Dallas Morning News acts as start-up to reinvent entertainment brand

By Nicki Purcell

The Dallas Morning News

Dallas, Texas, United States


The Dallas Morning News intentionally chose a cross-functional group of employees to act as a start-up and reinvent its GuideLive entertainment brand.

The group redefined its entire online entertainment offering, putting the consumer first. This meant rebuilding our value proposition, rethinking a new sites look and feel, and re-imagining the consumer journey and our companys path to monetisation.

It is difficult to make radical changes in an established business, and even more challenging to envision the business as a start-up. But doing so presents opportunities: Well-funded start-ups have the opportunity to build features, and drive consumer behaviour to make those features sticky. Start-ups adapt quickly and integrate that speed into their consumer value proposition. 

This process led us to relaunch GuideLive.com as a standalone site in March 2015. Previously this entertainment “channel” had been a part of DallasNews.com.

The new look and feel of this stand-alone site helped differentiate it from the master site.
The new look and feel of this stand-alone site helped differentiate it from the master site.

This GuideLive.com relaunch birthed the future structure of our entire newsroom. We based its success on three primary factors: 

  1. A better consumer experience and a clear value proposition. We decided to solve FOMO (fear of missing out) for our local market by curating the most compelling listings of activities in the city, at any given time, for any budget.

  2. Process and workflow optimisation to nimbly create and publish content, create story forms, and react to consumer feedback.

  3. New monetisation streams beyond traditional advertising revenue for return on investment (ROI) as a stand-alone site.

Competing in the entertainment space meant more than simply creating a better entertainment section in the newspaper. To do this, we needed to reinvent our approach and shift to a vertical content and niche strategy. 

With our site moving from DallasNews.com/Entertainment to GuideLive.com, The Dallas Morning News transitioned from a branded house to a “house of brands.”

The project was the first to break out with a distinctly different look and feel, intentionally not tying back to the master site.

GuideLive.com became a destination for the local market with increased pageviews and site visitors seeking things to do in the area.
GuideLive.com became a destination for the local market with increased pageviews and site visitors seeking things to do in the area.

Before launching GuideLive.com as a separate entity, its digital revenue was a small percentage of overall digital revenue for our company. The site was lacking traffic and a diversified audience. Once the site was relaunched, it became a destination for the local market and allowed us to accomplish the following:

  • Add significantly more ad impressions overall.

  • Grow a more valuable local audience and charge more for ads.

  • Enjoy a cost per thousand (CPM) on GuideLive.com that is three times higher than run-of-site (ROS) directly sold ads.

  • Create custom ad units, served and tracked through our ad-serving platform for consistent campaign reporting. 

  • Develop non-traditional sources of revenue by selling beer growlers, T-shirts, and goods from local merchants in our online store; offering products through our affiliates; and presenting promotions via partners such as Uber. 

We focused an audience development strategy on two primary objectives: drive more diversified audiences and attract a higher percentage of the local audience.

After a year, we’ve seen a 5% increase in our female audience, 66% increase in unique visitors, 68% increase in pageviews, and 121% increase in “things to do” content, over-indexing with the local audience.

The average age of our visitors is now six years younger than before, a challenge many newspaper companies are experiencing as the age of users continues to increase.   

The relaunch of GuideLive.com has also influenced organisational and company culture transformation.

We documented the workflows of the writers, editors, and their interface with UI designers and developers. Sales wasn’t engaged with the editorial team with regularity prior to the relaunch. We wanted to determine if we could create a more optimised process, contributing to higher productivity. 

The new GuideLive.com team of 12 consisted of editors, writers, UI designers, coders, and sales staff sitting next to each other and taking part in all discussions. With this new staffing structure, we saw an increase in overall volume of published content. We also saw developers and coders take a stab at writing, and editors willing to work with the novice bloggers to get published.

In this way, we created what we refer to as “T-shaped” individuals, who can cut across many areas of responsibilities while having depth in their core competency. 

A cross-section of employees closely collaborated to launch GuideLive.com as a start-up.
A cross-section of employees closely collaborated to launch GuideLive.com as a start-up.

Preparing the team to maintain start-up thinking beyond the launch wasn’t easy. Even training became non-traditional as we knew breaking old habits with existing talent would be challenging.

We engaged office trainers from the Dallas Comedy House to teach the basics of improvisational comedy.  The team learned that “surprise” is the single element of comedy that runs consistently through languages and is fundamentally funny.

The team spent much of the training workshop rewriting headlines to bring the unexpected back into the story and generate higher click-through rates, a critical part of actually “being” entertaining rather than merely disseminating entertainment content, as many of our competitors do.

This success story became the model we followed with our sports niche site, SportsDayDFW.com,  and our high school sports site, SportsDayHS.com. Both launched in December 2015.

The company has adopted this organisational structure throughout the full newsroom, and our next site launch will mirror this same approach.

About Nicki Purcell

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