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Brian SteffensHow do the top executives of BH Media, Belo’s Dallas Morning News, USA Today and the Minneapolis Star Tribune see 2013 shaping up? Earlier at the 2013 Key Executives Mega-Conference, INMA’s Earl Wilkinson shared his global overview of our industry; then it was time to hear from the guys on the ground, in the trenches.

Alan MutterAlan Mutter, a former editor turned Silicon Valley oracle and columnist, collected operations data from the four CEOs and aggregated/averaged the data (so as not to share specific property data) to set the stage as he moderated a panel discussion.

  • Print advertising accounted for 57 percent of revenues in 2009 and 49 percent in 2012. It is expected to account for 41 percent in 2015.
  • As a group, they expect subscriber revenue to be 33 percent of the revenue pie in 2015, while digital will account for 18 percent.

Terry KroegerTerry Kroeger said his BH Media, with its midsize and smaller papers, is probably the most dependent on print advertising of the panelists' companies. “We have different markets than the others, different challenges.”

Larry KramerAt the other end of the spectrum, Larry Kramer of USA Today foresees having the least dependence on print advertising of the group. “We’ll get closer to replicating print on the Web.” He also expects to forge closer relationships with Gannett’s local papers, co-producing content with them. There was a suggestion but no confirmation that USA Today might insert content into the local papers. That was a strategy Gannett tried more than 20 years ago at its San Bernardino, Calif., paper. It didn’t fly then, but times have changed.

Jim Moroney“Who, what, when and where is a commodity,” said Jim Moroney of the Dallas Morning News. “We must provide context and analysis, … perspective and interpretation. … Focus on busy moms, provide a lean-back tablet experience for them when they wind down about 8 p.m. … and put names in the paper.”

Kramer added, “You don’t need box scores but need to be part of the debate, the discussion, to set the agenda. (Focus on) breaking news, enterprise, watchdog journalism, what happens next.”

From my perspective, this seems old school. Newsrooms have heard this for decades. This then suggests that while we had a sense of how to proceed, perhaps we haven’t executed well, or not consistently.

Turning to revenue

Michael KlingensmithMichael Klingensmith of the Star Tribune says he expects to get 50 percent or more of his revenue from subscribers. His value proposition is news and information at any time on any device, improving the selling and response rate. He believes digital publishing allows the Star Tribune to once again be a statewide news source, and to serve a national audience of Minnesota expats. (The news operation has 27,000 paying digital-only customers.)

On the sales side, the Dallas Morning News has made some recent acquisitions and adjustments to provide marketing services to businesses. Kramer pointed up the opportunity. “Local competitors haven’t invested in this area, … haven’t yet found a way to compete effectively.” But that is changing, and will change fast. “We need to do more than print and digital ads,” he said. “We need to do more to help them grow their businesses. Every company is a now a (potential) media company (with its own website and social media strategy).”

Klingensmith set up a separate digital media division, and hired people experienced in digital services. (A strategy of hiring digital natives instead of retraining existing sales staff was a recurring theme at the conference). He said he can track performance better as a separate unit and expect an 18-month payback.

Moroney agreed. “The people we need are likely not in our organization.” He (and others at the conference) hired former Yellow Pages or YP.com folks. The culture is different, a culture of all-day phone room work where 90 percent of the calls result in “no.” (High call, low close). That’s not the typical newspaper sales culture.

“Marketing is the next content war. Content marketing is the huge opportunity for us,” Moroney said. “Make your archives available to outside clients.”

If you have evergreen content just sitting there in your CMS or archives, and you don’t plan to create a new product or service around it, why not sell it to clients — say, recipes for the local supermarket website, or health/fitness tips for a local hospital or clinic website.

Brian Steffens  
 
Director of Communications




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