10 New Year’s resolutions for news media companies in 2015

Well, we made it through another year! There are some who didn’t think the industry would make it this far. Even as far back as the late ‘90s, I can recall dire predictions about the newspaper industry only having a few years left.

Web sites such as Newspaper Death Watch have been tracking layoffs, restructurings, and newspaper closings for years. Not too long ago, I read an article that predicted the end of free-standing inserts by 2015.

Yet somehow, year after year, we’ve proven these predictions wrong.

Even in the face of a much more diverse media landscape, there are some things that newspapers have that no one else can duplicate. And now, we’re running leaner operations with more digitally savvy staffs. We’re no doubt smaller entities with fewer employees, but arguably this just means that we’re operating more efficiently. In fact, some newspapers are thriving and all are evolving!

So what have we accomplished this year? Quite a lot, actually.

There have been great strides made in digital audience development, but there has also been somewhat of a “retrenching” when it comes to the print product, as well.

Take The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, USA, for example. In the past several months, The Review has launched a revamped entertainment section, outdoors, prep sports, and several special products targeted to niche advertisers … all in print!

Throughout 2014, blogs and articles have reported the wonderful things newspapers are doing to transform themselves in a multi-media world. Following are what I feel were just a few of the highlights this year, as well as a few possible New Year’s resolutions for 2015 and beyond.

One of the big topics in 2014 was data. I, for one, am thrilled about this, as I have long felt that data is one of the best assets and unique selling propositions that newspapers possess in their local markets. And there are so many ways for newspapers to utilise data.

Data enables newspapers to enhance the user experience, editorially and otherwise. Data can also be used to target and market to specific segments of the local population, which not only benefits the newspaper.

There is significant revenue potential, as well. While developing and managing Big Data strategies are not easy undertakings — as they require a fairly major cultural shift in most organisations — newspapers are beginning to embrace the Big Data concept and are seeing positive results.

Local news, information, and entertainment also continue to be strengths at most newspapers. And newspaper companies have done great things to capitalise on these strengths.

Event marketing and specially-targeted print and digital offerings have enabled many newspapers (especially smaller, independent ones) to establish themselves as local market leaders.

In addition, newspapers have done a much better job of engaging local readers by incorporating reader content in to the product. Newspapers are becoming more interactive and beginning to better align editorial practices with local consumer wants and needs.

This also seemed to be the year the newspapers “came into their own” as it relates to cross-platform media and app development. Most newspapers have robust mobile strategies and good methods to target mobile subscribers. This is important as mobile continues to be the fastest growing platform for news and media.

According to a Business Insider Intelligence report released in June of this year, digital ad revenue will continue to grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate of 12.9%. This compares to all non-digital ad revenue, which is expected to decline at a compound annual growth rate of -5.7% between 2013 and 2018.

Most of this growth will come from mobile.

There have even been strides made this year in shoring up legacy print practices, as well. One of the best presentations I saw at a conference in 2014 was at the 360 Media Alliance Mega Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, by Kurt M. Welu, circulation single-copy sales manager at The Omaha World-Herald.

Welu comes from a merchandising background and talks about applying the same marketing principles that big wholesalers (such as beer and soda companies) use to promote their products to newspaper sales. The result is a much bigger, more interactive sales presentation that makes the printed product look fresh and relevant. The World-Herald has seen an impressive turnaround in its single-copy programme.

We’ve definitely come a long way. But we still need to keep evolving to survive. No doubt, 2015 will not be any easier than 2014 and, in fact, is likely to be more challenging.

In closing, I would like to offer my suggestions for 10 New Year’s resolutions I think all newspapers should embrace (or continue to embrace) in 2015:

  • Become more proactive and less reactive.

  • Prioritise and make investments in the things that matter. (We can’t keep cutting everything!)

  • Develop a video strategy.

  • Engage with the readers and give them what they ask for rather than telling them what they want.

  • Listen to young people as they are the future consumers of our industry (or not!).

  • Learn how different audiences use your products and tailor content and marketing accordingly.

  • Continue to look to other industries for audience development best practices.

  • As advertisers continue to look for alternatives to the legacy print model, work to become a consultative, agency-style, advertising firm by finding solutions for advertisers.

  • Make the workplace fun, lively, and challenging.

  • Continue to attract younger, tech-savvy talent throughout the organisation.

None of these ideas are new, but they are all still pertinent and need to be at the forefront of our thinking. Here’s wishing everyone a prosperous and successful new year full of continued evolution!

About Dan Johnson

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