By Alex Eng,
A company-wide “revolution” in the staff and management approach to digital publishing led to dramatically increased revenue for the parent company of the Record-Journal of Meriden, Conn., and The Westerly (R.I.) Sun.
The company’s “Revolution 2015” strategy included initiatives to increase digital market penetration and to take a “digital-first” approach to publishing. Under the direction of Liz White, executive vice president of the parent company, RJ Media Group, the Record-Journal and Westerly (R.I.) Sun increased digital revenue and online page views by 53 and 40 percent, respectively, from 2014 to 2015.
“The newspaper industry has more opportunity than ever to thrive and succeed, and we just have to figure out what the right strategy is to capture that opportunity,” White said in a telephone interview. “I think we’re well on our way to doing that as we experiment with all kinds of different things.”
After holding company meetings to hear employees’ ideas, the Record-Journal and the Sun created six different teams focusing on goals that included audience, revenue and marketing growth. The newspapers then shifted their content approach toward increasing engagement, White said.
“It was approaching content from a more analytical standpoint in terms of using the digital analytics to figure out what was really driving more engagement and more audience,” she said.
Reporters began posting stories from the field directly after finishing them, meeting tightened filing deadlines, and making the papers 24-hour news outlets. A comprehensive social media team revamped the papers’ Facebook use, gaining traffic for stories and other content, such as photo galleries of property transfers.
In the sales department, advertising and marketing employees intensified their digital ad revenue approaches, according to Shawn Palmer, senior vice president and chief revenue officer.
At the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention in the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel, White and Palmer will discuss strategies for local newspapers to capture more digital revenue and will show that investments made in digital publishing are worthwhile. The convention is being held Friday. Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25.
“We created a focus on the penetration and the amount of customers buying digital. The more customers you had buying digital, the more you were going to grow revenue,” Palmer said in a telephone interview.
The marketing and advertising teams began to be held accountable for increasing the papers’ digital market share, he said.
“We want to see your digital account penetration growing so you’re getting it across a wider base of your business, not just from one or two (clients) that may be a windfall,” Palmer said.
The advertising team changed its focus from simply taking whatever ads came in to adding on different types of digital products that attracted new customers, such as promotions, contests and restaurant guides.
The papers also paid more attention to programmatic advertising, or ad services that display ads based on a reader’s location and interests. As a result, the papers’ programmatic ad revenue is on an upward trajectory, having doubled in 2015, Palmer said.
Besides shifts in content and advertising the Record-Journal and the Sun also undertook a dramatic change in company culture toward innovation in digital publishing, White said.
“Everybody from the company was contributing towards the success of those goals. It was a really collaborative company-wide team effort to achieve all of that,” she said.
Employees grouped together and devised the ideas for company innovation that laid the foundation for the digital revenue increases, and now they are not only participating but leading teams to continue that success, White said. The Record-Journal also moved from its 110-year-old building into a newly leased single-story office space, which White said energized employees to be more receptive to change.
Because the 2015 plan was successful, it was modified and extended for two more years. But the changes presented certain challenges for the company.
Journalists wrote different types of stories for online than for print, and salespeople began sitting down with advertisers and figuring out how to help grow their businesses with an array of different ad products. White said there was an overall positive and constructive approach to the changes, however.
“One of the foundations was to succeed or fail fast. What that means is: Don’t be afraid to take risks, try new things and embrace change,” she said. “When you have successes, celebrate them … When you fail, fail fast, and either make some tweaks and try again or move on to the next idea.”
Palmer said: “I hope that we can show other folks that it can be done. There’s nothing that we did that anybody else would struggle to do.
“It takes focus and commitment, but this is not a heavily capital-intensive investment. This is an investment of time and hard work and trying to plan for the future. If you’re willing to do that, you can build a business to grow towards the future. Anybody can do it,” he said.
Palmer said digital publishing will be increasingly necessary for newspaper businesses.
“I’d much rather forge ahead now while I can grow my business digitally while I still have time and print is still viable and lucrative … But we need to be prepared for a day when we’re less and less reliant on print and more and more reliant on digital.
“The quicker you start working towards that, the quicker you’re going to get there. I don’t want to sit here and wait 10 years, and then when I have to be all-digital, I have done nothing to get all-digital. That would scare me,” he said.
Palmer manages print and digital revenue growth at RJ Media Group, which oversees both the Record-Journal and Westerly Sun. Before that, he was employed as a sales consultant and publisher at The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., The Day of New London, Conn. and The News-Times of Danbury, Conn.
White is a Meriden native and belongs to the fifth generation of family ownership of the Record-Journal. The Record-Journal has been recognized by Editor & Publisher as one of “10 Newspapers That Do it Right,” and won the first place Family Business Award from the Hartford Business Journal.
‘The newspaper industry has more opportunity than ever to thrive and succeed, and we just have to figure out what the right strategy is to capture that opportunity.’
—Liz White, Executive vice president
RJ Media Group, Meriden, Conn.
‘It takes focus and commitment, but this is not a heavily capital-intensive investment. This is an investment of time and hard work and trying to plan for the future. If you’re willing to do that, you can build a business to grow towards the future. Anybody can do it.’
—Shawn Palmer, Senior vice president, chief revenue officer
RJ Media Group, Meriden, Conn.
‘Don’t be afraid to take risks, try new things and embrace change. When you have successes, celebrate them…when you fail, fail fast, and either make some tweaks and try again or move on to the next idea.’
‘We created a focus on the penetration and the amount of customers buying digital. The more customers you had buying digital, the more you were going to grow revenue.’