SF Innovation Mission Spotlight: San Francisco Chronicle

On June 18-20, LMA heads back to San Francisco for a regional Innovation Mission that will focus heavily on effective media transformation strategies (both audience and revenue).  A signature meeting will be with the San Francisco Chronicle, which will share critical learnings and best practices in everything from leveraging new audience platforms to expanding consumer revenue to revamping agency sales. We caught up with Ginger Neal, Senior Vice President, Advertising, for a preview of some off the Chronicle’s key innovation initiatives that attendees will learn more about on the trip.

Q: As you look at 2018 as a whole, what are the biggest transformation and growth initiatives that the Chronicle is focused on? And as a leadership team, how did you set your strategic compass for what to emphasize in the year ahead?

Our strategic drivers include:

  • The sales team goes to market (B2B) as an agency. Our team structure and tools align with an agency structure and we are a marketing technology company that owns the biggest brands in San Francisco.
  • Everything is data driven
  • Programmatic – Optimizing our brand and marketing technology in a programmatic world
  • Social Media strategy – beyond biddable media
  • Reporting KPIs

As a management team we look at several facets. First what areas are important? Where are we vulnerable and what is emerging? Do we have the competitive set to be in the game, if not, what do we need to do, what is the roadmap and will the development get us there fast enough? How do we maximize the opportunities where we know we need to have a strategy such as social media?

Q: You presented at Mega-Conference on your experimentation with smart audio and voice assistants (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc.). What are a couple of the biggest learnings that you’ve had so far?

The need for us to be in the audio world.  So many of our readers have audio devices it is crazy important to be ahead and make sure that their daily local audio habit starts with us.

We also need to thing about audience differently.  As newspaper companies much of our talk track has been about scale.  Audio will most likely will never have the scale but it is a very, targeted and engaged niche audience worth a very high CPM.

There are great bundling opportunities for ad sales with audio, FB live, in-article advertising etc.

Q: Your brand studio 46 Mile has gotten a lot of acclaim across the industry. How has it continued to grow and evolve over the past couple of years? Where are its biggest opportunities moving forward?

46 Mile is a key part of the Hearst/Chronicle strategy and year after year has seen high double digit revenue growth. Our sales team leverages 46 Mille as a key part of the solution set for regional (or larger) clients that can benefit the very boutique custom services. 46 Mile leverages the assets of Hearst to providing in-depth research, branding strategies, media planning and the full array of media buying services across all platforms.

Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve made to your sales force (structure, strategy, training, etc.) as part of your larger transformation efforts?

A big shift with our sales force is how we go to market in both our branding and how we address our customers. We position ourselves as Hearst Bay Area with a complete array of agency services. As we reach out to clients rather than scatter shoot, our account executives are focused on specific clients in specific categories. Work groups work with the AE’s in selected categories to help define the problem we can solve and layout what products and services will help the client and then we think through messaging. Along with that we have also modernized our sales team with new tools and updated tactics including a robust inbound and outbound demand generation strategy.

In addition, expanding our product set has been pivotal to our transformation.  We go head to head with many agencies in our market and we have actively expanded our products to include everything from first party data, to an internal trading desk, to robust reporting in order to compete.

New strategies require new structures which require new skillsets. We are challenged with continuous training and learning as we go.

Q: From an audience perspective, how is the Chronicle thinking about growing revenue, whether that’s subscriptions, memberships, live events or other opportunities?

We have a paywall strategy, but memberships go beyond the paid subscriptions.  We invite our members to SFC hosted events such as our Wine Competition at discounted pricing and give them access to unique experiences such as a walkthrough of AirBnB.