Home' Local Media Today : March 2012 Contents 2 | LOCAL MEDIA TODAY | March 2012
I want to explore some of your mul-
timedia initiatives but before we
get into that can you please give us a
thumbnail of The Observer Group –
publications, digital presence, market
The Observer Group is a family-
owned and operated multimedia
company with six newspapers, three
websites, a quarterly arts and social
magazine and more than 80 employees
serving multiple communities around
In the Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.,
market we have four free community
weeklies — Sarasota Observer, Longboat
Observer, East County Observer and
Pelican Press — with a combined circu-
lation of 70,000. These papers’ website
— YourObserver.com — receives more
than 70,000 unique visitors and more
than 300,000 pageviews each month.
We also have an iPhone App that has
more than 9,000 users.
We also publish the Gulf Coast
Business Review and its website, Review.
net, which is a paid-circulation busi-
ness weekly with subscribers extend-
ing from Tampa to Naples. The Palm
Coast Observer, along with its website
PalmCoastObserver.com, is another free
community weekly with a circulation of
25,000 serving the east coast market of
Palm Coast/Flagler County, which con-
verted to twice-weekly this month.
And, tell us a little bit please about
your pathway into your position
as Associate Publisher – Multimedia,
and your general day-to-day respon-
I’m a fourth-generation newspaper
girl, and as my mother likes to point
out — ink runs through my veins. My
parents met in journalism school at
the University of Missouri. After both
working at several newspapers in the
Midwest, and my father’s stints at the
Miami Herald, Florid Trend Magazine
and Forbes while my mom raised our
family, my parents and grandparents
(also former newspaper executives)
bought the weekly Longboat Observer
in 1995 when I was in high school. After
many dinnertime conversations about
the newspaper business, joining the
family business was a natural fit.
I started out on the editorial side and
served as the Arts and Entertainment
and Black Tie Editor for seven years and
then wanted to learn the newspaper
business as a whole, so I became an
outside sales rep.
Truthfully, it was after attending a
Local Media Association conference with
my father and convincing him that we
needed to get into the multimedia busi-
ness that I transitioned into the position
of Associate Publisher-Multimedia. My
job consists of developing all of our digi-
tal products — websites, apps, bundled
print-digital packages, video, mobile
and new products — marketing them
and training the sales staff.
You were one of a small group
who took part in the 2011 North
American Innovation Mission
sponsored by the SNA Foundation.
How was that experience? Please share
some of the key overarching lessons
that you took away from this week
long, multi-stop study tour?
It was a thrilling experience. It
opened my mind and ultimately
our company to new products and
new dimensions beyond just having a
website. I was really proud of how our
little company jumped into the digital
world in a short time, but the Innovation
Mission made me quickly aware that we
had far to go.
Since the Innovation Mission, a lot of
the key points I learned have already or
are in the process of being implemented
at The Observer Group. Such as:
Legacy Reps can sell digital, but dig-
ital-only staff is required for certain
Community contributor networks add
value to your current content.
Creative combinations are the next
big revenue opportunity.
If I’ve got it right, I understand that
one direct result of your involve-
ment with the I.M. was the creation
of ‘Store Around The Corner’. Tell us
“Store Around the Corner” is
the direct result of learning
about Metroland Media Group’s
“ShopTalk” product. I loved that concept
of combining all your marketing needs
into one: print, online, video, QR codes
So I kept thinking: How can we imple-
ment this at The Observer Group? And
it dawned on me: We had an online
business directory with Local.com and
it was basically just sitting there on our
site not being used. We weren’t selling
it or promoting it. So I thought this is the perfect
way to utilize the ShopTalk product.
We rebranded our Local.com business directory
as Store Around the Corner (as well as the URL to
offered customers an expanded listing on Store
Around the Corner plus a monthly print ad in all
four of our papers, QR codes linking directly back
to their 60-second video that we produce (this is
outsourced) and social media. We opted to provide
social media instead of blogging because we just
don’t have the manpower to produce that much
content in addition to our current content.
Can you comment on the back story of this
initiative such as development details and
market reception? How is it going so far? Expense
and revenue outlook?
We started creating Store Around the Corner
in May 2011. It took us longer than I expected
to launch the product — six months. You always
think things like: “We can get this going in two
to three months.” But as they say, the devil is in
Like rebranding our Local.com directory, chang-
ing the URL, forming relationships to outsource
video production, figuring out pricing, creating
spec ads and flyers for the sales staff, training
the sales staff, getting software to generate QR
codes in house, creating Facebook, Twitter and
YouTube channels with the Store Around the
You have to understand there are only three
of us in our company actually focused on digital
myself, a designer and an editor. And we all
have other responsibilities that took us away from
focusing on Store Around the Corner exclusively.
It didn’t help, either, that our content manage-
ment provider doesn’t exactly understand that
newspapers are deadline driven.
We launched in November with a breakfast
debuting the product to about 25 potential custom-
ers. And we’re limiting the package to 24 customers
in the first year — not only to gauge how much
in-house manpower this is going to take, but also
to offer exclusivity to our customers.
The package is a 12-month contract at $150 a
week. We did include a six-month opt-out, but the
rights to the HD video and QR code are only available
to the customer when the contract is paid in full —
either up front or at the end of the contract.
In the meantime the customer can embed the
YouTube video on his site or Facebook page or
use the QR code in the print advertisement if he
is already a current print advertiser.
As of now, we have eight packages sold, four
videos shot, and another two videos in production.
As soon as we have six videos shot, we will launch
the product in print. To be honest, it’s been a slow
start getting it off the ground. We’ve learned this is a
lot for both the sales staff and customers to get their
heads around. But we’re confident that as soon as
we get the print portion of the package going, we’ll
have others chomping at the bit to get in.
As for expense and revenue outlook, we factored
in the expenses when we created the pricing. So
no matter what, we will make a profit on what we
sell. But if we sell the package to 24 advertisers in
the first year, we’ve estimated that we will generate
close to $200,000 in new revenue. That’s big for
our online numbers.
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Q & A with...
The Observer Group,
WALSH, PAGE 16
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