2017 president's report

Inland on a firm foundation

Posted
Doug Hiemstra
Doug Hiemstra

To all of us working in this industry, change is a constant, in your operation, and in the operation I work for. So, it's not surprising that that this change also impacts Inland - and it does.

In this environment, it's more critical than ever that Inland does everything in its power to assist its members in coping with change.
So, let me take a few moments to discuss the changes that I've seen in Inland in the past year

Importantly, for the first time in a decade, the association delivered a net operating profit in 2016. That is a sign that the board is committed to the financial sustainability of this organization that has done so much good over its more than 130 years.

To achieve that, we've implemented several steps - some of them painful - to put the association on a more solid financial foundation. Like many of you, we've reduced headcount in areas that don't impact key elements of our mission. We've realized significant expense reductions by shrinking the cost of maintaining our headquarters. We've also eliminated systems that are no longer as vital as they once were. All told, we reduced our total operating expense by more than 10 percent from the prior year.

While we've taken the steps above to better manage our expenses, we're also preparing to undertake a major fundraising campaign to benefit the Inland Press Foundation. Jeremy Halbreich, the foundation's president, is directing the campaign and you will be hearing much more about it in the coming months. Additionally, Jeremy led a small committee that recently conducted a review of the management of our foundation portfolio to make sure it is being managed appropriately for its size and our long term financial needs.

I can also report that our membership is growing. We have increased the total membership by more than 11 percent, to 1,019 from this time last year. The operating trends in our industry, with more and more consolidation, make growth of that sort difficult. However, the board is committed to growing membership through active, member-driven recruitment with specific annual growth targets. That focus helped us sign Black Press into membership in the last months, with more than 130 daily and non-daily papers in the U.S. and Canada. Finally, while not immediately obvious to most members, we are implementing a new association management system that will give us a more useful picture of how members use our services and will facilitate more efficient registration and tracking.

We are committed to improving our governance, beginning with new bylaws in 2013, and addition of electronic voting on certain matters. The next step was in recognition of the evolution of membership. At last year's annual meeting you approved a proposal to create a new associate membership classification for online-first, or online only newspapers. We're also committed to including digital natives on our board, bringing an expanded perspective to our planning and programs.

Our annual meeting last October in Chicago was our most successful in over a decade. Conference revenue was its highest ever and registrations were up over prior years. This year's annual meeting in Colorado Springs is a testament to the board's commitment to smart industry collaboration. This meeting, being held with our partners at the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, marks the first time that our annual meeting has been held anywhere outside Chicago. It's certainly a change for us, but the board strongly endorsed the move. We'll return to Chicago in 2018.

This joint meeting follows our other partnership, the Key Executives Mega-Conference. Inland, SNPA and the Local Media Association sponsor that heavily attended conference, now recognized as one of the must-attend industry meetings each year. The Mega-Conference is also getting bigger. Earlier this spring we announced that the News Media Alliance had agreed to co-sponsor the 2018 Mega-Conference in San Diego.
In another example of collaboration, Inland was one of three industry associations to sponsor the #SupportRealNews campaign, spearheaded by NMA. A second phase of that widely recognized campaign will roll out in September and Inland will once again be a cosponsor.
Our webinars continue to be one of our most effective vehicles for sharing industry best practices. In our 2017 Member Survey, nearly 70 percent of the respondents said they had participated in at least one Inland webinar in the last year. And, the respondents rate those webinars, free to Inland members, very highly. We provide a summary of key takeaways for every member who participates in a webinar. The takeaways are very popular and many members say the takeaways more than justify their annual dues.

Inland has implemented several enhancements in the last year to improve our communications with our members and those outside the association. We launched a new website last fall with a cleaner look and feel. And, earlier this spring, we redesigned The Inlander, with the assistance of the page design team at Pioneer Newspapers. We've also brought aboard a new marketing manager to sharpen our marketing outreach and positioning.

We made dramatic improvements this spring to Publisher Benchmarks, our industry-leading operational and financial benchmarking tool. The service provides users deep information about their operations and how they compare with others. We developed a new data submission form that dramatically reduces the number of individual data points that a user must supply - reducing the work on their side. Our other benchmarking service, the Newspaper Industry Compensation Survey, continues to be the gold standard for newspaper compensation information.

The foundation has conducted several conferences so far this year, including the industry's only meeting for family owners, digital trends, and revenue development strategies.

None of this could have been accomplished without a supportive membership, a committed and engaged board, effective committees, and a small, but hard working staff. It's been my privilege to be a part of that effort. A special thanks to the Inland staff as they truly have done a great deal more with fewer resources.

Inland continues to feature strong fellowship, camaraderie and collective commitment to help advance each other and this special group. It's a hard combination to find elsewhere and that's refreshing and reassuring, especially as we all face new challenges and opportunities in our evolving business.

No other group brings all of this together like Inland and thank all of you for being a part of it.

Sincerely,

Doug Hiemstra
Inland President