What 4 media executives learned and actually implemented after attending an Innovation Mission

Talk to someone who has attended one of the Local Media Association’s Innovation Missions and you will quickly hear stories about the number of ideas they were able to bring back to their organization and get implemented. The stories are filled with huge ROI and innovations that helped move their companies forward.

With our next Innovation Mission right around the corner — we are headed to Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C  in early February — we caught up with a few past attendees to hear what they learned and what they put into place. Read about their ROI experiences here: 

Gary Rust, Director, rustmedia

Here at Rust Communications and rustmedia, we are building a core business around cause based marketing, first introduced during the Texas Innovation Mission. Beyond selling “deals” or “packages,” we also present “partnerships” with a cause. This promises to be a central relationship with a large advertiser in the medical field seeking to “do things better.” The genesis of the approach was inspired by a visit to Emmis Communication on the Mission in Texas.

A visit to Umbel, also in Austin, resulted in our embracing “data” – big and small – in better defining our audience profiles targeting millennials. To capture their trust and voice, we launched a “daily” email specific to their profile with plans to grow a Midwest “agency” around their interests. This initiative is not dissimilar to a recent LMA Innovation Mission visit to a company on the west coast – the Hustle in San Francisco. Although we didn’t make the trip, having access to Jed Williams and those who did is just another benefit of LMA sponsoring visits outside the “traditional” media box.

Another innovative initiative is our seeking to stream video as part of a sponsored business event. Done right by Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune visit, we are seeking a bundled package with local businesses that includes a regularly sponsored talk, live, but an event that also lives o-demand.

All these ideas take an incubation period to adapt to our smaller markets with smaller budgets. But, they are big ideas to transform a business. The ROI on any “innovation” trip comes from venturing outside our markets to learn from those who “innovate.” Those who “do.” LMA opens the doors. We feel smarter after an IM and more confident in our path to be uniquely better.

Bob Woodward, Vice President, Strategic Planning & Business Development, Woodward Communications, Inc.


Funding and putting the processes in place for an Innovation Team to meet off-site and address opportunities, using customer input as well as employee input).

Conducting quarterly cross-pollination meetings with the community media division heads to share new revenue stream ideas. Not “end of the world meetings” like we saw at HubSpot, but more “what in the world should we pursue?” meetings.

Data Initiatives 

  • Regular research (surveys, focus groups) of primary stakeholders (readers and advertisers). We’re adding both quantitative and qualitative studies on a regular basis.
  • Adding a digital/data coordinator in our radio division to “wrangle” data and work to monetize it. And moved some IT resources from “corporate” to community media.
  • Buying third party data to append to our current databases in order to flesh out customer profiling. Our goal is to use for direct marketing, subscription solicitation and retention, and editorial decision-making (and potential customization).

Audience & Platform Development

  • Looking at new ways to leverage audio with podcasts and voice-controlled content like Alexa.
  • Upping the ante our e-newsletters to include our weeklies as well as more/better offerings to our business readers.

Stephanie Slagle, Director of Digital Strategy, WBNS

During the Innovation Mission in Washington, D.C., we spent a day at Gannett. I was very impressed with their approach to digital creative. Our host was able to quickly connect me with their Imaging & Ad Design Center. Just a few months later, we signed a contract with them, and were able to save almost $80,000 a year on creative fees. And, we have a superior product from a company with access to more data about creative efficacy than we would ever have on our own.

Brooke Warner, General Manger, Sierra Nevada Media Group (part of Swift Communications) 

Page load time and user experience: we are implementing lazy loading for increased speed and fewer, better looking ad spaces.

Lots of new, branded video products. They’re pushed out through social media networks across Nevada, but they belong to a directory.