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find a way to make it feasible without starting this way simply because of the number of
potential clients in a geographically small market. The digital only sales position retains
the biggest digital retail clients, prospects new clients and also has access to any active
client at The Aspen Times who hasn’t purchased digital in the past 90 days. While the
digital account manager is often working with the same clients as print account manag-
ers, it is not ever a four-legged sales call and both businesses operate independently of
the other. There is natural internal competition because when a digital rep can cherry
pick non-active digital accounts from a print manager, there is an incentive for the print
manager to be having the digital conversation on time, every time. The main sales objec-
tives are to grow our digital-only revenue both in volume and number of active accounts
and to increase brand awareness of Swift Digital. We know our customers are all buying
digital, just not from us. Mission #1: Get that business. We know we can do it best.
Q Tell us about your practices in recruiting and training media sales reps?
A There’s no question that hiring the right sales personality is much more impor-
tant than hiring the most qualified person on paper, or with the most product
knowledge. I can teach anyone the details of a product portfolio or how to use a rate
card. I can’t teach give-a -damn and dynamism. I can teach someone when geofencing
works and when it doesn’t, but I cannot teach them how to be hungry for the reward of
providing a solution that drives results for a customer. I’m fortunate to have a very
veteran team in Aspen who have been in the business for years, but who also embrace
what’s on the horizon. My biggest successes have been hiring sales reps whose person-
alities are a 100% match with my team. Every time I’ve deviated and hired the person
who just appears to have the best skill set and product knowledge, I’ve been wrong.
We’ve all had the employee who has all of the knowledge and talent in the world and just
sucks because they don’t have the drive and the passion. I’ve never had the employee
who gave 110%, was part of the team and wanted to be successful who didn’t make it.
Q You’re fortunate to be among the few who have participated in the LMA Innova-
tion Missions – what has the experience taught you? And what approaches to
doing business have changed as a result?
A One of the most valuable learning experiences for me was immersing myself in
the work of others who are successful and really feeling what that culture of their
success is all about. It can be felt in the vibe of the employees, the set-up of the work
spaces, the ways in which top leaders communicate to each other and their teams and in
the passion behind the execution of important projects. To be surrounded by such
energy is inspiring and motivating and reminds me that culture is what we create. It’s
also empowering to learn about how companies let innovation happen. The companies
who are innovation leaders are such because they create a place for innovation to
happen, have a venue for innovation to be discussed and tried, and have a process by
which the best ideas come to fruition. It’s really rewarding to watch this in action. One of
the coolest things about the mission is the relationship Nancy Lane has with the
companies the Missions get to meet with. The Mission wouldn’t be what it is without
companies that are willing to open their doors to the attendees and really be candid in
sharing the ingredients of their secret sauce. The mission is also an opportunity to travel
and work with some of the brightest minds in the industry. I’ve developed lifelong
friendships as a result of the Mission.
Q You are a huge believer in the importance of establishing a productive and
experimental culture in the workplace. How are you fostering the type of culture
you seek? Can you share any do’s and don’ts that can impact culture?
A Walking the walk is a lot tougher than talking the talk. It’s easy to sit in a room
and tell your team that you want them to be innovative. It’s much harder to
actually mean it.
Culture is something a leader has to live, eat and breathe. Leaders don’t get to have
“off ” days where culture goes by the wayside – it’s a way of being and it starts at the top
all day, every day. For example, it was all hands on deck delivering newspapers recently
because of road closure that caused serious delays in delivery. After we had finished,
everyone was tired and had a full day ahead. Mid-morning, a local business called to
say that they hadn’t received their three newspapers and could someone deliver them.
A member of my team asked them if they could go to the newspaper box around the
corner and grab a couple. My head almost popped off. We have a business dying to have
our product, we have a daily competitor in the community and we ask them to walk
somewhere. C’mon. So I hand delivered them with an apology. I didn’t want to, but it’s
the difference between good and great. I work hard to find the culture champions in my
organization and have them help drive engagement on the team. But I also recognize
that not everybody wants to be part of a progressive and innovative culture – it’s not
always comfortable. It’s the old Jim Collins analogy – I only want people on the bus who
share a common vision and passion and willingness to do what it takes to achieve great-
ness. That’s not to say they have to agree with me – in fact, I hope they often challenge
me – but it’s to say that once we’ve established a vision, they’re part of the solution and
never the problem.
Q You are a graduate of the Deseret Digital Media BootCamp, an intense two-day
training program for senior-level managers who want to accelerate their digital
competencies. Tell us about that program. And please share some of your key takeaways?
A I’m pretty sure I’m in one of LMA’s promotional videos saying something along
the lines of the Boot Camp being the single most worthwhile conference I’ve ever
attended. I really mean that. It’s not that the Deseret team gave us the magic bullet in our
goodie bags or said something so profound that we call came home and fixed everything
wrong with our businesses. It’s that the Deseret team was in lock step on their mission,
vision and strategy. The curriculum was outstanding and the presenters were best in
class. My biggest key takeaway was Swift Communications had to have the courage to
employ digital-only sellers. I believe that integrated sellers can and should exist in
non-metro markets in collaboration with digital-only sellers. I was convinced of this
when I left the Boot Camp. I also had a fire in my gut to figure out how to create a true
culture of innovation in my organization. It is clear that an organization that is passion-
ate about experimenting will grow in ways never imagined. Finally, I realized that I was
perpetuating experimentation that lasted way too long. At The Aspen Times we would
have meetings to have meetings to talk about how to conduct an experiment and then
the execution of the experiment was painfully slow, which is a suck on limited resources.
I have found that my team will rapidly execute an experiment, collect the data and
implement the findings, but when experimentation is too slow, we lose steam and the
Q Turning to your work on the seven-member innovation team for Swift Communi-
cations - tell us about the composition and the work of this group. And, can you
share some of the ideas that you are incubating currently?
A The Innovation Team (i-Team) is a hub for igniting great ideas with funding and
resources. The team serves the entire Swift community by cultivating and
encouraging innovation across the company. In the last year, a focus for our company
has been to improve our ability to identify good ideas, test them rapidly against a clear
hypothesis and then implement quickly and efficiently in multiple markets. The goals of
the team are to significantly increase testing and implementation and to rapidly bring
ideas that meet our mission to market. We have an online process through the company
Intranet that allows employees to submit their ideas. Ideas that are fully fleshed out and
warrant further review are then reviewed by the I-Team and ranked according to
determined criteria with ultimate considering for funding and resources. Ideas that need
more massaging are referred to team workspaces online for comment and input among
Swift employees to more fully vet a potentially good idea. We have received ideas about
everything from maximizing unused space at some of our larger properties to marketing
automation and almost anything you can imagine in between. It’s really interesting to
see where ideas come from and how people are thinking and it’s very rewarding to help
employees take something really bright and evolve it.
Q What do you see as the biggest opportunities for media companies in 2016?
A Mobile, native and diversified revenue streams. Forever it seemed like we talked
about being true to our core business and not deviating from what we do best. But
for years, I think we also forgot that what we do best is engage people and that doesn’t
happen on one platform or another. When we can connect people with things of interest
and relevance in their lives, we’ve done our jobs. That’s why I think it’s so important to
diversify revenue streams. Most of the industry is experiencing a decline in print revenue.
Standing around wringing our hands and wondering how to plug the hole isn’t the
answer. Looking for ways to capture that revenue in a new and efficient way is how we
keep our share of the pie. From a mobile perspective, I don’t think we need more data
than we have to tell us where our audience is going and how fast. If we don’t dominate
mobile, someone else will. And I’m still a big fan of native. When done well, it’s highly
effective and personal and meaningful for our audience. We’ve just scraped the tip of the
iceberg in our markets and I’m prepared for big things in the native space this year.
Q Finally, how do you keep yourself and your team motivated?
A I love what I do and I work with people who love what they do. It’s not hard to be
motivated if you still have a passion for the work and a hunger for the reward. I
tell people every day that if they wake up and don’t want to come to work, they need to
look for a new job. That’s not a threat or desire to push people out, it’s a desire to
surround myself with people who love to be there and a genuine belief that waking up
with purpose is a choice. This business changes every single day and now, unlike ever
before, we get to actually see and feel what works because of big data. The ability to tests
things and see real time results is really fun. As far as keeping teams motivated, the key is
offering fulfilling work and customized reward. If an employee loves what they do and is
rewarded in a way that means something to them, it’s a win.
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