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Q&A with Matt Sandberg

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Matt Sandberg leads a panel discussion at a Swift Communications Sales Summit.

10 Questions: On revenue with Colorado Press Network Board Chairman Matt Sandberg

Matt Sandberg is director of marketing and innovation at Swift Communications, Inc. – parent company of Colorado Mountain News Media – leading its go-to-market digital and print sales strategies, as well as sales-driven revenue initiatives. He’s also a director on the CPA Association board and chairman of the board of Colorado Press Network, the official for-profit affiliate of CPA. As such, he’s in good position to analyze, strategize and predict various aspects of revenue for Colorado’s news media. Here’s his take:

1 – What was the first revenue issue the board of Colorado Press Network (formerly SYNC2 Media, rebranded as of March) took on this year, and what have been the results or expectations of success?

As a board we work together to provide Jerry Raehal as much support and direction as possible in achieving our goals – providing value to our members and financial success. Strategically our first issue was establishing the first board of directors. This board has crossover from the Colorado Press Association executive board, but additional directors were added to bring additional revenue and marketing expertise.

We have a very engaged board with extensive experience and the meetings we have had I believe have positioned Colorado Press Network for a successful 2018. I have seen the benefits this has already provided Jerry and his team as they have tried new things this year that will benefit us for years to come. I look forward in hearing him brag about his team's work in upcoming issues!

2 – What processes that you’ve used with groups in your own organization have you brought to the Colorado Press Network board, and with what results?

I would say there are three primary areas where work I do within Swift has found its way to Colorado Press Network plans. The first is marketing automation/lead generation. How does Colorado Press Network position itself as a thought leader in the industry, and through creation of blog posts and email campaigns able to identify prospective advertisers?

The second is the other side of the coin from acquisition, and that is retention. Colorado Press Network has a very diverse customer base, and nothing is constant. As such it makes it difficult to understand what is happening with our customer base, so a focus on customer retention is a necessity in creating a baseline for the organization. From there the third area is budgeting and planning. With a better understanding of our customer base we can minimize the risk in developing new strategies to grow our business.

3 – When you need a new revenue idea, what does that process look like and who does it involve?

This is a constantly evolving process for us. Right now our process is focusing our organization on the jobs the consumers are buying our products for. The process involves stakeholders from key areas across our business, and the ideas focus on how we can deliver value to the consumer. Once you understand what jobs the customers are trying to get done (you get this information by asking them directly, not speculating) then you can have real discussion and brainstorming on what products and services we can create that can solve that problem and create a business opportunity for ourselves.

4 – What kind of experience or new expertise does the current wave of successful sales staff exhibit in the industry?

Today’s sellers are competing with more competition than ever, and in the digital space many are selling the same product. What’s interesting is that today’s sellers don’t necessarily need new expertise; they actually just need to stay focused on the basics of selling. Far too often sellers get stuck in the trap of pitching product, and they need to stay focused on understanding the customers’ needs.

Newspaper companies of the past had the core newspaper product to sell, which is a top of the funnel medium. Today we offer products at various stages in the purchase funnel, and sellers need to understand the goals their client has, and recommend solutions that will deliver on those goals. Today’s sellers have to be intimately familiar with the audience our brands reach and how we can connect our audience to our advertiser’s brand.

5 – What is Swift’s current policy on paywalls, and where do you see the news industry going on this timely issue?

I wouldn’t say we have a policy; we have different structures in place throughout our organization in understanding the value for the end user on digital platforms. For instance our Colorado resort markets have always had a unique FREE print model, and as a result we don’t have a paywall on any of those sites. We will likely be testing paid models in those markets in the next year.

What paywalls are really intended to do is create a value proposition between the media company and the end consumer, and that has historically been in the form of subscriptions, and then as we moved to the digital space, paywalls.

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A recent Swift Sales Summit presented audience strategies from content leaders to its sales organization.

As companies become more sophisticated in understanding which content is valuable to specific customers you will see media companies developing new methods of building consumer revenue. Those solutions might take the form of niche digital subscriptions, membership programs and selling merchandise directly to the consumer. Our goal is to test new models of paid content throughout our organization and finds scalable models that can drive future growth.

6 – What new technology in newsrooms do you see enhancing profits in the near future?

New technology in today’s newsrooms is all about understanding the consumer and developing engaging content that solves a problem for them. The technologies we are currently using allow us to understand our consumers better than ever before, which in turn provides us the opportunity to create more value for the consumer.

These insights will provide significant opportunity to better position our products and services and ultimately lead to new revenue and profit streams. The trick will be looking at data and insights through different lenses, ensuring it is the consumer we are satisfying – profits will follow.

7 – What’s new on the native advertising front?

The biggest change is seeing native applied across formats and audience segments. I know when I first ventured into the space as a publisher I looked for points of entry that possessed the least resistance and greatest opportunity. Today native advertising is presented in all content formats, including photos, info graphics, how-to guides, etc.

8 – A recent international conference focused on mobile platforms as the dominant force in the future of news. What steps should newspapers and other media in this country take now to keep current on the mobile front? More emphasis on content, 360-degree video, VR or something new on the horizon?

Think about the access you have now with your mobile device. Your email is with you everywhere. You have unlimited access to the internet. You have your favorite apps. All these items compete for your time. The new formats of storytelling you include (VR, 360, etc.) are just that, formats. You can’t build an audience strategy around 360 video, you must start with the consumer and their needs and develop compelling, engaging content that satisfies that need.

If you look at the past decade, newspaper companies have built strategies around formats and channels, and most strategies are a trickle-down approach to how we share news in the newspaper. I am a firm believer that emphasis and focus should be on developing a comprehensive audience strategy. If you understand your audience and their needs, it makes developing compelling content the only focus. From there, conversations about whether to use 360 video, VR or other new formats are answered simply by the question “does this format help tell the story and deliver value to the consumer?”

9 – And what are the new trends in providing advertising space and selling it for mobile?

Omni-channel marketing. Today’s customer journey through the buying cycle takes them on many stops, with many unique experiences that help them in their decision-making process. The goal of Omni-channel marketing is to develop a cohesive experience between the customer and your brand, whether the interaction is online, social or actually in your store.

10 – What is the Colorado Press Network board looking at to help grow revenue for CPA member newspapers in 2018 and beyond?

We are focusing on building solid, thoughtful plans that provide direction, support and flexibility in our success for 2018. There isn’t a magic bullet, but rather a series of sound business decisions that will lead to our success in 2018. The Colorado Press Network board has provided Jerry the guidance and ideas he needs to drive success through his team. I am anxious to hear the Colorado Press Network team share their successes with you in more detail in the months to come!