You might think that with so many industry association conventions, you might see and hear the same people over and over again. Sort of: Jason Taylor was at LMA and SNPA, but he had differing responsibilities at each. There were common themes and topics (more about those at the end of this post). But there was, thankfully, very little duplication, and I was so glad I stuck it out to attend SNPA.  It was the proverbial last (of four back-to-back industry conferences) but not least.

Earl Wilkinson is undoubtedly our industry’s most traveled observer. He’s the executive director and CEO of INMA (International News Media Association, formerly the International Newspaper Marketing Association). Unlike the majority of industry groups we follow here in the states, INMA’s membership is global and marketing oriented. Earl visits and sees it all – or at least more than the rest of us. And he has a marketer’s ability to communicate effectively and passionately.

One of the interesting things he brings to these meetings is a worldview perspective. Change and transformation are on a continuum across the globe; we’re not all in the same place at the same time. Depending on where he is, Wilkinson can see where we’ve been or where we’re going. India and other parts of the world are experiencing tremendous interest in print; Europe and the U.S. much less so. There are insights, observations, opportunities and lessons to be shared.  

Highlights from Earl Wilkinson

“The digital-born believe in journalism, but as a means to an end (not the end).”

Wilkinson’s definitions of success:

  • Journalism with an attitude.
  • Burrowing into content verticals.
  • Targeting young adult urban dwellers.
  • Decisions driven by analytics.
  • Mobile first, desktop and tablet second.

Wilkinson’s observations:

  • Advertisers are loyal to themselves, not print or TV.
  • You and we need to unlearn exclusivity of print economics.
  • Digital first equals culture first, audience second, revenue third.
  • “I’ve never seen one (successful) example of incremental transformation. … Make big bets, not small bets.”
  • There’s a deficit of digitally-minded editors.
  • Your/our technology must be world-class.
  • Fast will eat the slow.
  • Simple will always displace complex.
  • Print is defined as “old” by the young; digital is defined as “young” by the old.
  • Programmatic will move from advertising to publishing of personalized content.
  • The Web is changing from anonymous to identified: login is crucial.

Wilkinson identifies the following technology trends:

  • Mobility: Unhinging from the desktop, TV, home; more out-of-home consumption.
  • Simplifying: Media’s role needs to simplify, clarify for citizens drowning in information.
  • Subscriptions: It appears to be working for Netflix and Spotify.

Read Earl Wilkinson’s SNPA presentation, “News media outlook: Re-imagining the transformation”

  The following are highlights from other speakers and presentations at SNPA:  

Highlights from the American Press Institute’s readership engagement research

API’s research blends views, shares, comments and more; not a single metric. The most engaging content on news sites:

  1. Enterprise reporting ranks at the top (longer, more engagement) – but it’s only one percent of content.
  2. Initiative, originality, exclusive reporting is only five percent of content.
  3. Daily news.
  4. Light enterprise.

Photos boost engagement (19 percent for a single photo; 43 percent for multiple photos).

The question you need to answer or focus on: What are your franchise topics?

Business news should focus on living in the local economy, not just on business news and statistics. What do people read?

  1. Crime is No. 1, but they prefer explanatory stories, not just what happened.
  2. Food, dining.
  3. Sports (it’s No. 3 but it has the most loyal audience).
  4. Most traffic comes from Twitter.

Writing in analytical voice is best.

Learn and define your audience’s passion preferences, then compare those passion preferences to what you actually provide in your daily news feed.

Read API’s SNPA presentation


Highlights from Gordon Borrell, CEO, Borrell Associates

Borrell looks ahead and looks at trends:

  • Note to print: You are NOT in a growth business.
  • Beacons are the next wave of mobile advertising (local and targeted geomarketing to pockets and purses).
  • Mobile search now surpasses desktop search.
  • Of 5,000 ad exposures a day, 285 are seen and six – maybe – remembered. There is overexposure and clutter.
  • Advertisers want mitigated risk: “Help me grow my business.” (They’re not looking to simply buy an ad.)
  • Ad spending declined by $58 billion from 2004 to 2014.
  • Advertisers don’t spend more year to year; there are more pieces in the ad/marketing pie, with smaller slices per ad vehicle.
  • Small businesses began spending more on promotions than advertising in 2006: $212 billion versus $104 billion (spending 73 percent more in promotions since 2005 on coupons, discounts, rebates, contests, events, sponsorships, signage, printing and digital services).

Borrell’s predictions:

  • Expect to see increases coming only for online/digital, mobile, direct mail and radio.
  • The average digital growth rate will be 4.9 percent for traditional media, 23.4 percent for pure-play digital media.
  • Daily metros will become weekly magazines in 18 to 24 months.
  • Local broadcast TV enters death spiral in 2017 (after the 2016 political advertising spike).
  • Half of all radio stations disappear by 2025.

Read Gordon Borrell’s SNPA presentation, "Who will survive?"


Highlights from Steve Gray, vice president of strategy and innovation, Morris Communications

The big change: from newspaper companies to local media companies

  • A local media company (as opposed to a newspaper company) uses all effective media to reach virtually everyone with an abundance of information they use in their lives every day.
  • A local media company serves a huge number of people.
  • We’ll never lead in digital audience share, and print share is dropping fast.

Opportunity is knocking

  • We’ve not changed fast enough or far enough, and we’ve lost ground.
  • There are lots of opportunities in our markets, but we can’t get there with incremental change. (This echoes Earl Wilkinson’s comments above.)
  • Local businesses still need to reach the people we aren’t reaching.
  • Sell advertisers into other people’s audiences as well as your own.
  • Sell digital marketing solutions that go direct to audiences.
  • Our sales teams are drastically undersized to win our share of growth. Our product sets keep changing; we need to keep up.

Where we were, where we are

  • Newspapers used to have 90 percent penetration of the local audience.
  • Advertisers paid us big bucks to reach the audience.
  • Now print penetration is less than 25 percent weekdays, less than 35 percent Sundays.
  • Our digital penetration is much smaller than we think.
  • Local news is not enough to get market dominance.
  • Your competition is the entire Internet. Local news equals about .3 percent.

Answer these questions for your audience:

  • What’s going to affect me?
  • What might be good opportunities for me?
  • What do I need to watch out for?
  • What are other people talking and laughing about?
  • What are the cool, interesting people doing?
  • What are the knuckleheads and oddballs doing?

Read Steve Gray’s SNPA presentation, “Transforming our business models.”


Highlights from David Cummings, CEO, Atlanta Ventures and founder of Atlanta Tech Village

Five things to master:

  1. Coming up with an idea that matters to a large number of people --meaningful and large -- that solves a big problem. Life’s too short to solve small problems. Marketing should be equal to sales. The goal is to grow businesses 10x.
  2. Find customers before you start building. Get a paying customer first before doing any work.  Sell a vision and see if people will buy it … before you build it.
  3. “Assemble a great team. I hired 11 interns from Georgia Tech. Ninety days later I was done with 19-year-olds. Set the culture.”
  4. Build the product.
  5. Get the product in the hands of the customers.

Software wasn’t an incremental change to marketing; it was transformational. “How’d I ever do this before your software?”

“Strive to be frictionless. In developing my software I realized a $1,000-a-month credit card charge wouldn’t require sign off from company managers higher up the food chain. Developing a pricing structure that eliminated that speed bump was enabling for the marketing managers that wanted to buy and try our software.”

Build a repeatable customer acquisition model.

Core values:

  • Best place to work; best place to be a customer.
  • Self-starting, supportive, positive.

The most important part of Tech Village: community.  

Noteworthy themes and takeaways from the four industry conventions (see Part One here)

Radio. It’s alive and well — on the Web, in the form of podcasts.

Separate (and equal?). The trend has moved quickly toward separate digital staffs, both advertising and editorial.

Invest. You can’t cut your way to prosperity. Although the bulk of dollars is still in print, the audience is moving to digital. If that’s where the audience (and the advertisers) is headed, that’s where you need to invest.

No friction. The user experience:This is where the digital-born outfits really knock it out of the park. Legacy news digital needs to be inviting and easy to consume and navigate, with faster load times and seamless-fluid mobile experiences. (See Need for Speed 1 here). Eliminate “404 page not found.” Responsive design may benefit the publisher, but it’s not as good an experience for the reader, nor in most cases for the advertiser. In-app purchases are a much better user experience: easier to monetize for the advertiser and publisher.

Video. But you knew this.

Buy now. Don’t make readers click to another site to buy something they saw in an ad on your site: let them buy it now. Too many things could go wrong with an extra click: network problems, a page not found, distractions, second thoughts. Let the reader strike while the impulse is hot. Check out, an eshibitor at LMA. It’s not the only one out there, but you can learn from it.

Events (including virtual). They’re still big. What are you waiting for?

Branding. What’s your franchise? “Local” may be your franchise, but it might also be prep sports or a predominant local industry such as automotive, agriculture, health care/medical centers, tourism and “the lake.”

Mobile. This should be first and last. If you have limited resources and haven’t really nailed it on your website, you just might want to take what resources you have and put them toward mobile. That’s where the audience is: 75 percent of adults have and use a smartphone. As trend-setting retailer Sid Mashburn told the SNPA attendees, “Mobile should be the cornerstone of your business model.”

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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