It focuses on publisher Tribune’s efforts to rebuild what it sees as a lackluster digital operation and to ramp up revenue.
“When industry veteran Dan Hickey joined Tribune Publishing in January to head up digital marketing services, he saw great promise in the nascent division’s work, which last year included creating an online video series for Jewel-Osco and a multimedia website for Hangar 1 vodka,” writes reporter Robert Channick in the Tribune story. “That didn’t stop him from purging the entire sales staff, reassigning some and cutting loose dozens of others in a sweeping reorganization. Such is the urgency of his mission: Turn the legacy newspaper company’s online marketing expertise into a major profit center.”
“We were doing work for Jewel, we were doing work for several other clients that were really pretty impressive programs, but there weren’t enough of them,” he said.
“The newspaper industry, which has seen its advertising revenue cut in half since 2005, is embracing digital marketing services as a crucial alternative revenue stream,” according to Channick. “Web development, paid search and social media strategies are the core offerings, with the related category of content marketing helping clients create everything from videos to stories in a bid to engage customers.”
The problem? Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, which includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and eight other daily newspapers, is trying to catch up.
“Building digital marketing services has been a priority for (Tribune publishing CEO Jack) Griffin since taking the reins last April,” says Channick. “The former CEO of Time Inc. launched a leading marketing services company now known as Meredith Xcelerated Marketing during his previous 12-year tenure at Iowa-based magazine publisher Meredith Corp.”
Though with 435 Digital, Tribune Publishing’s digital marketing services built 99 websites and generated $24.8 million last year, the 55 percent YOY increase was not enough for Griffin, who then brought in Meredith alumnus Hickey to “speed the process.”
“I’m here to accelerate this business, and make it so that it’s enduring and it’s profitable, and that it is serving our best customers and best advertisers,” Hickey said.
Acording to Channick, 435 Digital’s campaign last year for Jewel-Osco — “Something Fresh” — was a video series showing young “influential” Chicagoans shopping, preparing and serving foods from the grocery. The videos appeared on Jewel-Osco’s YouTube page and on chicagotribune.com, where they remain posted with a small advertisement disclaimer reading, “This content isn’t produced by the newsroom.”
Now, reportedly, Hickey expects readers to “see a lot more sponsored content on chicagotribune.com.”
“Not many people can create great content on a regular basis, and we can,” Hickey said. “We look at that as really the growth opportunity.”
It’s a story of how a modern day publisher is struggling to tap into the only remaining revenue source for former print giants: digital.
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