Q: Tell us a little about your career and how you got to your current position?
A: I’ve been working in digital media for nearly 20 years, but started in the industry as a reporter. When I began my career, many newspapers were launching their first websites, so I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor. I taught myself a little code and some basic design skills, just barely enough to know what I was doing. As I moved up the ladder, I found that the willingness to learn a new skill was invaluable. So much has changed since I began my career, but I’m always teaching myself new things to stay ahead.
Q: WEHCO has invested heavily in digital agencies, with a Flypaper branded DA in each newspaper market. Why are you placing such a significant bet in this area?
A: We see an opportunity to engage with local businesses in a meaningful way. It has proven effective because our account growth with Flypaper has led to it becoming the single fastest growth line in our company, for both revenue and profit.
Q: What sort of growth are you seeing, and what have been key factors in spurring that growth?
A: We’ve averaged 49 percent in active account growth and 68 percent in average revenue growth for the past three years. Our agency business now represents nearly half of our company’s total digital revenue and it didn’t exist five years ago.
Q: You utilize a competitive sales structure where traditional & digital sales reps compete directly, and no accounts are off-limits. How did you choose this model? What sort of results are you seeing?
A: It has spurred additional activity among our traditional sales teams, which was the goal all along. It does create some friction in the building, but creating our own competition intensifies the urgency. If we don’t sell it, someone else will.
Q: To further expand, you’re now launching a digital agency in a non-newspaper market. Share more on how you made this decision. Are advertising customers responding without any connection to an in-market media brand?
A: It is less than a year old, so it is still too early to tell, but initial results are very positive. In fact, our non-newspaper market launch is going better than most of our newspaper market launches in terms of speed to profitability and sales volume. While we find that a legacy brand can help with opening some doors and assuring stability to some customers, it can also work against us. An untethered agency can better define itself in the market and, at the end of the day, high sales activity and good customer service beat out legacy branding when building a new business. WEHCO is also experimenting with OTT video.
Q: What process did you go through to decide to launch an app? What content are you starting with, and why? Any success monetizing?
A: We just launched our first app in July, so this is an early project for us. We decided to launch an Arkansas Razorbacks app because we were already shooting a lot of college football and basketball video. We believe the fan base will be attracted to the app as we build out more content. We intend include highlights, commentary, recruiting and visitors guide videos for things to do in Fayetteville, Ark., before and after the game. There has been a lot of advertiser interest and we just signed our first sponsors this month.
Q: What do you see your or the industry’s biggest opportunities with digital revenue in the coming years?
A: Digital subscriptions are on the brink of a major breakthrough. The mental barrier of consumers paying for news (perceived and real) are breaking down. I believe that consumers will pay us for great content but we have to make their experience better. If done right, it will be a virtuous cycle where our products improve as more people pay for great content.
Q: What are the biggest challenges your company or the industry faces with digital revenue in the coming years?
A: Our owned and operated inventory will continue to produce less revenue. As will our geographically based verticals for employment, autos, real estate, etc. Anything that can scale across networks is simply be more efficient to buy with precision targeting. This means our sellers must get away from commodity proposals and work on customized, strategic marketing for clients. It is more complex and the margins aren’t as good, but that’s our new reality.
Q: What are you most excited about?
A: The ability for this industry to continually evolve. Our demise has been forecast every year for the last 20 years. Yet, somehow, we manage to adapt, change and find pockets of growth that sustain our mission to provide news and information that serve our communities. I used to think someone, at some media company, would find a silver bullet that would solve our problems. I don’t think that bullet exists anymore. Maybe our tenacity and culture of change are the very things that keeps us going for the next 20 years.