Denver Newspaper Agency Integration: Phase I
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Denver Newspaper Agency Integration: Phase I

In consolidating the business operations of Denver’s two daily newspapers, the Agency wanted get off on the right foot. A multi-layered communications program was created to help transition the change in management and provide clear, accurate and consiste

Paul Holmes

On Jan. 5, 2001 the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post entered into a joint operating agreement (JOA).  The JOA called for the creation of a new entity, the Denver Newspaper Agency.  The Agency assumed responsibility for all business functions of The Post and the News, including advertising and circulation sales, production, finance, human resources, information technology and distribution.

In consolidating the business operations of Denver’s two daily newspapers, the Agency wanted get off on the right foot. A multi-layered communications program was created to help transition the change in management and provide clear, accurate and consistent information to readers, employees, advertisers, single-copy dealers and the media.

The success of this program can be measured in part, by reviewing the results of other JOAs that have resulted in public hearings, high employee turnover, strikes and an immediate loss of advertising revenue.  Denver’s JOA has had complete support from the employee union, no turnover as a result of the JOA, approval without public hearings and no immediate loss in advertising dollars.

CHALLENGES

Timing – An approval date was not guaranteed or predictable.  JohnstonWells had from Sept. 2 to Oct. 13 to get the initial communications plan in place.  JohnstonWells was constantly on “red alert” waiting to implement the plan.

Coordination among multiple groups – JohnstonWells worked in conjunction with the Agency, its advertising firm, 17 Agency consultants, vendors, and numerous departmental managers from both newspapers.

Misinformation – Rumors were rampant.  All audiences were unsure as to what the JOA would mean for them.

Distribution – With four different information-packed kits going more than 8,000 recipients at various locations, the Agency needed to get information to all of the recipients as soon as possible after approval.

RESEARCH

JohnstonWells conducted extensive research by:

  • Interviewing employees, the general public and city influencers to assess current attitudes.
  • Researching previous JOAs and company mergers to see what had worked and what hadn’t.
  • Researching and strategizing to find solutions for integrating all business functions.

PLANNING PROCESS

Detailed timelines and budgets were prepared.

Daily meetings were held with the Agency’s executives.

Weekly meetings were held with 17 consultants hired by the Agency to help implement the business functions.  

Meetings were held with the departmental managers of the telemarketing, human resources, single-copy, finance and call centers to determine their specific needs. From these meetings we were able to determine what communication devices would be needed and how we would deliver them.

OBJECTIVES

Educate and create an understanding among all audiences about the expected changes and assist in the transition.  

Motivate employees who were in the midst of a newspaper war that had lasted more than 100 years.

Clear up any misinformation/miscommunication among any audience.

Reassure employees of job stability and retain advertisers.

STRATEGIC APPROACH

Prepare for the earliest possible approval date.

Plan exhaustively in order to ensure prompt, seamless, multi-layered communication.

Ensure consistent messaging.

Make senior Agency executives visible and accessible to all audiences.  

Involve the executive team of the Agency by having team members deliver key messages via meetings, e-mails and voice mails.  

Develop multiple channels for communicating with advertisers, single-copy dealers, general consumers and employees.

Pre-Approval Execution

Communications materials were developed and continuously revised to ensure legality and incorporate new changes.

Key message training was provided to Agency executives.

Operational Integration Seminars were developed to explain the integration process of the newspapers business operations to Agency vice presidents and managers.  Seminar presenters received presentation training to strengthen their speaking skills and prepare them for anticipated and potential questions.

Approval Execution

When former U.S. Attorney General Reno gave approval of the joint operating agreement between The Post and the News on Jan. 5, 2001, the Agency responded immediately.  The organization blanketed audiences with an informational e-mail, voice mail, fax and a letter about Reno’s approval and what it meant for them.  Because of a required 10-working day quiet period following the approval the Agency made certain its audiences knew that as soon as the Agency could legally come forward with more information, it would.

Immediately following Reno’s approval of the joint operating agreement, the Agency released its integration plan to the public.

On the day prior to the first day of business, employees were communicated to via posters, an e-mail, and voice mail about meetings that would be held the next day to answer questions about the transition.

Implementation Execution

On the first day of business, Jan. 22, 2001 the Agency hosted a celebratory open house.

Employees were greeted at work with information-packed employee kits and a commemorative item on the first day of business.  

Media, advertiser, employee and single-copy dealer informational packets were distributed.

The Agency held a press conference to explain plans for integration of the newspapers’ business operations.  Following the press conference, an audio conference call was provided for media who were unable to attend the press conference.

Although editorial employees are not Agency employees, they are part of a significant audience as a media outlet and they still share the same building as those employees who are undergoing significant changes.  So, Agency executives took the time to speak to editorial employees about how the arrangement would work.

Employees had face-time with the CEO of the Agency, Kirk MacDonald, and other Agency executives during the eight meetings scheduled between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. at the four workplace locations on the first day of Agency business.

JohnstonWells immediately responded to media outlets that were broadcasting incorrect information and provided them with accurate information.

Post-Implementation Execution

Agency executives are continuing to speak at several community events to explain changes.

Agency executives made personal visits to large-scale advertisers and single-copy dealers.

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

All Agency employees received an informational packet within four hours of implementation.

All Agency employees had a face-to-face meeting with an Agency executive within 12 hours of Implementation.

Agency executives say no employees have left their jobs because of the JOA.

Calls and e-mails to the employee Hotline have been minimal.  Ninety percent of the calls were about parking.  The remaining 10 percent were specific to the employee.  

Agency employees from The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are working together harmoniously.

Agency executives say there has been no immediate loss of advertising revenue.
Media coverage has been fair and accurate and has helped deliver the Agency’s key messages.

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