Annual VPA Conference Recap for 2014

By: Kelly Olsen

6277209256_934f20da10_zIf you’re going to throw an Association meeting, call Virginia. They know how to party – err, I mean… how to get people in the door…

This year was the best turn out they’ve seen in quite some time (maybe the best pre-recession turn-out); and I was thrilled to be able to join in on the fun. Not only was the weather an extreme improvement from what Indiana had been through lately (and my ride got upgraded for free – see sunroof), but I was able to sit in on a few engagements that took a deeper dive into the economic side of newspaper life. Naturally, this included the ever-present digital space.

Here are a few takeaways from the Virginia Press Association meeting:

Day One

Friday’s main event was “A Future for Revenue;” which focused on the subscription side of the house and how pricing strategies & tactics can be used to improve the overall profitability of the newspaper. Matt Lindsay of Mather Economics took a look at a targeted subscription package that managed customer profitability on a customer-level via client engagement. Not only did he compare how loyal customers function vs. those newer subscribers, but he took a deeper look at the different facets of the newspaper through digital surfaces like smart phones, tablets, and browser access.

For me, on the outside looking in, the most intriguing point was his “unbundling strategy.” When you’re talking digital, the newspaper is, unfortunately, not the only game in town. So, taking a page from the iTunes library (which unbundles the CD and sells the song), the newspaper could see digital interactions increase if the paper is unbundled and brings detailed, local content that is worth the price. With a defined platform and a defined product, the newspapers have a huge opportunity to get advertising dollars in the door. (Now, why didn’t I think of that?)

Day Two

Saturday’s docket was full of good information. I had the privilege of sitting in on a panel of journalists who define “best practices” in social and newsletter emailing. It was fun having a few PERQ clients represented on the panel (BH Media and The Free Lance Star). The key takeaway here was using social media to immediately impact your community engagement with your newspapers’ direct website.

One panelist mentioned that you can secure a dramatic increase in Facebook “likes” by pushing media out, as opposed to waiting on the community to find and interact with the newspaper directly. This causes trending for certain ideas or stories; and that trend should be instantaneously communicated with the website. In other words, take the trending story and push it to the top of the newspaper webpage so that it is seen first — all based on the larger and growing interest shown by the audience. I loved this idea; and I definitely know that the power of social media is one that isn’t going away any time soon.

Finally, I watched my good buddy, Jay Blankenship (The Press of Atlantic City), give a great presentation on the Sales Basics of Online Advertising. He made a lot of great points: one of which accurately suggested that newspapers have some of the best SEO (Search Engine Optimization) practices of any business model — just by doing what they do. I love that! It’s a great reminder to the naysayers of the newspaper. The paper is not dying — it’s just shifting and adjusting. In fact, when it comes to digital, they have a leg up on some folks. On that note, print isn’t going away any time soon either. We know that here at PERQ – and the newspapers know it, too. Still, if digital is here to stay (and, it is), we might as well jump on board, learn the ropes, and climb to the top – just like usual.

Way to go, VPA. Way to go.