Highlights from LMA’s Digital Summit Week, Aug. 10-14: Revenue, strategy and audience insights


We’re wrapping up Digital Summit Week — five days of interactive and informational sessions to help local media leaders build stronger businesses. Here are highlights from the four keynotes and 12 sessions focused on sales/revenue, executive strategy, and audience.

Keynote presentations

Thursday keynote: LMA’s Innovators Share Groundbreaking Growth Strategies | Watch the recorded sessionView a PDF of the presentations

Three digital-minded executives who were recently honored by LMA for driving innovative changes at their news organizations spoke Aug. 13 during Local Media Association’s Digital Summit Week about the incremental changes they made to drive innovation.

The products driven by their innovative efforts all differ greatly; however, there are many overlapping tactics they used to reach their mutual end goal of gaining more audience. Read extensive tips and takeaways from this keynote.

Wednesday keynote: Journalism Funded by Philanthropy – Do You Have a Strategy? | Watch the recorded session

Tim Ritchey, publisher of The Fresno Bee, explained the partnerships and funding behind the publication’s Education Lab, and discussed ways philanthropy has been a driver of improved business insight across other departments. This keynote comes on the heels of LMA’s announcement that applications are open for 15 media companies to join the Center for Journalism Funding Lab.


Ritchey said one-third of his entire newsroom — or 10 journalists — is funded through philanthropic resources. The early success of the four-person Ed Lab team helped spur the creation this year of another philanthropic-funded lab, Fresnoland, which is named after the nonprofit that partnered with the Fresno Bee. The lab funds an additional four reporters who are dedicated to covering land use, development, urban planning, and natural and water resources.

Read more about how for-profit news operations are scaling reporting efforts through nonprofit collaborations.

Tuesday keynote: Fireside Chat with Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships, Facebook, Sponsored by the Facebook Journalism Project | Watch the recorded session

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, answered questions about the ways Facebook is working to meet the needs of publishers on its friends-and-family-focused platform. Josh Mabry from the news partnerships team, also shared product updates and information on accelerator programs, with LMA CEO Nancy Lane moderating.

Read the recap of the fireside chat including responses to 5 questions laid out for the Facebook team that address crucial challenges to local media organizations.

Monday keynote: Q&A with Richard Gingras, vice president of news, Google, Sponsored by the Google News Initiative | Watch the recorded session

Google’s SVP of News Richard Gingras explained the strategies behind Google’s approach to news, honestly assessed what’s working and what’s not, and talked broadly about what’s required for a sustainable, profitable news ecosystem that supports all models and voices.

He has learned that “brand lovers,” or those who visit a news site more than 15 times per month, are the ultimate audience that every publication should aspire to gain. He recommends measuring brand lovers as a percentage of the total target population — not total users. One publisher has a 68% brand lovers score, for example, an admittedly difficult percentage to reach, Gingras said.

Here are 8 more tips from Gingras based on what he has seen work at various local news operations.

Senior Leaders Strategy Track

Thursday Senior Leaders Strategy Session: Collaborative Journalism Meets Business Transformation, Sponsored by Legacy.com | Watch the recorded session | View a PDF of the presentation

In this session, participants in the Oklahoma Media Center shared the strategy and benefits of working together to produce great solutions-based journalism while improving the business model at the same time. In addition to a presentation from Jim Brady, project manager, The Oklahoma Media Center, participants from The Oklahoman, Inasmuch Foundation, Griffin Communications, and bigiftrue.org shared perspectives.

Tyler Tokarczyk from Inasmuch Foundation said journalism is in the roots of the organization, which has helped fund the collaborative. “We are seeing collaboration all over the country and seeing a positive trend. We wanted to model something like that here in Oklahoma City.”

Kelly Dyer Fry, executive editor of The Oklahoman, noted the number of talented journalists in Oklahoma and said the collaborative in her mind has evolved from skepticism to true buy-in from all members. “At the end of the day, we just need good journalists. As newsrooms have shrunk, we need more journalists covering the news. … I really believe these consortium type of agreements help fill some gaps.”

Ryan Welton, director of digital content, Griffin Communications, said he was unsure how his team would have time to contribute to a collaborative journalism effort but ultimately it has helped the news station. “We have worked out the kinks in our workflow, which has been an epiphany … We are going to be a lot more agile and a lot more productive in terms of reporting original content, which may serve us well beyond this collaborative.”

Wednesday Senior Leaders Strategy Session: Branded Content with a Purpose, Sponsored by Social News Desk | Watch the recorded session

This session showcased successful and creative cause and community marketing initiatives and tools to implement revenue-generating elements.

Rachel Watkins, senior marketing manager, The Dallas Morning News, shared insight into the success of the FWD>DFW campaign. (View a PDF of the presentation).

Katie Fulp, director of operations, WRAL Digital Solutions, shared on the broadcaster’s Spotlight series. (View a PDF of the presentation)

Key takeaways include:

  1. The importance of having cause- and community-focused brands in place when the pandemic hit allowed both companies to pivot quickly and utilize those brands.
  2. The importance of using social media for distribution. It’s a huge piece to the story and how they promote, and one of the key traffic drivers, as well as ensuring they are targeted properly so they’re driving to the right audiences.
  3. The importance of education.

“For us it was really important to define what branded content was. We had to put together a video We wanted to ensure we had a way to communicate,” Fulp said.

“Education was huge for us – starting with “what is branded content” — not just for the sellers but the clients,” Watkins said.

Tuesday Senior Leaders Strategy Session: Consumer Revenue Strategies – How Local Media Companies Are Accelerating Transformation and Growth Through Direct Audience Relationships, Sponsored by Legacy.com | Watch the recorded session

This strategy session for senior leaders spotlighted consumer revenue initiatives from Jay Horton, president, digital, WEHCO Media (view the presentation); Liz White, publisher, Record-Journal (view the presentation) and Toby Collodora, senior manager, engagement and retention, Star Tribune Media Company (view the presentation).

Direct, deep relationships with audiences are the backbone of a successful media brand and also the foundation of a sustainable business model, one that is controllable, predictable, and recurring. The workshop offered insights, data points, and case studies with spotlights on how to retain the most loyal customers and increase their lifetime value, plus how to build mission-based teams to achieve goals.

Monday Senior Leaders Strategy Session: Top Revenue Growth Strategies in These Uncertain Times, Sponsored by Legacy.com | Watch the recorded session | View the presentation

Todd Handy, chief digital officer at Beasley Media Group, shared ways the company has invested in people, products and processes to achieve digital growth even in 2020. (View a PDF of this presentation)

Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, shared how the company is thriving through COVID-19, including asking readers to pay voluntarily — which led to that source of revenue increasing from 4% to 15% of overall in April and 9% in May — as well as ways to save existing clients and gain new clients, and increasing programmatic ad spending from government agencies on pandemic communication. (View a PDF of this presentation)

Catherine Badalamente, SVP/chief innovation officer for Graham Media Group, shared how investing in a better ad experience both for clients and users has been a key innovation at the company. She also said Graham Media Group realigned its account executive compensation to be the “right kind of sale” as part of several revenue growth points. (View of PDF of this presentation)

Audience Track

Thursday Audience Session: Tools for Audience Listening — The Key to Growth and Sustainability, Sponsored by Vevo | View the recorded session

Three leaders of audience-listening technology offered insights from local newsrooms who are stimulating engagement through thoughtful questions, as well as answering difficult questions from their communities.

Bridget Thoreson, editorial and community manager, Hearken, said through a joint effort called Election SOS, they are training newsrooms to address critical needs to local residents. One way is through the question, What do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote? Through this, several different news organizations were able to understand on a deeper level the topics of immediate importance and allow the audience to set the agenda, which can be counter to the topics candidates themselves find worthy. (View a PDF of the presentation)

David Cohn, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Subtext, said that texting results in deeper engagement than social platforms and 85% of responses come within an hour of the text send. Open rates are also high, around 90 percent or more, he said, and 98% of U.S. adults text, across all age ranges and demographics. Used for engagement, retention of existing audience, and as paid subscription products, texting through SubText has allowed reporters to find and develop sources for stories. (View a PDF of the presentation)

Kate Myers, marketing director for GroundSource, said the personal and private nature of texting is incredibly important for many users and can surface a better understanding of audiences that are no being reached through other methods, such as newsletters and social. Through work with local newsrooms such as Chalkbeat and KPCC, staff were able to answer timely questions related to school lunches, COVID-19 testing, and more, and in turn produce more relevant and engaging journalism born from the conversations via text. (View a PDF of the presentation)

In closing, moderator Chris Krewson, executive director, LION Publishers, asked the panelists what one trait makes newsrooms successful on their platforms.

Thoreson: “The one thing that newsrooms who use our platform best have in common is that they view engagement, not as a side hustle that is the responsibility of just one person or a couple of people in the newsroom, but really a critical component of their strategy overall both in editorial and their business model.”

Cohn: “With successful examples of listening across the board, you really want to come in and have a set goal. You don’t want to come in without thinking of a goal ahead of time. What do you want to accomplish? What does success look like? How do you get there? What’s the timeline for that?”

Myers: “The best thing you can do, and the clients that use texting best, is to be cool — to think of texting your audience and your customers like you think of texting your friends and family. … The way to use it best is to be chatty, conversational, and casual, and develop that relationship like you would with any friend.”

Wednesday Audience Session: Data-Informed and Audience-First News Products, Sponsored by Vevo | Watch the recorded session

This session explored ways local news organizations have harnessed data and even machine learning to create AI-curated websites and time-bound news products and how local media can use audience data to offer more responsive and engaging journalism.

Source: Sonali Verma

Sonali Verma, senior product manager, analytics, The Globe and Mail, said nearly all content placement decisions on the Globe and Mail website happen through automation, and editors helped teach their tool, called Sophi, the value to place on specific content pieces. She said it was important to focus on metrics that positively impact the business, such as subscription conversions, as a true sign of audience interest.

“None of us became journalists because we want to chase page views,” she said, adding that a culture shift in the newsroom helped editorial staff embrace data and metrics that matter. (View a PDF of this presentation)

Amanda Wilkins, product manager for engagement, McClatchy, noted lessons from their ongoing coronavirus newsletter series, of which paying subscribers made up 59% of its readership. Through audience research, readers indicated they valued national news as well as local updates in the COVID-19 newsletters. She also said it’s important to develop an offboarding or transition strategy for topical and time-bound newsletter subscribers, which can include the promotion of other, similar news products. (View a PDF of this presentation)

Source: David Arkin

David Arkin, chief content and product officer, O’Rourke Media Group, noted ideas for time-bound newsletters that respond to real reader questions and interests, such as special events, back-to-school, and ongoing health topics. He also said that a content management system should not be a constraint or setback when creating newsletters, which can be viewed as independent products. (View a PDF of this presentation)

Tuesday Audience Session: Post-pandemic Pivot: Engaging Virtual Events for Local Media Audiences, Sponsored by Vevo | Watch the recorded sessionView the presentation

Rodney Gibbs and Agnes Varnum, leaders of RevLab at The Texas Tribune, shared how local media companies are gaining new audience and offering virtual events with comparable profit margins to in-person events, including key examples from Richland Source.

Both said that even after COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, virtual events are here to stay, especially for newsrooms, because of their relatively low cost and value events bring to the local community as live journalism in action.

The duo offered examples of technology partners that can be utilized by news organizations, such as Crowdcast and BlueJeans, as well as the thought process behind how to price event admission and sponsorships, and ways to leverage media and non-media partnerships.

The session featured Q&A and explanations of lessons from the ongoing Events Bootcamp for select local publishers, the resources for which will be shared publicly later this year.

Monday Audience Session: WhereBy.Us Case Study: Audience Growth Through Structured User Testing, Sponsored by Vevo | Watch the recorded session | View the presentation

Alexandra Smith, growth director at WhereBy.Us, and the company’s former product manager, Carolyn Gearig, shared documentation for conducting in-house user-research methodolgy and training that empowers news teams to design and conduct their own projects with assistance in organization, methods, and sense-making. Presenters shared the public Google Drive with user research templates, and offered examples of the tools they use, including Miro for online, collaborative sticky notes and usertesting.com to set up functionality tests related to design.

More explanation of this work can be found in three blog posts from WhereBy.Us leaders, including:

Digital Sales Manager Track

Thursday Digital Sales Manager Session: Building a World-Class Value Proposition, Sponsored by Adcellerant | Watch the recorded session

Local media organizations are getting creative with attracting and retaining advertisers, and some key industries thriving and weathering the pandemic, opening a chance for opportunity, such as home improvement, grocery, consumer products, with growth categories including local travel, camping, remote learning, and weekend to-do lists.

Asked about the pivot during COVID-19, participants in this session shared what’s changed in 2020, and what

Dani Newman, director of digital sales, Colorado Springs Gazette: “The connection — you have a relationship with the client outside the sale space; the importance of a call just to check-in with the client — a call that is not related to sales. The connection piece with the client is incredibly important.”

Moderator Brock Berry, CEO, Adcellerant: “The lost art is the relationship. What a great time to develop a tighter relationship.”

Kurt Christopher, general manager of digital, Hubbard Broadcasting Television Group: “Try to think about the long-term goal, the long-term play. Everyone’s budget has gone to hell, one more sale won’t make a difference. Think toward 2021/2022.”

Jolene Sherman, VP and managing director, Amplified Digital and Lee Enterprises: “It’s really a shift to be able to turn into a consultant. Be more service-minded.”

Wednesday Digital Sales Manager Session: Delivering Real Results, Sponsored by Adcellerant | Watch the recorded session

Directly from advertisers, this session offered insights on how to position campaigns properly, avoid confusion or misaligned expectations, and accurately interpret your clients’ expected results and impacts on their business. Panelists from across non-media organizations answered the question, “What is the most important marketing metric to your business?”

Cara Tomich, operations manager, Baby Bling: “There is something to be said for a team that is one step ahead of you. You can feel it when the (ad) team understands your business.”

Sara Lennon, vice president of media strategy, Eldon Gottschalk and Associates: “With digital, there is no silver bullet. Once a sale happens, don’t forget about the agency or client and pass them off to someone else. …  I’m really looking for the partnership.”

Irene B. Weygandt, director of communication and marketing, Josef Korbel School for International Studies, University of Denver: “Be curious about your client’s business. Dig into it a little bit. That tension of the push and pull and trust and transparency are so important. … How can you help me be more educated in the digital space?”

Moderator Adam Lee, president, TechintLabs: “Relationships need to be based in reality. It’s not always puppies and rainbows. …  Long term is the key here — from the client-side and the agency side.”

Tuesday Digital Sales Manager Session: Modernizing Your Sales Force in Midst of Crisis, Sponsored by Adcellerant | Watch the recorded session

We asked some of the best in the business to discuss options for modern, efficient sales structures that are emerging at the local level, and how teams from all mediums are recreating sales teams and positioning for the future, including doing more with less, opportunity to fix bad habits, good decisions moving forward, and what changes have been made that payback now and in the future.

These answers are their responses to the closing question, “Where do we go from here?”

Bryce Jacobson, publisher, Post Independent and Rifle Citizen Telegram: “We have got to be consultative. Being able to attribute the success of what we do is so important. … If you aren’t collecting first-party data for your customers and yourself, you should start.”

Stephanie Slagle, senior director, brand and agency sales strategy, Graham Media Group: “It has reinvigorated the importance of what we are already doing which is focusing on local customers and helping them move their product.”

Andrew Gordon, VP of sales strategy and presales operations, Torstar Corporation: “We don’t make it easy on our sales organizations. We need to try and simplify, standardize and automate wherever possible.”

Monday Digital Sales Manager Session: Confronting Challenges, Sponsored by Adcellerant | Watch the recorded session

Our post-COVID reality presents multiple challenges for local media sales teams and our advertisers. Our panel of experts covered how their teams pivoted to show empathy to businesses and offered no-cost opportunities and flexible payment terms.

Presenters included Steve Goldstein, SVP/general manager, 2060 Digital; Amber Aldrich, director of advertising, The Seattle Times; and Kelly Gilfillan, publisher, FW Publishing, Home Page division.

The group also discussed how they positioned themselves as an authority in the market with virtual webinars, planned for new revenue streams and embraced the opportunities created because of increased engagement.

Learn more about how these organizations acted upon the challenging times to change the structure of their sales teams, revisit support roles, and work toward changing compensation plans for their sellers. Brock Berry from Adcellerant guided the conversation through describing the past few months, the current climate, and looks to the future for local media sales teams.

On-demand content

The Best of Branded Content – Lightning Rounds

Discover quick hits featuring award-winning and innovative initiatives and the experts behind them. Pick and choose from The Branded Content Project success stories and pocket new ideas that will work in every city, for every organization. Sponsored by Social News Desk. 

TAPinto shares details on their unique DIY branded content tools.

WBOC explains why you should break down the fourth wall.

Entravision finds branded content success with Juntos.

Social News Desk shared 5 best practices for branded content sales success on social.

KSL-TV reached audiences across OTT, social, digital and broadcast with branded content.

AL DÍA discovered new revenue with innovative initiatives built around branded content.

Social News Desk tackles the biggest questions and objections they hear when talking about branded content strategies on social.

Newsday shares the top ten tips for selling branded content.

Graham Media Group drove success by focusing on branded content quality control, and embracing the friction.

Lamb Consulting shares insights about the benefits of blurring the lines between church and state and the importance of Happy Meal sales packaging.

Wundervue explains why we sell audience not content, how to look for new “buckets” of budget, and how to create a unique value proposition.

The Afro shares advice and guidance on creating new initiatives around branded content.

Podcasts: Local Media Association Summit Cast

As part of Digital Summit Week, we have lots of information and resources related to growing audience, strategy, revenue initiatives. Sponsored by Guarantee Digital, check out several great podcasts with our Gold sponsors, including Dan Dennison from Reveal Mobile talking about mobile social geofencing: next-generation local targeting for agencies and publishers, as well as an interview with AdPerfect discussing growing revenue and saving on expenses with AdPerfect Obituary solution.

Insights from CrowdTangle: What all local media can learn from Facebook and Instagram Black press trends in 2020 | Watch the recorded session | View the presentation

With data from CrowdTangle, this session explored trends from Black press Facebook and Instagram pages from May to July. We reviewed how audiences are interacting with posts and consuming local news from Black-owned newspapers and media organizations, including examples of page-growth rates soaring midsummer and highlights of overperforming content. We heard from Marshall Latimore, editor in chief, The Atlanta Voice about engagement and how they use CrowdTangle to understand their audience. Presentation by Samantha Bennet, CrowdTangle, and moderated by Emilie Lutostanski, director, Local News Resource Center.

Roundtables

Look Globally – Deploy Locally | View the recorded roundtable | View the presentation

Insights from customer-driven non-media brands, particularly around consolidating siloed efforts and pivoting away from channel-focused behaviors. We’ll talk top line and bottom line — increasing engagement and gaining efficiencies. In addition, hear directly from Ashley Montroy, EVP Marketing, Tribute Technology. Hosted by Kirsten DiChiappari, VP, US customer success, BlueVenn and Matthew Ipsan, business development, AdPerfect

Leveraging Digital Marketing Services to Help Your Advertisers Recover from COVID-19 | View the recorded roundtable | View the presentation

As we saw in the 2008-2009 recession, SMBs did NOT return their advertising budgets to where they were before, which hurt traditional media. Rather, the experimented with a wide variety of digital options, trying to find high ROI with low dollar investments. As business owners struggle with the unknowns of the pandemic and the challenging “new economy” they will be turning more than ever to digital outlets, and in some cases trying to do it themselves. In our Roundtable, we’ll discuss the importance of deepening your relationships with your local businesses now – and how to help them survive and thrive! Hosted by Shannon Kinney, founder, client success officer, Dream Local Digital

“Easy Button” Revenue: How VRM Drives New, Immediate Revenue From Subscriptions to Adblock Recovery | View the recorded roundtable | View the presentation

Most publishers rely on traditional ad or subscription silos to generate the majority of their revenue. But there’s much more publishers can do to immediately increase Average Revenue Per Visitor (ARPV) across the full visitor journey. Admiral leads a roundtable discussion on how top publishers cultivate relationships with their visitors to optimize existing or create new revenue streams. Moderated by Michael Yeon, VP of sales and marketing, Admiral and Trevor Abbott, director, business development, Admiral

Leveraging Social Audiences to Create a Better Obituary | Watch the recorded roundtable | View the presentation

Join Sally Steed, SVP of Advertising at The Salt Lake City Tribune, and Mary Hoffman, Director of Classified at The Chicago Sun-Times, as they share their success stories about a new and exciting approach they have taken to transition print obituaries into digital brand ambassadors with expanded revenue opportunities. Today, your readers often first discover who’s recently passed and send condolences in their local Facebook feed or other social networks. This turns social media into an exciting, low-to-no-cost tool that every publication can use to engage current readers, attract new ones, and discover new revenue sources. Sally and Mary will share their experiences with iPublish’s Facebook solution, AdPortal Targeted Obits and Legacy’s use of audience categories to extend both the reach and longevity of a person’s obituary. Hosted by Brian Gorman, executive vice president, chief revenue officer, iPublish Media Solutions and Kim Vander Velde, SVP newspaper affiliate partnerships, Legacy.com

Sales Process Automation and Retention: Doing more with less | Watch the recorded roundtable | View the presentation

What are the components of a successful sales process and what portions can be automated without sacrificing customer service and trusted relationships?  Let’s discuss best practices and common pitfalls for lead generation, proposal creation and retention. Hosted by John Hoeft, vp, strategic partnerships, NinjaCat and Quique Nagle, CEO and Co-Founder, Advisr

Leveraging the Virtual Trade Show Opportunity | Watch the recorded roundtableView the presentation

Guarantee Digital will lead a discussion on the opportunities for recovering revenue from canceled events, including Home & Garden, Auto, Job Fairs, Prep Sports Award Shows and more. Hosted by Daryl Hively, Guarantee Digital