...And you're sitting on top of the world, The Beach Boys sang in 1963. Fifty-four years later, that works for the newspaper industry, too—with a catch, Rick Edmonds said in the Mega-Conference?s opening keynote.
The digital transformation disrupting legacy newspapers can be compared to big-wave surfing, The Poynter Institute?s media business analyst said. He told the story of a professional surfer attacked by a shark in a video that went viral.
Did he see the shark coming, he was asked. No, he replied, but he had "an eerie sense that something was behind" him.
It's a sensation newspapers will find familiar when it comes to dealing with the media transformation that is spawning more and more shark-like digital competitors.
But just as climate change likely has a role in providing bigger and bigger waves for surfers, so the digital media environment gives newspapers more opportunities to use data to their advantage, Edmonds maintained.
"The takeaway for newspapers," he said, while listing one of seven opportunities among the threats, "is that good reader and user data is editorial gold that can make stories and the content mix better. Digital learning also points to ways to improve the legacy product."
From media business analyst Corey Elliott’s presentation “2017 and Beyond in Local Marketing Spend”:
1. It’s not advertising or marketing—it’s influencing. Make sure you’re taking the local business’ point of view.
2. Audience-based selling is dying; customer-based selling is on the rise. They don’t care who is in the audience--they want to reach someone who is going to buy something.
3. 2017 will be the year of sales execution. If we’re going to pull this off, we’re going to have to invest in our reps. They have to know about marketing.
Newspapers are great storytellers—except when it comes to telling their own story, PR expert Brad Thatcher told Mega-Conference attendees.
"The newspaper business has been defined by other people," he said. "But your competition is not so reticent (about relating their value propositions).
But newspapers have been handed a sudden opportunity to define themselves in their markets—the "fake news" phenomenon.
"Take advantage of this windfall," Thatcher said. "Google and Facebook are falling all over themselves to react to fake news. Don't wait, it's a window opportunity to talk about the trust you have, and the years and years of training you have on (reporting credible news). Put your people on TV, you have the credibility, especially in this time of fake news."
He noted that the Local Media Consortium took this issue head-on with a "manifesto on fake news." (The manifesto was published in the February 2017 issue of The Inlander.)
Beyond trust, local newspapers have a story to tell about their continuing strength as a marketing vehicle, Thatcher said.
"The untold story is that traditional media companies aren't dying—but morphing into something different, and more relevant to advertisers," he said.
Newspapers and other local media have 91,000 local advertising sales reps in the United States, Thatcher noted, the vast majority of whom are selling digital as well as legacy advertising.
"Local media companies sold $10.5 billion in digital," Thatcher said. "Many of you are the largest single seller of digital in your market. And research shows that 88% of local businesses consider your reps digital-savvy. These are not really well-known stats. So it's up to us to be much more aggressive in putting up these numbers."
Thatcher's final message: "You?'ve got to get out and evangelize about these things. The timing is right for a turnaround. The wind is at your back."
Straight talk about cutting frequency At many newspapers these days, it’s the elephant in the room: The possibility—maybe even the necessity—of cutting the frequency of print publication.
“Traditionally, it’s been a kind of tough topic to talk about,” said Mike Gugliotto, the president and CEO of Pioneer News Group. “But based on the realities of what we see now, and what we see coming, we think diminishing frequency will be a reality.”
One reality is that household penetration of newspapers has been slipping for years, going from 96% in 1970 to 77% in 1980 to 54% in 2000 and 37% in 2013. “The trick is how do you stay ahead of the game—for what we think is inevitable—without hurting print revenue,” Gugliotto said.
Seattle-based Pioneer is a family-owned publisher of 24 dailies and weeklies in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain states. Beginning five years ago, it dropped Monday print editions at some dailies, and earlier in 2017 eliminated Saturday print editions in two markets.
The key to successful downsizing is preparing both the community and the newspaper staff for the change.
When Pioneer dropped the Saturday editions, for example, it prepared the markets for the change for two months before actually cutting the day.
“The first thing (readers and advertiser) think is, oh, newspapers are declining. We wanted to get out front of that,” Gugliotto said. “We also got publisher buy-in. We didn’t say, we’re doing this and you’ve got to get on board.”
Pioneer made the argument that while it may be taking away a day in print, it will offer more on the online side. And it noted that the move saves money without cutting news staff. At the first daily to drop Saturdays, just 36 subscribers canceled because of the cut.
The resulting revenue hit by dropping two days at a daily “is not so great,” Gugliotto said. “But drop three days and the revenue losses increase.” (Gugliotto’s PowerPoint presentation detailing some revenue considerations is posted at www.mega-conference.com.)
At Shaw Media, another family-owned publisher, the decision was made to turn some of its five-day dailies into weeklies.
“We had different reasons for different markets,” J. Tom Shaw, Shaw Media’s general manager. In one high-demographic market, for instance, the newspaper was the third daily in the market. “We figured if they read a daily, it would be (a Chicago metro paper).”
There were some surprising outcomes from the frequency reductions, Shaw said. “We thought preprints would go away—and they really didn’t,” he said. “We didn’t think employment (advertising) would take a big hit—but it did.”
Shaw Media also expected that digital initiatives in the newsroom and sales departments at its papers would come naturally because of the dramatic frequency change at the papers, but that also didn’t happen.
The decision-making on frequency cutting has to come from the top, Shaw’s experience suggests. “I will say one thing,” Shaw said, “if you let local decision-makers make the decision—they probably won’t.”