New CEO at Daily Voice Says Full-Bore Expansion Is His Mission

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Daily Voice, which is published in 76 mostly affluent suburban communities in the tri-state area of New York, Connecticut and North New Jersey, has a new CEO who comes with strong experience in digital news publishing, especially advertising.

He is Randy Kilgore, who has been senior adviser at Empirical Media, which counsels news publishers on how to meet the often thorny challenges of the digital space (2016-2017); Gannett, where he was president of national sales (2014-2015); and the Wall Street Journal-Dow Jones, where, over 16 years, he rose to be senior vice president of advertising at Dow Jones Online (WSJ, MarketWatch and Barron’s). He was also chairman of the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau from 2013 to 2014 and will continue with the IAB as a consultant.

Kilgore succeeds Carll Tucker, who founded Daily Voice in 2010 after a long career in print community news and will continue as chairman of the private Daily Voice company.

In this Q & A, Kilgore and Tucker talk about the transition and what’s next for Daily Voice:

Carll, after you made the recent announcement, you wrote: “Randy Kilgore is the right leader for the right time.” Please elaborate.
Carll Tucker: The greatest challenge for digital news publishers is how to monetize our audience. Daily Voice has a big audience – almost 8 MM monthly pageviews in a covered population of 4 MM, man, woman and child. We need to become more creative and savvy about how to enable local and regional businesses to harness that power.

Randy’s work with major publishers like Dow Jones and Gannett, and as a path-breaking CRO at a successful digital start-up, and as chair and now consultant to IAB, has made him one of the most knowledgeable people in America about using digital media to benefit clients. He is also, personally, a mensch and a gifted communicator, which makes him a charismatic and persuasive leader as we grow.

Randy, how to you see yourself as Daily Voice’s CEO?
Randy Kilgore: Carll and his teammates have had a hard slog for eight years. As history has shown, making money with digital community news is no slam-dunk. Now that we’ve figured it out, we need to move from being survivors to being winners and innovators. They’re really a team of heroes — I’m looking forward to helping them achieve amazing success.

Randy, what’s most important about audience today, and what will you be doing to make sure that Daily Voice is making strong connections with its audience, current and potential?
Kilgore: Audiences can be bought programmatically, but engaged consumers are more valuable than simple reach. Audience does excite me about Daily Voice — 1.7 million monthly uniques in a 4-million population footprint, almost 8 million page views — on some of our sites, the page views are five times the total population.

That means communities really like their Daily Voice and return to it repeatedly. The fun part is to continue to build engagement by delivering value. We are rolling out new email products next month, and a cause-based marketing product, and we’ll be launching some other exciting ideas in the months to come.

While we have an abundance of engaged users, we want to transform our once-a-week visitors to once-a-day and our once-a-day visitors to three or four times a day. And we will be beginning expansion to contiguous territories very soon. Stay tuned.

Carll, you wrote last December, “Today, readers tell us their preferences on every visit. A click is a vote. We tally and analyze these votes to plan our fare. A story isn’t good, we say, unless it is read.” What’s the role of editors – order takers?
Tucker: Hardly order takers. We make products that people enjoy, just as a chef cooks what his customers want to eat. If readers want to read about traffic and weather and breaking news and restaurants and stores opening and closing and fascinating neighbors – and they do – that’s what we give them. And if they refuse to click on routine zoning board and school board meetings, well, that’s a shame, but they’re the boss, not us.

One reason our traffic is up 40% since last year – yes, 40% – is that we’ve gotten a lot better at listening. And we keep getting better every day. Metrics can help us make magic – but you’ve got to know how to use them.

Daily Voice says 71% of its audience is “affluent baby boomers.” That means that most of your audience is older – 53 to 71. Looking at the future of Daily Voice, does that concern you?
Kilgore: We think the core reader for community news – the center of our bull’s-eye – remains the mother of school-age children. Her kids go to school and use the playing fields, she shops for her family, her social life and maybe her work life is centered on community. She’s one audience and she will always be there.

Baby-boom moms will be succeeded by the millennial moms who will be succeeded by Gen-X moms. What’s interesting is that Daily Voice seems to be appealing to anyone who has a commitment to community – long-time residents and new homeowners, even renters – any adult who can read English. As long as people care about what’s going on in town, we’ll have an audience. Community will always be need-to-know, not a fad.

Daily Voice has a wide reach in the tri-state metro region surrounding New York City. Your pageviews have grown from 3 million to more than 6 million monthly. But there’s a big gap – no sites on Long Island, where close to 8 million people live. How important is it for Daily Voice to close that gap?
Kilgore: Daily Voice is a unit-replication model, like a chain of stores or restaurants. It’s built to propagate. We make money in a new geography within six months, for a surprisingly modest investment.

What was so painful – and expensive – was figuring out the model. Now that we’ve got that – and we’ll keep improving it – we’ll be rolling out as fast as we can, first in the suburbs of New York City, including Long Island, then along the East Coast, then to the rest of the country. That’s why I’m here.

Under the Daily Voice news model, the number of editors and reporters has been progressively reduced. How do you achieve quality coverage in 76 communities with 4 million people with few people resources?
Tucker: The biggest challenge for anybody in this space has been, How on earth do you make money? Our biggest cost was – and is – content generation. What took us so long to figure out was how to deliver popular satisfying community content and make money doing it.

If we had more to spend on content, we’d make a better product. But it’s already pretty popular – 1.7 million uniques out of 4 million population – and kids and non-English-speakers don’t read much community news. So, will we get better as we generate more resources? You bet. But as Randy said, one step at a time.

Randy, your view?
Kilgore: The only thing I’d add is that the community can and will help us generate a more robust product – by sharing news and story ideas, and with our Content Partnerships, telling their stories in our pages in a way that readers enjoy and click on. Our aim is to keep getting better and better – relentlessly. We’re just at the starting line.

Local merchants have moved many of their advertising dollars to Facebook and other social and search platforms. What are you doing to convince these merchants that they should use the Daily Voice to get their message to consumers?
Kilgore: Daily Voice offers a different value proposition than Facebook or search. A good media plan for a local business should include various digital channels. We sell very little display advertising. Our core offering is content marketing.  We work with businesses to tell their stories to an engaged audience.

Facebook helps us analyze who engages with our partner’s content, so they are our friend. But no one from Facebook is sitting with our community business leaders and helping them tell their story using our vast database of best practices for driving engagement. Daily Voice offers context and the chance for advertisers to tell their story where everybody in town is reading it. It’s like setting up your store on the digital town green.

Randy, as the new CEO of Daily Voice, what innovative moves are you likely to be making in the coming months?
Kilgore: As I said at the start, we are transitioning from survival to growth mode, from bare-knuckles-hang-on-tight to what opportunity do we embrace next? Our list of exciting ideas is longer than my arm. We like products that create engagement, are scalable, and help our partners sell more products and services.  We’ll announce them as we launch them. Stay tuned.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.