The Palm Beach Post Retreat Memo

Somebody had commented on here about a big management retreat for Palm Beach Post poo-bahs -- and now we have the resulting memo (thanks to my colleague Deirdra Funcheon, who obtained it). The June 16 directive charts out a path for the future of the Post, a future that apparently will involve a lot of reader surveys, corporate meetings, more work, and rampant fear over coming job losses.

Fourteen senior executives took the retreat from June 11 through June 13 to try to adjust to what they call the "new normal" in the journalism business, "a world none of us has experienced before, but one in which we must now compete and flourish," as the management team put it.

Interestingly, they say the key to building up their Internet business is a "hyper-local 'communities'" site called BackYardPost.com, which is being constructed right now. You can go to the site on the link above. It's an information database with demographical information galore -- and it's free. The site bills itself this way:

We're in 211 neighborhoods in the city of West Palm Beach, and have information on 53 parks, 29 schools, 6 libraries and over 36,000 properties.

Why is this the future? According to management's memo:

We fully believe that once this hyper-local 'communities' site is built-out to its full depth and breadth, we will have the best site of its kind anywhere. We will be focusing on building a self-serve tool to attract the thousands of small, local advertisers that currently do not utilize any of our products.

Translation: "The most important move we're making online for the future of the Post doesn't involve you at all. It's a site where we directly communicate with advertisers via information we've gotten from databases."

Sort of the journalism industry equivalent to the robotic arms on the factory line.

Anyway, that's pretty much the extent of practical information in the memo -- the rest is just an odyssey into corporate gobbledy gook. And in the journalism business, that always involves management telling reporters that they are going to let "customers" -- which used to be called "readers" -- dictate content. Here's that part of the memo:

To help us leverage our content for new audiences and products, we will soon identify a new Niche Products team-either formal or informal-to drive new product development. We'll be committing resources to doing the market research necessary to define and prioritize what our customers want from us -- both in our daily newspapers and for our niche products. At the same time, our product plan will be more focused on shorter, more themed content that readers desire, and on making our products more interesting.

Translation: "Reader don't want boring journalism. It want short easy stuff on Internet to make fun. They show you how to do it."

How is this crack team of managers going to implement the changes? Why, more meetings, of course:

In order to develop and promote a high performance culture with and for all of our employees, we must first improve our on-going communication plan. Going forward, each of you can count on better and more frequent doses of information about where our company is headed. From more frequent (quarterly) meetings of all managers throughout the company, to more frequent meetings (monthly) meetings within each department, to a more frequent company newsletter filled with useful information about what's happening inside your company, to more frequent e-mails or letters like this one where you'll learn more about our company's priorities.

Translation: "Think you're a lone wolf journalist? Forget it. We are going to take control of your work life in a way you never imagined. And you'll be working harder doing as we say."

The memo also refers to the coming job cuts that have been looming ominously over the staff for months now: "Our immediate attention to cost-containment remains heightened. A reduction in the size of our company and our workforce will come this summer."

All in all, the memo is one of the scariest things I've read to date during this newspaper downturn, next to a couple of those Sam Zell memos. Actually, I'll take Sam over this. At least he doesn't load up his communiques with all the creepy corporate jargon. This thing is like science fiction; it harkens images of zombies and body-snatchers. But enough of my take. Here's the memo:

June 16, 2008

Dear Colleagues,

As you are probably aware, the fourteen senior executives of Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc. were off-site from June 11 thru 13 at a 2009 strategic planning retreat. At this retreat, we all agreed we should report back to each of you today on what was accomplished during our meetings.

Since April 1, it's no secret that we've focused on cutting costs to make up for the prolonged slump in advertising revenue that's been going on for the past two years. Because that slump is expected to continue for many months, the cutting will unfortunately have to continue. But these 'defensive' cuts were not the reason we

met. Instead, we focused on developing strategies to help us achieve our business priorities for 2009.

As a reminder, our #1 priority business objective for the next 18 months is to Achieve Profitability for Palm Beach Newspapers, inc. in 2009. In order to accomplish this, we'll also be focusing our attention on these supporting objectives:

- Accelerate Digital Audience, Products and Revenue Growth
- Execute on Focused "Footprint" Strategies
- Develop and Promote a High Performance Culture
- Leverage our Content for new Audiences and Products

Despite the tough economic times that we are currently experiencing, this group remains optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead for us. Evident by the new retail development that continues all around us; we know that we will continue to live and work in a growing, dynamic and wealthy market-- one with a tremendous up-side. There is no question though that we will need to accelerate our pace of change and adjustment to the "new normal" in our rapidly-changing industry -- a world none of us has experienced before, but one in which we must now compete and flourish.

Here then are some of the strategies and initiatives that were discussed in our retreat. Over the coming weeks, you will not only learn more about many of these; but will, in many cases, be asked to help evaluate and implement them with us.

With regard to the accelerated development of digital audience, products and revenue, we are most excited about the coming launch of BackYardPost.com. We fully believe that once this hyper-local 'communities' site is built-out to its full depth and breadth, we will have the best site of its kind anywhere. We will be focusing on building a self-serve tool to attract the thousands of small, local advertisers that currently do not utilize any of our products.

Other digital priority items include a strong focus on the Health category both in print and online, a focus on re-launching our local Entertainment site, continuing to build towards a future that includes delivery of content on Mobile devices, and development of strategies to aggressively drive revenue through e-mail newsletters to consumers and businesses. To support these efforts, we're already evaluating how our digital content and operations structure can be re-shaped for maximum performance.

Our plans to execute on more focused "footprint" strategies is centered around identifying the areas of our market where we intend to focus our attention and financial resources to protect and grow our franchise. At our retreat, we broke the market into four distinct geographic target areas-1) our competitive battle front, 2) our long-term growth markets, 3) our focused retention markets, and 4) our maintenance markets. Our plan will be to strategically apportion our resources to most efficiently serve our customers in each of these areas. You'll hear more specific plans about these areas in the coming weeks and months.

In order to develop and promote a high performance culture with and for all of our employees, we must first improve our on-going communication plan. Going forward, each of you can count on better and more frequent doses of information about where our company is headed. From more frequent (quarterly) meetings of all managers throughout the company, to more frequent meetings (monthly) meetings within each department, to a more frequent company newsletter filled with useful information about what's happening inside your company, to more frequent e-mails or letters like this one where you'll learn more about our company's priorities.

But a high performance culture also includes committed training and development opportunities more aligned with our priorities and your needs. It includes more consistent execution of regular, two-way communication between all employees and their managers through performance evaluations and more frequent praise, coaching and development sessions. And it includes not only appropriate pay for performance (including salary and other compensation), but that all employees are held to consistent standards of performance; and are challenged with opportunities for growth and advancement.

To help us leverage our content for new audiences and products, we will soon identify a new Niche Products team-either formal or informal-to drive new product development. We'll be committing resources to doing the market research necessary to define and prioritize what our customers want from us -- both in our daily newspapers and for our niche products. At the same time, our product plan will be more focused on shorter, more themed content that readers desire, and on making our products more interesting. Our websites will engage our audiences to contribute in many ways, and our products will reflect their contributions. We will focus even more on local.

By no means is this letter intended to capture and reflect all that was discussed and decided at our 2009 strategic planning retreat. You will see and hear much more within your departments in the coming weeks. We intend to establish employee-led teams, and engage many of you in identifying areas throughout our operation where we can do things better, faster, more efficiently.or perhaps STOP doing them.

Our immediate attention to cost-containment remains heightened. A reduction in the size of our company and our workforce will come this summer. We will continue to look at opportunities to partner and consolidate where it makes sense. We will continue to focus our attention on advertising pricing clarity, discipline and innovation. We will continue to look for ways to drive incremental revenue where we can-- including in some non-traditional ways very soon. And, yes, we will have to stop doing some of the things that we have done in the past.

These are difficult and perhaps scary times for some of us. But we believe that we have an opportunity to be a part of creating the "new normal" for our company and for our future in this business. Despite all of the distractions, we invite you to be a part of something truly dynamic and innovative here at Palm Beach Newspapers. There is no better time to begin that today.

On behalf of all of us on the senior management team, we thank you for your continued dedication and commitment to our company.

Doug Franklin, Publisher
Charles Gerardi, General Manager
John Bartosek, Editor
Linda Murphy, VP- Human Resources
Larry Siedlik, VP & Treasurer
Gale Howden, VP- Community Relations
John Kelly, VP- Advertising
Barry Berg, VP- Circulation
Bob Balfe, VP- Operations
Tim Burke, VP- Digital Operations
Laura Cunningham, Dir.-Marketing Services
John Occhipinti, Dir.- Data Processing
Joyce Reingold, Publisher- Palm Beach Daily News
Joyce Sullivan, General Manager- Pennysaver & La Palma

My Voice Nation Help
0 comments

Now Trending

Miami Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Services

Loading...