How Some News Publishers Did Things Right in 2021

From a story on by Nu Yang and Evelyn Mateos headlined “10 News Publishers That Did It Right in 2021”:

When we put out the call for nominations for our annual 10 News Publishers That Do It Right, it was in the middle of a global health pandemic. Newsrooms were dealing with difficult challenges—from the loss of advertising revenue to ensuring the health and safety of their staff….

Our 10 news publishers (and honorable mentions) had to learn how to navigate a new world. Whether it was pivoting to virtual events to offering creative and innovative advertising packages to address the needs of their communities, they were able to find a silver lining during a very tough season. Yes, we’re still going through this pandemic, but after pulling through 2020, these newsrooms are positive that the best is still yet to come.

Business Publications Corp.
Des Moines, Iowa

In 2020, Business Publications Corp. (BPC) launched five new initiatives that provided value to the community, but also helped generate new revenue streams. Business Publications Corp. is a locally owned publishing company that produces a business journal (Business Record) and an affluent city magazine (dsm).

A Buy One Give One initiative for business partners allowed them to purchase an ad and donate a full-page ad to the nonprofit of their choice in an effort to help ensure nonprofits could get their messages out about key needs in the initial months of the pandemic.

Also, within the first two weeks of the initial shutdown, the first virtual event was launched over Zoom. Called Coping with Covid, the weekly free virtual event series addressed key topics and issues businesses around the state were attempting to navigate….

Another issue that arose from speaking with community leaders was hunger and the increase usage of local food banks. As a result, the company launched Iowa Stops Hunger. By partnering with the Hy-Vee, a large Midwest grocery chain, and more than 40 businesses, BPC launched a year-long initiative aimed at raising awareness and activating the business community to take action toward ending hunger in the state….

An Executive Vision series focused on racial equity was created as a result of having conversations with community partners who wanted to help educate and move other businesses toward making real meaningful long-term change. The five-week program provided space for leadership teams from organizations to focus on learning about the complex racial issues affecting their community and their employees, while also moving them toward a path of being able to build a strategic plan….

They saw impressive attendance numbers from these virtual events, and de Baca said the new initiatives added more than 7 percent incremental revenue, much of it from new sponsors and advertisers.—NY

Daily Gazette
Schenectady, N.Y.

Thinking innovatively is a priority for the Daily Gazette, a 126-year-old family-owned newspaper in upstate New York.

“The goal is to stay around for another 100 years,” said board chair Betsie Lind, who owns the paper with her husband, Henry, and her brother, Bill Hume. To do that, the owners looked outside the family for the first time when it came to hiring their next publisher.

John DeAugustine joined the paper eight years ago, and since then, he has charted a path toward revenue diversification that goes beyond their printed products.

According to editorial page editor Mark Mahoney, one of DeAugustine’s earliest goals was taking a new asset in the printing press in 2013 and putting it to use more hours during the day. The result was a lucrative commercial printing business, which now generates more than $1.5 million a year in revenue. Before DeAugustine’s arrival, that revenue was zero.

In July 2019, the company launched an Image360 sign franchise. Although it operates separately from the newspaper, DeAugustine serves as president, and it is operated out of the Daily Gazette building. Image360 creates graphic displays that range from wall displays and street signs to truck panel signs and real estate sales materials. According to DeAugustine, the sign company was a good fit due to their printing and advertising experience. Gary LaBelle, the former Daily Gazette advertising executive, is also general manager of Image360.

Right before the pandemic hit, the Daily Gazette launched a new business in January 2020: Daily Gazette Logistics, which allows them to run FedEx delivery routes east of Schenectady. The company currently employs about 33 drivers. When advertising revenues were down this year, the Fed-Ex delivery revenue helped offset those advertising losses. DeAugustine estimates this new venture has brought in nearly $3 million.

In addition, the Daily Gazette also rents out additional office space in their building (there are nine tenants total including the paper). Mahoney said this initiative helps them generate an additional $200,000.

Aside from these diverse revenue streams, the Daily Gazette is still investing in newspapers. In January 2020, they acquired three other New York publications: The Recorder in Amsterdam, the Courier-Standard-Enterprise in Canajoharie and The Fulton County Express.

“We’re a mission-driven business,” said DeAugustine. “Our newspapers make money, but if we want to continue to fund doing community journalism—which is our core mission—then we need additional streams too.”—NY

Star Tribune
Minneapolis, Minn.

A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the Star Tribune. The first two weeks of March 2020, the paper posted 12 percent year over year growth in advertising revenue, but by mid-month, it was down by 44 percen. At the same time, people were turning to the Star Tribune’s coverage in record numbers. As a result, the sales and marketing team worked with the newsroom to implement new initiatives that were not originally planned for 2020 as well as reimagined others.

The Star Tribune published a 16-page broadsheet and digital special section called Class of 2020, which celebrated Minnesota’s graduating seniors who missed out on the traditional high school graduation. The section featured more than 600 high school students across the state, featuring a photograph of each student along with their future plans, high school memories and how they celebrated graduation during quarantine.

Another new initiative for the newspaper was the Heroes of the Pandemic series, which was divided into five sections: health care workers, grocery and retail, delivery and Minnesota makers, first responders, and everyday heroes. Each section highlighted the stories of those respective leaders in the community.

A multi-department team at the Star Tribune also collaborated to tackle the reimagination of the Minnesota State Fair and turn it into a 12-day event held virtually. It included a variety of experiences such as an amateur talent contest, mini grandstand concerts, a virtual beer garden and more.

Not only did readers love these new initiatives, so did advertisers.

Director of marketing Tim Ikeman said advertisers that weren’t traditionally print advertisers with them signed-up for these special sections. For example, General Mills sponsored Heroes of the Pandemic, and some of those advertisers have continued beyond these special sections. Additionally, both of the special sections drove six figures of revenue. The paper also reported the virtual state fair contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue.

The sales and marketing team also launched two additional initiatives to serve Minnesota businesses: a series of 18 e-newsletters, and 11 webinars to help their partners better navigate and find success during the pandemic.

The team also launched the Star Tribune Connect program, which aims to help accelerate the growth of underrepresented and minority-owned businesses through advertising and marketing collaboration. The program will provide four businesses a total of $200,000 in credits that can be applied toward advertising and marketing campaigns that leverage Star Tribune media properties to be used this year.

“The need to be nimble, to be adaptive, to be responsive, to pivot was on full display during the crisis and I think we embodied all of those things,” said Kasbohm. “(These times) highlighted that success is going to be largely intertwined with the ability to adapt as we move forward.”—EM

Los Angeles, Calif.

Before COVID-19, Variety produced 60 events a year. The entertainment trade magazine usually hosts in-person events from breakfasts with industry leaders to the annual Power of Women luncheon….

But when lockdowns forced Variety to pause in-person events, publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns said there were several questions they had to consider, such as how to evolve the brand and keep the events team employed. The result was an aggressive approach to pivot their already-scheduled in-person events to video calls.

“We came out ahead,” Sobrino-Stearns said. “And we were able to keep jobs and make money.”

Since April, Variety went from producing 60 events a year to 90 events, thanks to their new virtual strategy. In addition, this year’s Power of Women celebrated frontline heroes. The event was broadcast on Lifetime and on a Facebook livestream. Variety also launched streaming rooms early on in April that featured virtual gatherings of top industry leaders, filmmakers, and actors and actresses from readers’ favorite television shows and movies.

Sobrino-Stearns also shared Variety experienced no layoffs and were able to hire 11 new people post-COVID. The only significant change they encountered was switching from a Tuesday publication day to Wednesdays to accommodate staffing at its printer.

And even though the pandemic delayed film and television productions across the industry and disrupted the release of many anticipated movies that were set to premiere in 2020, content didn’t dry up for the publication. In-depth cover stories centered on the pandemic and safety protocols and the Black Lives Matters movement, giving “readers Variety’s keen entertainment business perspective on these game-changing breaking events,” said senior editor Terry Flores.

Consumption also increased online. Flores reported that Variety’s website saw huge growth over the last year. In 2020, had more than 280 million uniques and more than 600 million pageviews. According to Flores, that meant a growth of 26 percent in uniques and 11 percent in pageviews over 2019. Specifically, film content pageviews grew 9 percent, music content 19 percent, TV content 33 percent, digital content 36 percent and global content a 295 percent over 2019 totals.—NY

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