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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Traditional to Digital with Newspapers

Splitting Digital from Traditional at BDN Maine

It has been too long since I have updated on what’s happening with our newly-formed digital division BDN Maine, and much has happened. The headline of all of it? Breaking up is hard to do. Splitting a digital division out of a parent Newspaper company, and taking many employees with you means they bring a certain sense of culture with them. Fortunately, the team is full of immense talent, getting us all on the same page and moving forward has taken some wrangling. But we are quickly getting there.


  • I mentioned in a previous post that the print team identified protected accounts that were spending more than $10,000 / year in digital, and identified that they were already “well serviced” and should remain with them. Fast forward to June, we found those accounts were not being called on properly, revenue was not coming in, the print team was not hitting their digital budget, and the accounts and their associated budget responsibility moved to us at BDN Maine. The good news? We now have clarity in both divisions that one division sells print, the other sells digital. The bad news? We missed huge opportunities in revenue by not having access to those accounts early in the year, and are playing catch up. Lesson to other publishers: Don’t do this half-way. If you’re splitting, do it. It’s NOT about skill-sets, it’s more about FOCUS. When teams are able to focus on the solution suite they’re selling they are able to be more successful
  • We have had a tough time getting our team properly staffed. Initially, one of the reps from the newspaper that performed very well in digital wanted to join us, and we were thrilled. Ultimately, however, the level of accountability and expectations set in the startup weren’t a fit for her. Lesson learned: The culture shock between the divisions is a very big one, we should have planned more for transitioning people through that. We’re seeing it in other teams as well and are currently taking many steps toward rectifying that
  • The numbers: Even with staffing hiccups, and 11/2 reps that are new compared to 9 that were selling digital before, we are outpacing the past team by 28%, and beating our budget. Focus works. Accountability works. We have a goal to be at least 25% above each month, and we have a deep focus on new business acquisition. Dream Local Digital is leading this team and that has made a huge difference


The content team is jam-packed with talent, ideas, people that were built for this job. In the first five weeks of our split from the parent, they had generated more than 1 million new page views that didn’t come from our journalists downstairs. The team is tracking new metrics including how many stories have been viewed completely vs. the top, social shares as a primary metric, and cultivating the network of blogs and bloggers that are hosted by and publish on our site. Finally, we are tracking traffic on mobile as a primary metric, with the understanding that we are a mobile-first division, and that it is not only our future, for more than half of our users, it is our NOW.

Research & Innovation

Our development team, called R&I, are knee-deep in a variety of projects on our sprint. They are centered around three main themes:

  • Data: Developing our own intelligence about how readers view our site, what they do when they are there, how loyal are they to the site and/or to specific sections or topics, and the most elusive question we are working on the answer to: How valuable are they? More on this one to come. Currently we’re in the process of leveraging data from multiple sources to find this answer. And when we do, we will create new revenue streams to support that value. Exciting times
  • Mobile: We are interested in not only optimizing our own mobile presence, which needs optimizing, but also creating new products that may be completely off-brand in order to solve problems for our users on mobile. We believe this is our future, and have cross-departmental teams moving on mobile at all times
  • Infrastructure to support revenue: We have a sharp developer working with our sales teams reviewing their processes and how we serve customers to create new ways to automate some of them. Currently, two projects the team is looking at could save us nearly one entire FTE in sales support, which will then be redirected to supporting lead gen and new business acquisition

Overall, it has been a crazy few months. We have had many successes to celebrate, many signals that validate we have done the right thing. But, it has been far from easy. Breaking up IS hard to do, and we’ve had hurt feelings, lost employees, difficult conversations, budgets re-worked and re-worked multiple times, frustrated people both at the team level and management level, and a lot more human resources related meetings than any of us enjoy. The toll has been high. Creating a new culture takes time, persistence, and training, and we have learned that the hard way. But, one thing I do know? You recover from break ups. Everyone does. It just takes time. We are already seeing real progress. Sales teams that by the nature of the split are at odds coming together and sharing information, celebrating successes together. We are getting there. And, I know it’s worth it.

If you’re interested in learning more about what Dream Local Digital can do for publishers, contact us today.

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