Recap: 2011 Key Executive Conference

Here are some prime take-aways from the 2011 Key Executive Multi-media conference, held in St. Petersburg, Florida, Feb 21-23.

Take your foot off the brake. You can’t make meaningful web revenue gains until you remove the internal chokepoints in your business plan and operations. Chokepoints commonly occur in areas like management & reporting structure, inventory management, conflict of objectives (ex: newsroom vs. sales) and compensation plans.

Run web like print. Just as you run your newspaper, use the same strict standards & objectives with your digital operations. Otherwise, your web business is likely to remain a money pit. Your digital competitors have a lower cost structure, which now forces you to measure items like ‘cost per story’. There’s also mounting pressure to consider even more outsourcing, and eliminating any content that’s not directly adding to the bottom line. Clark Gilbert’s slide showing cost structure comparisons between The New York Times and The Huffington Post says it all. (see photo)

Who’s in charge of digital? Does this person have their compensation tied to digital profitability? If not, why not? Would you ever allow the newspaper to be run by someone with little regard for profit margin? Recommended: designate an Internet general manager (or someone who plays that role) and compensate based on revenue & profit goals….NOT page-view, time spent on site or unique user goals.

Can you manage what you don’t understand? Do top management, publishers & owners have a strong grasp of digital opportunities, threats and sales tactics? Or do they simply delegate this to their digital guru or print manager? To make better decisions, custom training is mandatory for top management, publishers, and owners. Investment banks and private equity firms are upgrading their skill in this area. Are you ready for the tough questions they’ll be asking you?

News is not a business model. While journalism is a critical component of our operations and unique selling proposition, it’s unfortunately not the primary reason why many advertisers support our newspapers. Rather, local business wants to move product and digital marketing is increasingly what they want to try. Why not an offer digital or integrated solution to local business before someone else does?

Simplify. Far too many newspapers have complicated sales pitches, inventory management systems and pricing schemes. Sales reps struggle with talking points and overcoming common objections. Tips: Quote weekly instead of monthly pricing. Flat fee and share of voice programs work better than CPM models. Remove all geek speak and replace with language a small business can understand. To build confidence in sales force: create super premium ad units, reduce number of ad options and place pressure on limited inventory.

Vital research that will change everything. If sales reps can execute this simple task, they’ll make dramatic inroads towards digital success. Have reps ask clients about current marketing budget allocations, which new digital tactics they’re considering, and what types of pitches they’re getting from newspaper competitors. Understanding this info will ensure reps aren’t going into the market ‘blind’. Managers can use this intel to develop appropriate programs that advertisers increasingly want to buy.

Tap independent journalism. No matter how great your newsroom is, it can’t cover everything. Reaching out to select bloggers and online publishers is a compelling option to resolve this issue. These indies have an expertise in subjects that you can’t cover, or don’t have room for in the printed paper. They can also be considered a farm team, and they’re compensated via rev share. The very best writers can be featured in the printed paper and potentially be offered a full time position.