So what is it you do, Francis Wick?
I’m the president and CEO of Wick Communications, named in February 2016, and I’ve been a board member since 2007.
Tell us about the Wick family media enterprises.
Wick communications traces its roots to a small struggling newspaper acquisition in Niles, Ohio circa 1926 by brothers Milton and Jim Wick. Milton, the consummate salesman, and Jim, the ever-intellectual editor, grew the founding paper and began a committed approach of acquiring newspapers.
Today, Wick is celebrating 92 years of family stewardship, with three generations of newspaper believers. Wick owns and operates media assets—newspapers, websites, magazines, events and more—in 10 states. Wick is positioned to build upon its media roots through a responsible and methodical long-term strategy.
What do you see as your family’s newspaper and media properties advantage in your markets?
The markets we serve tend to be sub-10,000 daily or weekly circulation, isolated, with limited local competition for advertising dollars and negligible competition for local quality content.
Our unique advantages within these markets are similar to those elsewhere: The size of the market allows for connections to exist within the entire community, rather than factions of a larger market.
As for being family-owned, numerous stakeholders in the communities we serve have met myself, or other Wick family members, and know local publishers who lead our franchises to inform, challenge, build and champion a community to move forward
while being responsible operators to the business.
What does being a third-generation family newspaper owner mean to you? Do you feel special obligations towards the business as you’ve taken the leadership role?
To the latter part of the question first…Hell yes!
To consider the thousands of employees who contributed to building a business, coupled with the inherent pride one takes to be blessed with such history carries a significant obligation.
Let’s get real. This is an amazing business where we can impact an individual and community in a very meaningful way. The business is in distress and requiring transformation, what are we going to do? Some will exit, others will double down. The one option not available is staying the course, the economics are not there.
The Wick family takes tremendous pride in the business and legacy of those who came before us and are committed to pioneering a bright future. The constructs of that future will look very different than it did two decades ago, but that’s okay.
I see myself not only a steward of a family-owned company, but someone who can share his own vision where the industry needs to go and not overwhelm myself by the fear of the unknown. Think about it, this industry was so largely successful for so long, there was little necessity for change. Today is completely different and one of the reasons I get so jazzed about our future possibilities. The goal here is to navigate the industry and current challenges to build upon local content and marketing through connections and experience.
Did you always know you were going to go into the newspaper business?
Yes, the aspect of learning something new every day has been one of the most exciting and stimulating experiences I’ve enjoyed to date.
The business side of the industry, though challenged, is filled with opportunities. This is a ballgame for entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs.
Basically those are employees who act like entrpreneurs, who are encouraged to develop their ideas.
How do you see the future of newspapers?
The next five to seven years of the newspaper industry are going to be crucial in executing a longer-term path to sustainable local content distribution.
We’ve chased advertising as a priority revenue driver for years, as it was the substantial revenue driver for 60-plus years, to the detriment of valuing the amazing work our journalists do. Understand, as an industry we still operate largely from a place of fear focused on what we were rather than what we are going to be. That fear, coupled with public companies’ excessive debt burdens and quarterly expectations has all together become a huge barrier to our success.
The revenue curve is changing and we need to align our expectations and executions to capitalize on these changes. (See chart above.)
Our core value proposition is local credible content that most markets don’t have the scale or resources to replicate. It’s time we quit saying we value this and begin to do something about it, which the industry appears to be doing.
You’ve been heavily involved in Inland’s Family Owner committee and the semi-annual conferences. What has that Inland involvement meant to you and to Wick Communications?
As a co-chair of the family owners group, I’ve found impactful connections with peers helping champion successive generations of family involvement to exchanging operational ideas. It’s unlike any group I’ve connected before and has created life-long lasting relationships.