November Q and A: Arizona’s Lisa Simpson

A Monthly Series

Lisa Simpson acknowledges that she sometimes questions her sanity for taking on the role of executive director of a newspaper trade association at a time of continued upheaval in the industry. 

The challenges can be daunting, especially in the state legislature, with the urgency for effective revenue-generating strategies, and managing through necessary change. It’s often an uphill battle each day.

Lisa Simpson

But Simpson is quick to click through priorities and projects intended to improve results and newspapers’ standing. Add in blunt determination and she has a firm hold of what will keep an association Relevant to its members.

“It’s something I love,” adds Simpson, who is in her eighth month leading the Arizona Newspapers Association. “I’d rather be in the trenches, in this role, fighting for its survival.”

In the November installment of the Director Q&A series, Simpson describes the road ahead for ANA and its opportunities, while noting problems to solve and upgrades to master.

Two immediate changes are a new office in Tempe that involved moving out of leased space at the Arizona Capitol Times, and the adjustment to a two-person staff with the retirement of the association’s longtime ad placement manager. 

“There will always be shenanigans at the legislature and revenue issues,” Simpson said in one of her answers, “but the connections I have made already are worth the struggles and sleepless nights.”

A huge sports fan, Simpson also lets you know why you might find her around 4:30 a.m. at a pub cheering on her favorite soccer team.

Read on to learn more.   

Can you introduce us to your association and team?  

Arizona Newspapers Association, in its present form, was established in 1930 after evolving from other associations established as early as 1905. 2021 is a year of change for us. I took over as the Executive Director at the end of April. We  recently had to make some tough decisions and are now a two-person team. Me and the Marketing/Ad Placement Manager, Sarah Flynn, who just joined our team. She replaced a person who everyone knew, Cindy London. After 17 years of service, Cindy has decided to retire. I am going to miss her, but I was excited to find Sarah. She is new to the industry but brings with her a raw talent and a willingness to learn and bring fresh ideas.

What makes your association different from others?  

I often tell everyone that Arizona is still the wild west. We have 82 members and everyone one of them is a maverick and wants to do things their way (which is the ONLY right way). Not sure if that is different or not, as I am still counting my tenure here in months (or 7 covid years).
I do know that we are behind in the digital evolution and there is a lot of work to be done. I was able to attend the NAM convention during the summer, which was very helpful. Most of the associations represented there were very well-established and much larger than Arizona. I hope to emulate their successes and make the ANA a true asset for its members.

Now you: What’s been your career path?  

What is a girl that went to college for engineering doing in the newspaper industry? Dad needed help in the family auto business, so from college I went to help him out and had so much fun, I never left. Turns out that between my technical knowledge and big personality I was great in sales!  
After we closed the business, my husband and I moved to Arizona. I decided that it was time for something new, so I joined the Arizona Pennysaver to sell, what else, automotive ads. From there, I have worked at most of the Phoenix Metro papers, running La Voz & TV y Mas for several years. Most recently, I served as the Ad Director at The Arizona Capitol Times which gave me a huge insight into Arizona politics.
I love the news industry and was excited when the opportunity at the Arizona Newspapers Association became available.  

How would you describe your position and role to someone outside the newspaper industry?  

My role is to look out for our members. To protect their rights, provide training, advanced industry knowledge and support them however they need. And to be an advocate for the industry to others. 
When I talk about rights and the First Amendment, most folks get it. When you bring newspapers into a conversation, I always look at it as an opportunity to educate folks and help them understand why newspapers are important.  

What do you like best about your job?  

First – The people.
I love meeting all my members and listening to them share their story with me. And the great folks I have met at other associations and supporting associations. I am amazed at how supportive this community is and how small. We are all connected in some form.  
And secondly – The challenge.
Our industry is at a precipice of change. How do we remain relevant with our readers while maintaining journalistic integrity and revenue? I want to be the catalyst for change and bring our industry forward.

Least?  

Legislation. Thankfully, we have a veteran lobbyist to help navigate the political side. But I am not going to lie, when he calls there may be a deep sigh and eye-roll before I answer.

What is your proudest career moment?  

Hmm. This is a tough question. I am not sure I can point to any one thing. My wins have always come in little steps here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I love the recognition when I won sales or leadership awards for a job well done. 
I do remember this one thing, though. When the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl in 2008, I was running the Spanish Newspaper for the Arizona Republic (La Voz). I was excited to do this special section. It was going to help us exceed our revenue goal and have amazing reader engagement. Everyone at The Republic laughed at me – “These never work”. The La Voz team rallied – great content and advertiser support. We really killed it and won the day (unlike the Cardinals).  

What are your association’s priorities? (Feel free to add a personal priority.)  

So many… We are focused on growing. We need to modernize and be what our members need. Things that are at the top of the list include:  
Creating robust digital solutions  
Updating our website and improving member communications  
Meeting our member needs better  
Protecting the newspaper industry against bad legislation  
Creating professional development learning paths  
Finding new revenue streams  

What keeps you up at night when wrestling with challenges?
 

It’s mostly revenue. It will always be at the top of the list. Everything costs more.

What’s been your biggest surprise running a newspaper trade association?  

My biggest surprise has been the apathy from so many of the members. Much of that is the association’s fault by not engaging and being valuable to the members. I knew there would be some, didn’t know how much. I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the support of other associations. NAM folks have been lifesavers.

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money?   

Rebranding. I tell everyone we need to make our industry “sexy” again. Educate folks on our purpose and passion. Creating pathways to interact with their local media. Helping everyone become more platform agnostic – get your news how you want – print, apps, YouTube, whatever. We are there for you.  
And investing in the talent. I have always been on the sales side of the industry, so compensation hasn’t been an issue. But our journalists should be paid well. In-n-Out burger should NOT be a better paying job that being a journalist.   And financially supporting our local papers. Asking what you really need to turn the corner and helping them get it.    

What are some of the best practices you’ve used to help guide newspapers to excel as a multimedia business?  

It’s about the audience reach, not the platform.   Newspapers tend to have focused on the “thing.” Whether it’s to sell search or social or whatever is new. Stop doing that. Figure out who your audience is, how they best engage, and build around that. 


What is something most people don’t know about you?  

Well. Just one thing? I love sports. I am a huge English Premier League Football fan (soccer here). My favorite team in Liverpool FC. I have been known to be at the pub at 4:30 a.m. yelling with my fellow supporters here in Phoenix.  


What do you like to do outside of work?    

See above? I am also an outdoor enthusiast. Love time to be out Jeeping, hiking, hunting, but not fishing or camping. There is also this little nerd in me. I play a tabletop game called Warhammer. It is a lot of fun, building and painting models and then having battles against opponents. Strategy and a lot luck involved.

How would your best career advice to a newcomer to newspapers? To a veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?  

Newcomer – It’s OK to bring ideas but listen to those who came before. They may be old and cranky, but they know stuff. Buy a veteran a cup of coffee and just listen. And patience. Success doesn’t come overnight.  
Veteran – Never stop evolving. Things change at the speed of light now. Don’t hang on to the “old ways.” I have conversations with folks who wonder why they struggle doing things like hiring new staff when their handbook and policies were written 1957.  

-Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

To advance the business interests of Arizona news media companies and to promote a free and independent press.

Our Vision: Uniting strong newspapers for a better Arizona.

Our History: The Arizona Newspapers Association is a non-profit organization that represents more than 70 Arizona newspapers. Established in 1930 as the successor to the Arizona Press Association of 1905 and the Arizona Daily Newspaper Association of 1922, the organization’s purpose is to improve the quality of newspapers throughout Arizona through educational and training endeavors, while strongly supporting the First Amendment.

–From the About Us section of http://www.ananews.com

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