This Newspaper CEO Whacks Negative Perceptions

Did you ever watch an informative presentation and think afterward:

Gee, I wish I had given that?

Or:

Wow. That message hit it out of the park.

I did in February, after reviewing Matt McMillan’s “Flipping Negative Industry Perceptions.” He delivered the welcomed presentation during the winter joint conference organized by the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa Newspaper associations.

Don’t let Matt’s simple, inconspicuous title throw you.

His Relevant Points about reputation management carry plenty of wallop.

McMillan is the Minnesota-based CEO of Press Publications, Northstar Media, Kanabec Publications and Sentinel Publications. In short order, McMillan’s assessment takes apart several myths that frustrate newspaper people everywhere.

His list:

  • Newspapers are dying.
  • Thousands of newspapers have closed.
  • No one reads newspapers anymore.
  • And if they do, they’re old people who turn first to the obituaries.
  • Newspaper ads’ effectiveness is uncertain.
  • Newspaper ads underperform digital campaigns.
  • There are jobs at newspapers? You’re kidding, right?

Heard any of these?

McMillan builds a robust rebuttal by citing research, his company’s experiences, industry advocate conclusions, best practices, promotional campaigns, articles and commentaries, testimonials and effective recruitment campaigns to attract talent to newspapers.

(Happy to report The Relevance Project was included as a reliable source.)

I followed up by phone with McMillan, who acknowledged he accepted an invitation from Minnesota Newspaper Association Executive Director Lisa Hill to confront the negativity so community newspapers can make stronger cases for their vital roles — and successes.

It also helped that McMillan’s company was working on a similar project showing the strength of the newspaper audiences and collecting testimonials from satisfied customers.

McMillan thinks it is essential for newspapers to “use our own platforms” to improve reputations and to correct misguided or incorrect statements about community publishers.

He suggests this discipline: Refute one negative every week with a positive. Use your platforms to build trust.

And, do more when you can.

“We can’t just be reactive,” said McMillan, a past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and a board member of America’s Newspapers. “We need to be more proactive in getting our message out.”

An example, he noted, is the annual survey his company conducts with its approximately 100 employees. The consensus in 2020?

“We need to be more relevant” to our readers and communities, McMillan said.
Say that again:

Relevant.

The rallying call led to a series of “Best of…” contests celebrating top businesses and organizations in communities. It also prompted a concerted effort to produce news reports that were more forward-looking to “try to stay ahead of what’s coming” with original coverage “you can’t find anywhere else.”

Positive encouragement attracts positive possibilities, he added. Keep that in mind whenever confronting naysayers.

McMillan was encouraged to see his industry rally when the pandemic roared in 2020. He hopes that energy and determine can apply in 2021 to flipping any or all negative news about newspapers.

“Talk audience,” he added. “Media is audience.”

McMillan is willing to share his presentation with other associations at future conferences. Just keep in mind this:

Nothing supersedes an industry “expert” like the convictions of a feet-on-the-ground, I’m-mad-as-heck-and-not-taking-it-anymore newspaper manager.

—Tom Silvestri

ADDED BONUS: Click below for Matt McMillan’s presentation. We thank him for sharing it with Relevant Point readers.

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