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them the business plan I’d used when
visioning their role. The two plans were
about 70% the same – which we hope meant
those were the high points. We set the team
on reconciling the two, and then started
to integrate them with existing staff and
vendors to start moving the highest return
projects to market. It took me keeping
my foot on everyone in the company to
implement. Any time I stopped pushing,
the Mobile Team started to get stonewalled.
In retrospect, I probably should have been
even more involved to this end.
Let’s move on to the results you’re
seeing so far. Your dedicated
approach is not even 1 year old
yet - can you give us some insight into
what kind of mobile usage you’re seeing
now as compared to before this strategic
deployment? Comment on other results,
intended or not?
We are generally pleased to date.
Remember my opening pitch – no
one is making money and no one really
seems to know how. With the help of Gordon
Borrell we worked out probable local mobile
spending in our market and set our goal on
achieving and holding a 35% share from all
sources. We managed to get there in 2011
and are on target to exceed that share in
2012. These are very small real dollars.
Our websites, all of which are mobile
friendly, went from 1% of visits on mobile
device to an average of 20% now. Our SMS
service quintupled usage, and starting gen-
erating sales as well. Much of this growth
is easy to capture in concept, but it takes
dedicated resources to reinforce the need
You’ve made a long-term capital
investment in building a founda-
tion for mobile. Please tell us some of the
ways you are achieving a return on that
We expect to break even on an oper-
ating basis in 2012, and most of the
expense is staff, and will have paid back the
start-up in 2013. A key was keeping our use
on expensive technology low, really low. No
apps, no fancy CMS systems or revenue
shares. I’ll reinforce that we focused on
highest probable use for consumers, not
every imaginable use.
We in the media industry know the
importance of establishing and
pursuing a mobile strategy but I wonder
if the Main Street merchants sense any
urgency to move forward with mobile.
How are you educating your advertiser
community about this space and what are
some of the early results of your related
Talk about Sisyphus. Last summer
we sponsored a cruise and had about
100 local business people join us – the lure
was free food, good music and an open bar.
It was designed as an opportunity to pitch
all our new stuff. We went more than 45
By all accounts, mobile is the next big
disruptor in media and I want to probe
what your company is doing in this arena but
first, can you give us a thumbnail of Sandusky
Newspapers and Tandem Media Network? And
your role in the company?
Great question to get started. Sandusky
Newspapers, Inc. is a fifth-generation
family owned company, which started in
Sandusky, Ohio. It’s since grown to publish 12
newspapers in four states and operates radio
groups in Phoenix and Seattle. Our largest
paper is the Standard-Examiner (65k daily) in
Tandem Media Network is the sales/market-
ing arm used by the Sandusky (OH) Register and
its nearby sister paper, the Norwalk Reflector.
The two have a joint sales team and operate a
variety of side brands as Tandem M.N. These
include Funcoast (funcoast.com) entertain-
ment site, Fandy HS sport center (fandy.com)
and the newest addition, a tourist-focused
venture, Sandusky.net. You can find a full list
except Sandusky.net - at Tandemnetwork.
com. The Mobile Team venture is run as part
My role, up until last December, was President
of Tandem M.N. and publisher of the Sandusky
Register. In December I got a nice boost up the
ladder to be COO and President of the entire
In my role at Tandem, I ran the Mobile Team
directly, thinking it was that important AND that
I wanted the education in being hands on with
it. I think I was right on both counts to do so.
You received a call to action from your
CEO David Rau to craft a mobile strategy
based on where this space is going versus
where it is right now. What were the initial
steps you took to begin this process? Your
Dave pulled me aside one day, after seeing
yet another guru issuing a fire and brim-
stone speech on our inadequacies with mobile.
Dave said something like, “Take a couple weeks,
figure out how to make the (Sandusky) Register
the most advanced mobile operation in the
country, then tell me.” He called a few days
later and added, “I meant most advanced for
a community market...”
I wrote a plan, and he said, “Go do it.”
My basic pitch to him (which was eight pages
with footnotes in reality) boiled down to this:
No one is making money: no one has any idea
how to make money. This is about determin-
ing the way people are using (or will use) our
content on the go and providing it, first and
foremost. Next, figure out where the money
might come. We thought this should mean
figuring out what people are doing ‘On The
Go’ in our community, where we might have
an edge to intervene with our mobile offerings.
I firmly reinforced that there was no hope of a
cash return on the horizon.
I understand that part of your strategy
included the hiring and cloistering of a
few non-newspaper people. Tell us about this
decision? The hiring process and results?
The centerpiece of our plan was to hire
a team of three, which we figured was
enough to be a group, small enough to actually
get something done. We also determined there
was almost no real experience in this field so we
hired for a recent college education, ability to
communicate and having a really cool phone – or
the ability to describe the one you’d buy if you
had money. As we were interviewing recent,
unemployed grads, the money thing was real.
We reduced the pool of our candidates to
five and had them work as a group to pitch a
team of us on some products. The manage-
ment team watched them work for two hours,
and selected the three we thought would bring
the best mix of skills. A year later, we think we
picked pretty well.
What were the parameters, if any, for the
mobile team’s incubation period and
what were some of their main outcomes?
The first couple weeks we literally seques-
tered them in a room on the top floor,
with no access to the newspaper staff. We gave
them a forced diet of magazine stories, blog
entries, industry studies and hours of reading
on mobile-focused websites. This was not
“newspaper” industry material, it was “mobile”
industry material. We hired teaching from a
handful of very notable media consultants and
then asked the team to build a strategy on what
a “media” company should do in the mobile
space. They did a nice job at coming up with
a plan, mostly. It was fresh, a little naïve, but
had great bones.
How did you eventually merge their con-
clusions into your practices and, for lack
of a better word, constraints of the existing
platform and approaches? And, can you also
comment on the integration of the mobile
team with core media company staff?
After the isolation period and a lengthy
oral defense of their positions, we gave
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Q & A with...
PHARES, PAGE 18
COO & President - Newspaper Group
Sandusky Newspapers, Inc.
Bringing Mobile to Main Street
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