Daniel Williams is the founder and CEO of BlueLena, a leading full-service technology and marketing solutions provider that supports media organizations with audience and revenue growth strategies.
He is an experienced entrepreneur and senior media executive with more than two decades of experience. Daniel began his career with McClatchy and has held leadership positions with The New York Times Co., Gannett Co., Inc., and The Day of New London, Connecticut. In 2011, he co-founded and led LEAP Media Solutions as its CEO for six years through its acquisition by BlueVenn, where he continued to serve as its U.S. Division president through 2019. In 2020, he founded BlueLena, which today supports over 200 brands with full-funnel audience development, email and social media marketing, customer lifecycle management and revenue diversification.
This year, Daniel joined the Local Media Foundation board of directors. He shares his thoughts on media transformation, technology, disruption and more:
How has the local media industry transformed since you started working in it?
I’ve been in publishing since 1999, beginning in the operations side of daily publishing before transitioning to audience development, then founding two companies to serve the industry with technology and agency managed services. It is difficult to convey all of the transformation that has occurred during this time, but if asked to name the biggest disruptions in order of sequence it would be:
- Craigslist and the almost total erasing of private-party advertising.
- The introduction of search and social media that altered the way readers could access information on-demand and connect with communities.
- The advent of portable mobile devices that dramatically changed the way we consume information, anytime and from anywhere.
- The consolidation of traditional print and broadcast media by publicly traded, excessively profit-driven companies, coinciding with all of the aforementioned disruption that led to cuts in newsrooms and sales staff, and no growth strategies.
- In the wake of all the destruction, the emergence of nonprofit digital news organizations where there is almost no barrier to entry, and emergence of a new category of funders — specifically philanthropists and direct-reader support.
What initiatives or areas of focus do you think will have the most positive impact on your organization’s future — especially those on which you’re working?
We’ve always focused on leveraging automation technology to drive operational efficiencies and performance improvements, with a specific focus on building long-term sustainable reader revenues to fund journalism. A decade ago this involved address-based subscription marketing using data, analytics and direct marketing channels to acquire and retain reader relationships. As reader behaviors shifted from the printed product to mobile devices, the definition of a customer relationship has moved from a household to an individual. And the publishing model has moved from an address-based distribution model to a user-based access model.
Going forward, our focus is on delivering technology that provides the best user experience for readers to establish a relationship with a publication, for those publications to be able to cultivate a loyal brand relationship with individual members of their audiences, to build sustainable revenue models through a mix of direct reader and philanthropic support, and to do so in a way that ensures access to high quality journalism regardless of an individual reader’s ability to pay. This is a balancing act, but will be important in the preservation of democracy and a more equitable society.
What is the biggest challenge facing the local media industry today?
From our place, we see three big challenges today:
- The technology that was developed to support an address-based distribution model for daily publishing is insufficient to support today’s user-based access models. The result is a poor user experience, leading to frustration, underperformance and gradual loss of audiences particularly among digital-native younger readers.
- The pervasive use of paywalls and metered access models excludes underserved audiences and marginalized communities from access to high quality, trustworthy and credible reporting and journalism. We think a combination of philanthropy and membership-based giving among readers who have the means and willingness to support community journalism is a better approach, and there are many news organizations proving this to be the case.
- The lack of access to investment capital for companies like BlueLena that support the news media industry is problematic at a time when we all need to continue driving innovation and developing solutions, particularly as generative AI and other machine-based technology represent the next phase of disruption.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for the local media industry?
Generative AI is going to radically alter the creation, distribution and discovery of news and information, and as an industry we need to understand it, learn it and apply it in a way that preserves our trusted relationship with readers. This will be the challenge and opportunity that defines the next decade. Even Google stands to be disrupted.
Why are you excited to join the board?
It is a tremendous honor to join my colleagues in serving an organization that has done so much to promote sustainability of journalism, never more so than these past several years as we’ve navigated a global pandemic, the threats to democracy, social change, economic and political upheaval, and continuous disruption to the news media industry. As a long-time member of Local Media Association, first as a publishing member and for the last decade as an R&D partner, we have had a front row seat for all the profoundly impactful work in driving transformation for an industry that has not been known to be bold and innovative. I’m excited to lend some expertise to the board as we confront both the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead.
You must be logged in to post a comment.