs money. Investing resources for investigative journalism drives good content. Digital first and print best are sound strategies when you have the assets for creating the content in the first place. Local news will win the day, every day. Newspapers look too much like they did in the 1950s, so change the content mix. Local hard news is a must. After that, the pallet is rich with possibilities. Fortunately, we can use metrics to track digital engagement and mine more content for print and digital stories that people crave.

Keep circulation pressure on. It is far too tempting to cut expenses. The newspaper is a product and products need to be sold to people. People will buy newspapers. The key here is in understanding our sales metrics. Telemarketing companies have charged too much money to circulation directors desperate for growth. Discipline is required. Understand churn numbers and build a system that feeds to overcome the churn. That system includes stop the stops, direct mail promotions, telemarketing, kiosks, and sampling (the kitchen sink on a budget). Let’s not forget distribution contracts and third-party daily delivery as options.

Engage your community leaders. What kind of newspaper do they want? Don’t get squeamish now. Your community leaders understand the vital role the newspaper plays in keeping an eye on elected officials and local governmental departments, as well as crime, justice, schools and general quality-of-life issues. They get it. So why aren’t we asking them for more support? After all, they can switch that ad from a national mass mailer to your program. They can run ROP more often. They can tell their marketing department or their nephew to run more digital advertising with you than with Google. These are important conversations that are long overdue.

Develop talent. When was the last time you hired a great salesperson, great reporter, or great janitor? I don’t know about you, but I can count them on one hand during my career. We must hire smart people with the right requirements and then train them. Relentless training is a culture not a curriculum. Everyone needs to focus on quality and results. It is a matter of survival. We must track its effectiveness and cost with metrics. Never assume training is working unless you like wasting money.

It’s not about you! Marketing and newspapers have always been an issue. The new world requires marketing, smart and effective marketing that is focused on the needs of the reader. It’s not what we do, rather what we do for the reader. We need to remind people like never before of the value we bring to their lives. We are their executive summary, their watchdog, their advocate, their storyteller. Social media is engagement, and engagement is about marketing. Hint: Print newspapers were the first form of social media. Well, we knew the job was tough when we took it. Always remember the mission. Lead by example and fight for what’s right. But first, burn the boats.

Bob Brown is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a Stephens Media LLC newspaper.


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