By Alexander Gould
As I sat down, I was not sure what ideas and thoughts were going to be presented to me from the Ole Miss students who earlier in the semester as part of their campaigns class were challenged with an objective of improving how area businesses perceive us.
While each group approached the issue differently, it became very clear all had a common theme: We must improve our connection with our community.
Read that again — we must improve our connection with our community. I asked you to read it again so it really sinks in, because, like me, it was not what you expected to hear from this group of college age students, was it? I was waiting for someone to tell me, “you should be all digital,” “you need to invent a new app,” or “create more video,” but none of that was ever said.
As I have had time to step back from that evening in Oxford, review a few times my notes, and read over the presentation materials each group provided, I realized in each of their plans connecting with community is at the core of changing the market’s perception of The Meridian Star. Before this project, I would have argued our connection with community is one of our greatest strengths. Is it, or are we just fooling ourselves so not to have to deal with hard truths? Each of us in the media business should take time to conduct an honest self-assessment of how truly connected to our community we really are. This exercise has made me stop and think even more intently about where we as an organization need to improve, and where are resources are best used. In today’s age of analytics, we all want to know exactly what return we get on our investment. Unfortunately, connecting with community does not provide such a clear profit and loss statement in the short-term, but I think we can all realize in the long-term it becomes crystal clear.
One idea that was shared during the presentations that was particularly interesting was using our downtown location to connect with the community. If you are like me, you are usually thinking about how are buildings are too big for us, cost too much to light, and any other expense related building liabilities. Instead, this group of young people suggested to paint a mural on the front of the building while smartly incorporating our logo and invite people to take selfies in front of it. Make The Meridian Star part of the growing Meridian downtown destination that is happening with the MSU Riley Center and the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience. Change it from a building you just pass to a location people are actively interacting with and discussing.
As media companies you would think we were amazing at telling our own story, but let’s face it, we usually don’t give it much thought. We are too busy working on telling someone else’s story. Fitting right in with our theme, it was recommended we present the people behind the brand who are living in the community. Knowing The Meridian Star is good, but knowing the reporter, the salesperson, and the audience development director is better. Ideas of how to do this included having our employees blog about why they decided to write a certain story, incorporate their voice or likeness in the advertising we do on other mediums, as well as be present at community events.
We have all attended a webinar, conference, or read an article about the next shiny object that will save the industry. In a moment of self-honesty, we are hoping it all gets easier, but we need to embrace the challenges that attracted us to our chosen profession and work hard on building a media company our communities desire and utilize. The certainty of a 2019 business model for media companies is that the business model will always be shifting. Are we going to be proactive, or reactive?
As I mentioned in my first blog about this project, I did not expect to be given the answer on how to fix our perception issue in one college semester, but I did think we would gain fresh perspective and it would lead to greater discussion. And it has done exactly that. My managers and I have already started discussing how as a company and individuals we can connect with our community more effectively, and we will be inviting all our employees to join the discussion in the near future. As an evolving media company we must keep the community we serve at the beginning and end of every conversation we have.
As one group’s presentation stated: “Make it the company’s mission to better the community.”
This exercise is a collaboration of The Meridian Star, the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, and the MPA Education Foundation. Alexander Gould is publisher of The Meridian Star. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.