There’s power in the “local flag” of newspapers. After all, that market has probably been there 100-200 years.

Yet, local newspapers are limited. In some areas, the efficiency and quality of their product can be improved by leaning on a larger media publisher.

We recently sat down with Alain Begun, VP of Marketing at Gatehouse Media. He talked about how a company that exclusively owns and publishes local community-based newspapers is a great thing, while a big multi-media company that happens to own a local brand really isn’t.

Here are some of the highlights of our interview with Alain.

Lloyd

It seems like newspapers are so powerful today, because their loyalty reaches back hundreds of years. I’m curious about your thoughts on that.

Alain

It’s interesting: our company is really focused on the local brand name. In fact, we’re getting ready to launch an ad campaign that will be customizable for all the local markets, and we’ve been talking to editors in all of our divisions. They all have similar things to say about the role that local newspapers play and the trust factor in communities.

When we talked to them about whether we should include Gatehouse branding alongside those local brands, their answers were almost universal. If we’re talking about Gatehouse as a company that exclusively owns and publishes local community-based newspapers, then that’s a good thing to talk about, but if we’re just talking about Gatehouse as this big multi-media company that happens to own this local brand, then that’s not a good thing to tell.

Lloyd

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I know you’ve got a centralized design team here in Austin that your publications use. It does seem like newspapers would be more efficient in that type of setup.

Alain

More than just the efficiency factor, it’s the quality of the content. The design that comes out is probably better than what a small newspaper can afford on their own. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Lloyd

One of my first jobs was in York, Nebraska, in the dead center of a map of the United States. There’s this one reporter who’s still there today, the local beat reporter, but she also goes to the city council meetings every Monday.

I remember going to those meetings with her, and every time they’d make the same joke: “Oh, we’ve got to be careful what we say: the news is here!” But it’s actually not a joke: it’s very important that she’s there.

You can’t outsource that at Gatehouse, but you can maybe outsource a layout of the local heros section or something like that. Having local people taking the pictures and putting the content together, but making it nice and pretty or even packaging the stuff that reporters are doing. That efficiency is important.

Alain

That’s true, and when we do surveys of readers and ask them what additional content they’d like to see in their paper or on the website, the number one answer by a factor of two or three is more local coverage. So that’s valuable and valued by readers. If we could provide more of that service, we would.

Lloyd

What’s interesting about your role is that you’re stuck in a difficult position in a way.

Gatehouse has to communicate to investors that it’s this changing media company, relying more on digital, but then in the communities they don’t necessarily want to hear that Gatehouse is a “media company.” They want to hear that they are supporting community news, because that’s what they care about at the end of the day. That’s a difficult position to be in.

Alain

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It’s challenging, but when our advertising salespeople are out there talking to a local client, they have to have the ability to talk about more than “Hey, do you want to buy an ad in the local paper?”

We actually own a marketing services company that can help them with their SEO, website design, and social media efforts. There’s that aha moment that local media is not just a standalone; we can help small businesses in that community grow.

Everything we do on the B2B side is focused on helping small businesses grow. If we do a good job of communicating that we have all these assets to bring to a small business, then that’s a positive.

The readers in the local community probably don’t care. They just want to read. But I do think there’s an advantage to being a full-service marketing resource for small businesses.

Lloyd

Yeah, you can think of it in the same way as the efficiencies you’re bringing to that market to give them a better product when you centralize technology. You’re doing the same exact thing with these SMB services.

If they have a guy who’s making websites at the newspaper, it doesn’t matter for small businesses whether he’s good or not—he’s their only choice. And he’s trying to serve everyone with only so many hours in the day, whereas you have this full-service marketing agency.

Alain

You’re absolutely right. We’re actually competing in small markets with the guy who hung up a shingle and designs websites. We have more assets to bring to a client.

Not that we want to put them out of business. There is just something to be said for being a one-stop shop.

Lloyd

And he can only do so much, and you’ll have a dozen experts in SEM with Gatehouse instead of whatever the one person is good at.

I’m curious, how many sales reps do you have to market to the locals and the national folks?

Alain

Somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 local sales reps, most of whom are integrated. We recently started hiring between 50-100 digital-only salespeople who will be in different markets across the country.

I’ve been part of onboarding them. That’s part of what Gatehouse provides: very involved training on how to sell at the local level.

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On the national side, we have just a handful of national sales reps. It’s obviously a different type of sell, with companies spending millions of dollars. But the big area of growth for us there is introducing assets like all of our websites to traditional newspaper advertisers who may not be thinking about the fact that in aggregate, Gatehouse web properties reach 35 million people a month.

That’s a significant amount of scale. Up till now, most national advertisers were not aware that Gatehouse even had the digital capabilities. That’s where we’re going in 2017.

Lloyd

One last question for you. Even though you’re looking at marketing from a high level, do you have any advice for media executives at local publications who are facing the same sort of issues you are?

Alain

I mentioned earlier that we do a lot of training at Gatehouse. As I’ve sat in on some of these sessions, I continually hear the trainers talking about the fact that a local business that doesn’t have the time to deal with even Gatehouse reps.

They’re probably getting 6-10 other salespeople calling them that same week or day. As a local person in the market representing a newspaper or website, you really need to be able to differentiate yourself from the competition.

A lot of what we do is train the sales reps not just to learn about our products and services, but to learn about the companies that we’re calling on. It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all solutions anymore. You may go in there thinking you’re going to sell a print ad campaign, and they’ve decided they’re going 100% digital, and you need to be able to pivot.

Being the smartest sales rep out there, knowing the most about your clients, goes a long way.

You’re also going to run into that guy or gal at the supermarket, so you want to be able to say, “I told you that was going to help your business.”

This episode is based on an interview with Alain Begun from Gatehouse Media. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the Local Media Executive.

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