Now that the 2019 Elevate! conference, a partnership of Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium, is over, staff from both organizations offered some observations and takeaways from three days of engaging and strategically valuable presentations.

Elevate! attendees

Nancy Lane, president, Local Media Association

These quotes resonated the most with me:

“Few news organizations are ‘digital ready’ and prepared to manage through the actual revenue declines in print – leading to the eventual elimination of print.” – Ken Harding, FTI Consulting. (In fact, not one company of the hundreds that FTI has worked with, scored above a 50 on a digital-readiness scale of 1-100.)

“Publishers must build relationships with communities of color. They have a right to distrust us because we’ve gotten it wrong. It’s no different than building relationships in any other community. It’s journalism 101.” – Tracie Powell, The Democracy Fund.

“Your technology stack enables or constrains your ability to operate in new ways. It needs to be CRM-focused and more open/flexible than it is now.” – Ann Hintzman, Salesforce.

“Retention and advancement are the most important parts of building an inclusive team. We tend to give women lateral opportunities. We tend to give men stretch opportunities.” – Mekka Okereke, Google.

“UX is crucial for the consumer to have trust in your brand.” – Mike Orren, The Dallas Morning News.

Fran Wills, Jason Washing and Nancy Lane during Washing's keynote Q&A.
Fran Wills, Jason Washing and Nancy Lane

“The real disruptor is just the arrival of the internet, not any one company.” – Jason Washing, Google, when asked how he feels when the news industry blames the platforms for their problems.

My biggest takeaways:

  • Cause marketing and branded content are a natural combination – there is a ton of opportunity here for local media companies to explore.
  • Digital subscriptions are hard work. The newsroom must play a lead role, along with support from the highest levels in the company.
  • Inclusion and equity are everyone’s job; deputize your team, provide training and go public with your KPIs.

Paul Smith, marketing coordinator, Local Media Consortium

Tracie Powell
Tracie Powell presented at the Equity and Inclusion Workshop.

Diversity workshop: Diversity is not only about hiring women or more black candidates, its about letting go of bias so you won’t miss out on the best candidate.

Julia Campbell, lead, Branded Content Project

Salesforce – We need to be very careful not to become “Whale Fall.” It’s possible we may already be dead and we don’t even realize it yet.

Crowdtangle – There is no perfect time of day to post to Facebook – as long as people are awake, they may be engaging with your content.

GNI Subscriptions Lab – Big takeaway I heard is to download the latest reports. There are so many incredible insights from the 10 publishers, LMA, FTI and GNI that a deep-read on the publisher benchmarks and the subscription playbook is something everyone should make time for.

Jed Williams, chief strategy officer, LMA

Pete Doucette, Jed Williams and Nikhil Joshi kick off the GNI Subscriptions Lab workshop.

To quote Pete Doucette at FTI Consulting, “page speed is a state of mind.” And it’s a shining example of the critical importance of user experience, both as an audience and revenue driver. It must break down silos, and requires full participation and buy-in across all parts of an organization. No exceptions. The earlier you get everyone on board and talking, the better.

The Subscriptions Lab case studies provided a useful reminder that among all the larger digital transformation talk, rapid testing, experimentation and learning serve as the foundation. These publishers are in the midst of building new three-five year strategic plans, yet balance this with 3-4 month roadmap development and testing that creates the right ethic for structured testing and measuring. This discipline is critical.

Jack Zavoral, director of member development, LMA

It is always fascinating to me when I have the opportunity to hear how leading companies approach diversity and inclusion, and hear directly from the front lines. Mekka Okereke from Google was not only an engaging presenter, but also put a face to the corporate policies.

Mike Orren and Austin Smith discuss user experience for news.

The level to which companies like The Dallas Morning News go to continuously improve user experience is amazing to me. Gone are the days of “I like – you like” and instead there are now much more commonly accepted principles that the industry can embrace.

Jay Small, chief innovation officer, LMA

It was great to hear from Justin Ferrell and Aron Pilhofer how design thinking can be applied to organizations and team dynamics as well as projects and products.

Branded Content Project alpha companies are doing some outstanding, paradigm-advancing work in and beyond the context of the project itself. Whenever I hear digital leaders bemoan the condition and positioning of their owned/operated advertising products, I wonder why they don’t press harder on branded content and the craft of content marketing. These are opportunities to differentiate vs. digital publishers whose entire universe of owned ad inventory is banners and prerolls.

I remain convinced the Salesforce framework for digital transformation from inside a legacy organization, as so clearly presented by Ann Hintzman, represents the best opportunity for local media companies to sustain and reinvigorate the businesses surrounding and paying for journalism. And even that framework, as Ann explained, offers no guarantees, just a way of thinking that might reveal paths forward.

Download speaker presentations from Elevate!