Executive Voices: Continuing the conversation from Chicago


By any measure, the first-ever Executive Voices, held in Chicago on Dec. 7, was a success, attracting standing-room-only attendance by top media executives who engaged in a lively discussion of urgent industry issues.

A second Executive Voices is set for Chicago, with a reception and dinner to be held on Tuesday evening Dec. 4 and the sessions to follow on Wednesday, Dec. 5. The Inlander asked two of the discussion leaders—P.J. Browning, president of Evening Post Industries Newspaper Division and publisher of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., and Doug Phares, president and COO of Sandusky Newspaper Group—to reflect on what they heard in the meeting room high above Chicago in the Willis Tower.

Browning led the discussion on developing new revenue, and Phares facilitated on the topic of publication frequency.

Did you sense a consensus in the room on any matters?

Browning: A couple of specific conclusions: As an industry we must aggressively market why newspapers matter, the impact we have on our communities and highlight the good work being done, why we’re relevant in today’s society.

And then there’s digital, digital, digital.  It’s imperative that we manage between print and digital and stay relevant on the platform in which people want to consume news.

Phares: I certainly think it helped round out their thinking (about changing print frequency). We didn’t take a poll, though I did track on a white board (a before-and-after opinions from the group). It wasn’t a poll—but what it showed us was people did change their thinking, and there was a shift in tone and thought in the room. They were more confident about what they were doing and where they were going at end of discussion.

It also gave me some working material that I’ve put into task forces. Based on what people said, I thought, I need to really work on these.

So there might be changes in frequency at some Sandusky Newspaper Group properties.

It’s early yet, but I’ve meted out responsibilities to people for this, and we’ve got a task force.

How did you like the Executive Voices format?

Browning: I was really excited that Inland put together this session. It allowed us to have an in-depth conversation around best practices and to share ideas in a more intimate setting.  Conferences are great but being able to sit with a peer group and really talk about topics that we’re all facing and be able to gather the collective wisdom of the group was powerful.

Phares: There was good energy in the room. It felt like people were interested in what others had to say. And there were enough people to offer concrete examples of their experience.

The real lubricant to the discussion was that they were queried in advance so we had some very solid inputs to the questions. People were willing to speak about some of those things.

Browning: What I took away from the conversations was that there is a lot of great work being done.  And, everyone seems laser focused on their community and what works within that community.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all (matter). But, by sharing proven ideas and being able to tweak them to your specific market is incredibly valuable.  And the group that gathered was not afraid to talk about what wasn’t working.  That honesty is so helpful.

Did the discussion raise perhaps other areas to explore in the next Executive Voices?

Browning: I would vote to take a couple of the discussion items and spend even more time on them with small breakout sessions.  It was a lot to talk about in one day. It’s our future. I think it’s important that we get it right!