At a recent Local Media Association board retreat, the members of the board had a lively discussion around the importance of both Transformation A, the development and improvement of our print business, along with the need for dedicated effort and resources for the investment in Transformation B, the new model, “our digital business.”
How many of us have been focused solely on Digital First or Digital Best but perhaps at the expense of Print Best? What have we been doing to assess our customers’ interests and the value they derive from our print products? What unstated wants or needs are not being fulfilled, because we haven’t invested the talent, time, and finances to allow our print business to evolve (and maybe even improve)?
During our annual meeting last May, Gilbert emphasized one of his foundational tenants at DDM: content strategy. “Differentiate your content, invest where you can, and be the best in the world,” he said.
For DDM, that strategy is in six content pillars that DDM sees as key to winning with its target audience. It is in those areas that DDM invests to win in both print and digital. Just recently, the Deseret News was recognized by the Alliance for Audited Media as the second fastest growing newspaper in the U.S. for increasing circulation 15.4 percent. The industry’s recognized innovation leader in the digital media transformation is also leading in our legacy enterprise, print.
So, what is a content strategy, and how do we apply it to many of our small community newspaper enterprises? For most of history, we have been a general news/interest medium. We have embraced a broad focus, and while being the best in local news, we have not driven ourselves to be world class in the desired content areas for our communities. One of my colleagues said it best: “What is the religion of living in your community?” Not literally, but what are people in your area passionate about? With laser focus, how do we identify and deploy resources to be world class for our neighbors? This seems like a simple task; however, choosing what to focus on means we must give up many of the activities and interest categories that have served us in the past. That is where I find the greatest resistance and challenge in moving our enterprises and industry forward.
One personal experience that reinforced the power of content focus/strategy was how one of my daily newspapers tackled the challenge of falling revenue. In 2010, this operation was considering reducing publication days. The staff analyzed the profitability by day and determined Monday and Tuesday were the dogs. Instead of choosing to shutter those days, they attacked the problem by refocusing and developing content strategies based on key interests in the community. They decided they would own:
- Local Business — Monday
- Health and Wellness — Tuesday
- Farm to Table — Wednesday
- Fun and Living — Thursday and Friday
- Education — Saturday
- Local News — Sunday
Each day’s newspaper design and content (on page 1) leads with this focus. In simple terms, Monday and Tuesday, which were the two lowest readership days and previously financial losers, transformed over two years to become the second and third best performing days of the week. In doing so, the new strategy lifted all boats, so to speak, and all other publication days increased readership and profits.
So what is the “religion” where you live, and how is your media company serving the community’s interests and needs while delighting them through a laser focus in which we provide the best print product available? Ask your editors/publishers this question: What is your content strategy? If it takes more than one page to describe, there is likely work to be done.
Robert Brown is president of Swift Communications and director of the Local Media Association. This column originally ran in the March edition of Local Media Today.