Publisher’s column: Crunching the numbers and understanding … you
I have been relatively quiet as of late while I have been immersed in our annual budget process. We begin our work at the end of August and will have it completed and, with any luck, approved by the end of October.
This isn’t just about dollars and cents, although earning a profit to reinvest in our organization is the end goal. How we get there requires a big chunk of my life in September and October. We just do not put numbers in a spreadsheet as we build our plan. Instead, we seek to understand the conditions of our communities, the interests of you, our readers, and how we can best serve our local advertisers.
For me, the toughest part of the budget is trying to understand what is happening throughout Garfield County now and what is likely to happen in the future. We painstakingly research and report back on a wide array of data, including basic demographics, real estate statistics, unemployment rates, top employers, retail sales by city, town and county, and much more. We compare these numbers over the last three years and forecast 2015. Some of you may enjoy gathering this sort of information and then building a PowerPoint presentation, but not I.
The stats are always interesting and tell the story we anecdotally believe we know and also reveal some surprises. Economically, the eastern part of the county is doing much better than the west. Our unemployment rate was less than 4 percent in July, the first time it was that low since early in 2008.
We also conduct an “environmental scan.” We survey and meet with community leaders representative of the entire county. Depending on where they live or represent, people offer some variety of ideas and challenges. Affordable housing was by far the No. 1 concern voiced. When we began our planning in April for last week’s “Price of Paradise” series and documentary, we didn’t realize this concern would rise to such prominence by the time we published.
All of the information we gather provides us ideas for content and the best methods to provide you with that content. Back in the ’70s, we didn’t think about platforms. We just put ink to paper and reached the bulk of the people in the community. Today most of you still read us on paper but many also read us digitally. Most of you go to our website. And when you read us online, most of you are now doing that with your smartphone or tablet. It is hard for me to believe, but desktop and laptop computing is so 2012. Then you have Facebook, Twitter and who knows what is next. But as an information provider we need to be able to deliver our content on the platform of your choice.
Advertising is the fuel that allows us to produce great content. Like news, advertising has changed dramatically. Again, most of you still read and respond to print advertising in the Post Independent. Because we all expose ourselves online and provide more information about ourselves than we realize, local businesses can now send advertising messages to you based on your request or your interests. And as creepy as it still seems to me, we can facilitate that action.
Once all of this information has been gathered, we write a business plan with key objectives for the coming year. Our five objectives go from the obvious “grow more revenue” to “deepen our civic leadership.”
The next step is crunching numbers. That is where I am at the moment. Where are we going to generate the revenue each month of the year? Based on our anticipated revenue, what will raises look like for employees? Can we add another reporter? What new product(s) will we plan to launch, what will they cost and how much revenue will they generate?
Once all of this is completed, it is shipped off to upper management for review. Next comes a bevy of questions as my bosses try to understand Garfield County and our plans.
Once I receive the questions, I will build a PowerPoint presentation to provide answers and an overview of our 2016 plan. We all meet the last week of October for a formal discussion and review. If all goes well, the budget is plan is blessed.
Then comes the real work. We have to perform to the expectations we provided not only to management but to you our readers and advertisers. Let us know how we do.
Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.
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