Editor’s note: In an ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans — to give members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile Erik Zenhausern, director/subscriber acquisition and retention for News Media Group in Melville, New York, United States.
After his dog wakes him up to go outside, Erik Zenhausern, director, subscriber acquisition and retention for Newsday Media Group in Melville, New York, in the United States, looks forward to checking the latest sales figures or updates on any tests Newsday is running. “I love seeing results from all the hard work we do,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges he sees in the industry right now is getting consumers to value what the company does: “There is a psychological barrier, almost a stubbornness, from some people about paying for news.”
That’s where being able to talk to customers, not just market to them, is critical.
“In my personal experience, when you have the opportunity to talk about the value that newspapers bring to individuals and the community at large, you can convince people of the value of journalism. But it’s very difficult to do through marketing communications and public relations.”
INMA recently caught up with him to learn what else he had to say.
INMA: What big lesson have you learned over the past couple of years that helped shape your plans moving forward?
Zenhausern: Always be testing your hypotheses. Experience and gut instinct are necessary tools for success, but building out a test-and-learn culture in your organisation ensures continual improvement in the business.
INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning?
Zenhausern: Digital news can’t be supported by advertising dollars. Don’t give your content away in hopes of generating an audience for advertisers; sell directly to your readers.
INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it?
Zenhausern: I was responsible for finding a print site in Brazil for the International Herald Tribune. It involved finding a suitable production partner, developing logistical plans for distribution throughout Brazil and neighbouring countries, and opening new markets for retail and home delivery. It taught me a lot about working cross-functionally.
It required close cooperation across the company as well as an understanding of local business and culture. The latter involved long lunches at churrascarias where it was basically forbidden to talk business, Friday night beer-drinking sessions with drivers and delivery men, and warehouse barbeques with live samba music accompaniment. We also eventually ended up printing a few newspapers, too.
INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of right now?
Zenhausern: We have seen significant digital growth in the last year. I’ve played a key role, but the most satisfying part is the collaboration and relationships that have been created.
INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Zenhausern: Empower people to make their own decisions and you will generally be pleasantly surprised. I had a manager who once said: “Don’t tell me how to butcher the cow, just bring me the filet mignon.” I appreciated that as an employee and try to follow the same example in my professional career.
INMA: What do you do to relax?
Zenhausern: I’m an avid guitarist and enjoy writing, playing, and recording music. I’m also a bit of a foodie and like to cook for my family on the weekends.
INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your backup plan?
Zenhausern: I considered becoming a recording engineer in high school but ultimately decided to study business. My dream in retirement is to open a recording studio.
INMA: What is your favourite thing to read?
Zenhausern: I enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, and political thrillers. Some of my favourite authors are Neil Stephenson, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, and James Michener.