@ Dealmakers Summit: Chris Saridakis, Chief Digital Officer, Gannett; Focus On Demographics

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A frequently discussed topic at DeSilva + Phillips Media Dealmakers Summit, was the future of newspapers, or more specifically, whether they have a future. At Gannett (NYSE: GCI), the job of figuring out how to transition from dead tress to digital without just subbing dollars for dimes (or pennies), has been tasked to Chris Saridakis, who in January was named SVP and chief digital officer. He came to the company in 2005, when Gannett acquired his online advertising company, Pointroll, for $100 million. During a lunchtime interview with the NYT’s Lorne Manly, Saridakis discussed the challenges and the opportunities that lay ahead. On the key question of whether print newspapers have a future: “I don’t know if newspapers will disappear in ten years… but I’m certainly glad I took the digital job.”

Demographics: The traditional newspaper model targets people based on where they live, but this needs to change: “You just can’t target people by places, you target people by who they are.” Gannet has identified certain demographics, with whom it already has a print link, that it can do more to reach. Among them: sports fans, moms, nurses, military personnel. The company has already made some acquisitions aimed at sports fans and it’s established a network of mom-focused suites. Following the session, I caught up with Saridakis, who suggested that some of the company’s M&A activity would revolve around the idea of targeting certain demographics, particularly the ones named above.

Dollars for dimes: Probably the most critical, but difficult issue. Advertising: “The nice thing is, and I think Gannett has been able to prove it, you can sell online local advertising… it may be collecting dimes, but we have a lot of people collecting dimes.” In addition to targeting local ads, Gannett can aggregate an audience by vertical and sell that audience to a national advertiser.

M&A: As mentioned above, Gannett is looking for deals that either bolster or establish relationships with certain demographics (like sports fans). “From now forward, we’ll spend a great deal of time looking at companies.” There will still be two kinds of acquisitions: companies that integrated into the broader Gannett organization and companies (like Pointroll) that remain autonomous. The key is that going forward, it will have a good idea before hand what it plans to do with an acquisition, whereas in the past, not all acquisitions were thought through the same way. In terms of how much they’re willing to spend on a deal or multiple deals, Saridakis was non-committal: “It all depends on the deal?”

Broadcast digital: Much of the discussion revolved around the newspaper business, but Gannett has broadcast assets as well. Saridakis noted that most people don’t think to go to the websites of their local TV stations, and when they do, it’s usually to check the weather, traffic or school closings. The point: digital for local broadcasters lacks an obvious strategy.

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