Colleen Leary, vice president of client partnerships at Cityside Journalism Initiative, has been named an Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association for devising and implementing several notable and creative new revenue-generating initiatives.

Each year, the Local Media Revenue and Strategy Innovator of the Year award recognizes a digital media leader delivering fantastic results by pioneering new concepts and experimenting in new and creative ways.

Colleen leads all sponsorship and advertising across two Bay Area news organizations, Berkeleyside and Oaklandside. In 2022, a year many businesses opted for a retrenchment of their marketing budgets because of rising inflation and economic uncertainty, Colleen delivered 132% year-over-year growth, bringing in $581,000 in revenue. 

Over the years, Colleen has built an incredibly strong base of local clients founded on relationships she nurtures by being responsive, thoughtful and incredibly creative. The Oakland news site, Oaklandside, launched in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic lockdown, but Colleen rose to the challenge and has formed new client partnerships and leveraged the power of two sites for all clients.

In the fall of 2022, Colleen led the launch of a new event series, The Oaklandside Small Business Toolbox. The idea is to bring small business owners from around Oakland — minority-led — to a convivial workshop event focusing on specific problems and skills to help their businesses succeed. 

Last year Colleen heard from her arts venue clients — the biggest category in her Berkeleyside portfolio — that they wanted a new way to tell stories about their events beyond the usual show previews and ticket promotions. Her response was to create a brand new product: the Arts Resource Guide, an original and effective advertising package that includes monthly sponsored stories, told from the perspective of the client. The Arts Resource Guide has prominent visibility on the arts landing page and includes a continuously updated scroll of upcoming performances, internal promotion across the site and in Berkeleyside’s daily newsletter. This dedicated email newsletter aggregates all the published stories, upcoming shows, and arts ad creative and goes out to Berkeleyside’s full 25,000+ subscriber list. This successful initiative demonstrated innovative thinking and a way to grow revenue from loyal existing clients with an original content-driven solution.

In local news, forging strong community connections is vital to succeed with all forms of fundraising, including media sales. Colleen is all about community — from running a local dog park, exchanging recipes with clients, getting invited to birthday parties, and sharing big hugs when bumping into clients on the street, she continuously goes above and beyond to engage with and give back to the community. She orchestrates the presence of editorial teams at community events, such as tabling at city marathons and street fairs, and shortly after launching Oaklandside, she accepted an invitation to take part in Leadership Oakland, a civic and professional development, networking, and leadership training program of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

Lance Knobel, CEO of Cityside Journalism Initiative, said, “It’s not a coincidence that the Cityside leadership team, not to mention its board of directors, often refers to Colleen as a rock star. She is supremely talented, wildly creative, loved by her clients, and a thoroughly wonderful person to work with.”

When being interviewed about the award, Colleen said “I’m thrilled to receive this award and thank the Local Media Association for the recognition. Cityside is a deeply mission-driven organization providing local news in Oakland and Berkeley (with more cities to come). It brings me great pleasure working with our local business community and showing that nonprofit local news organizations can be innovative in the way they approach sponsorship and advertising and achieve a healthy balance of revenue streams.”