How do you create content? Plan for it? Identify what will resonate with your audience? Marketers need to think of themselves as content producers and publishers. They’re all trying to come up with a story that has an angle and narrative to provide insight or leadership.
Today, we’re talking to Clint Schaff, vice president of strategy and research at the Los Angeles Times. Clint is a dynamic marketer and journalist who offers his perspective on marketers as content creators and publishers, and journalists and media storytellers as marketers. He shares processes around content planning, creation, and promotion.
Eric: Hello. Welcome marketing nation to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. My name is Eric Piela, I’m your host and Brand & Buzz Manager here at CoSchedule. I can’t tell you enough how lucky and thankful I am to be a host on the show, week in and week out I get to bring on marketing thought leaders and interview them about some of the most interesting topics in our industry. But if I’m being honest, between you and I, every once in a while I get particularly excited about a guest and this is one of those guests.
On this week’s episode we have Clint Schaff. He is the vice president of strategy and research at the Los Angeles Times. Booyah! I am particularly pumped because in full disclosure, Clint also happens to be my best friend from high school, so this is special episode for me. Clint is a wonderful friend, a wonderful human being, and a dynamic marketer and journalist. I think he brings a fantastic perspective because in this day and age, I think marketers need to think of themselves as content publishers and Clint brings a fantastic perspective on this issue.
I also just talked to Clint what’s it like to be a VP of a large organization like the LA Times. How do you think about creating content? How do you plan content? How do you figure out which content is going to resonate with your audience? It’s a fascinating conversation, one that I know that you will love. I can’t wait for you to meet Clint. Alright, buckle up. Let’s get amped.
Alright my marketing nerds, welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I couldn’t be more excited. I feel like I’m 16 years old again and I’m with my best bud and we’re about to head to the mall, we’re going to a movie, go to disc jockey and buy the latest rap album. I say that because I have a fantastic guest on the show today. He is the VP of Strategy at LA Times. His name is Clint Schaff. Clint, welcome to the show.
Clint: What’s up, Eric? How are you living man?
Eric: I’m living good. I have to let the rest of the shoe drop here. Clint is also one of my best friends from high school. Representing Mandan, North Dakota. Now in LA but it’s so great to have you on the show. I love that our lives are crossing paths like this. It’s great to have you on.
Clint: Absolutely, man. It’s like a nice and smooth said, ain't a ____ thing changed.
Eric: I know. The funny thing is I’ve actually told stories or made reference to our shenanigans back in the day in a previous episode. It’s kind of full circle that I get to bring you on the show whether it’s doing a high school musical or some of the random stuff and trouble we got into back in the day.
Clint: It’s pretty random. I did the same thing yesterday. I hosted offsite for all the sales and marketing teams for LA Times at the San Diego Union Tribune. I am seated, played music in between, and a couple of times I feel like Eric Piela right now. I’m like, “I’m no Fargo Star but I’m trying to do my best,” trying to make it happen and it’s a lot of fun. I love that we did a lot of stuff growing up. Hey, it was just super fun and we have met some of good friends including you my childhood best friend. But it was a really good precursor into a marketing career to be honest. We were making content all the time.
Eric: It’s so funny you say that. I just think everyday that you’re in speech club and all the things that we used to do, I think in certain ways it kind of prepared us for a lot of the career paths that we end up. It’s probably fitting we did so.
Eric: Oh, well. We can reminisce all day, but I love for my listeners to get to know you a little bit, Clint. They don’t know you as well as I do. I don’t have all the back story. Short story is I know that you came from a career in marketing agencies, you bounced around the US with some really fantastic jobs, and of course we’ve said you’re at the LA Times. But tell us really quickly how that journey looks like and maybe a little bit about your job now.
Clint: Yeah, absolutely. Throughout my career, I’ve lived in, like you said, New York, DC, Chicago. I worked for the Clinton Whitehouse, I worked for David Bowie, the New York Yankees—just to name drop a few. I came out here 17 years ago, worked for some non-profits and then for a bunch of agencies. Basically, just to be kind of touchy-feely for a second, I really viewed our work as doing social good. I really got into social media early thinking that social media would transform the relationship between consumers and brands, constituents and governments, whatever it might be.
Then about three years ago, I stepped out of the agency world and into the publisher world where I am now. It really kind of comes back to the earliest parts of my career. As you know, I was editor of our high school newspaper and the courier, Mr. Winner, and then in college I started a magazine and all that. That’s really what I always wanted to do. I guess now, hindsight 20/20, but the constant lines through all of it is it’s about content creation that’s meant to serve an advocacy for something. Advocacy for communications whether that’d be for a brand or a cause or an idea or story. I feel like even though I’ve zigged and zagged, I feel like I’ve been doing the same work in all those arenas. It’s been a lot of fun.
Now at the LA Times, I’m kind of in this unique role where I’m often the person who’s in charge of new projects for the areas we haven’t yet done. We’ve had a lot of success in podcasts, I got us into that. We started a storytelling festival that I manage. We’re doing some work in film and television—an area in which I didn’t have any experience previously—and we’re doing really well. We had a big show on Bravo that got a Golden Globe nomination. It’s really fun to take this 137-year old institution into these new arenas.
Eric: Yeah, beautiful. By the way, I think those couriers, if you sign them, it could be worth something by now. I know we looked at a couple of those old courier papers, there’s some good stuff on there, some good content to build the rest of your career on.
Clint: There’s some funny coms.
Eric: There is some good coms. I love that. Thank you for sharing that. Because I think you’re right, we talked about content and I think you talked about some of the things that you’re helping to create and that’s why I know maybe—I wouldn’t say you’re not our typical type of guest on the show because you’re not. I guess you’re a typical CMO or marketing director or marketing influencer but at the same time, I really think that the type of content that you’re creating, in this day and age, I think marketers are thinking of themselves as content producers. As publishers of content, we’re all striving to come up with the story, with an angle, with a narrative, provide insight, leadership, whatever it might be. I think you’re doing that in your role, you’re just doing it in perhaps in a different way and a different medium.
Clint: Yeah, absolutely. If I may add, the flip is equally true. You’re mentioning that marketers are thinking more like content creators and publishers, journalists and media storytellers also need to be thinking a little bit like marketers. Because if you create amazing, impeccable journalism but no one reads it and you haven’t figured out how to meet a need in the market, well that’s not a very good business, it doesn’t know how to sustain itself. It’s funny we’re all doing similar work, but we just start from a different area of focus.
Eric: That’s very true. What I’d love to hear I think this is fascinating for our listeners would be is you talked about helping lead that sort of drive into the next generation of LA Times, you’re exploring with a bunch of different new types of content. I think again as marketers, we’re always exploring what are the different mediums, but what’s our message within those mediums and how do we capture that.
Tell us a little about how do you decide the type of content you’re going to cover. What kind of research are you doing? And then before you try a new medium whether it’s television—I know your Dirty John podcast which just blew up and now there’s a series based on it—what goes into that thought process and what kind of calculated decision process do you go through before you go ahead and jump into that?
Clint: That’s an excellent question. It’s pretty complicated–our organization. I should be clear about it. Like, there’s the newsroom which is composed of journalist and editors and whatnot, and then there’s all of us on the business side. Some on the business side but I collaborate often with people in the newsroom. In the newsroom, they have their own tried and true process that certainly has evolved but has been pretty consistent for 100 years where people pitch ideas, they have a newsroom meeting, and editors sift through the priorities, and individual reporters and journalists are often empowered to pursue an idea to some degree in order to flush it out. It’s just like what we did at the Courier back in the day.
On my side, it’s a little different. We’re trying to bring in some programming mentality, similar more to press like a television show or a video-based website might do. We’re looking at what kind of stories are consistent with the LA Times brand and I guess gravitas if you will, but also have some commercial viability that will be entertaining or otherwise need some big need in the market that we can monetize, so that we can get important funds that can then go to the other side of the building to fund this important journalism that protects communities and democracy and all that good stuff. I’m keeping it light here.
How do we decide that? We have a lot of data in terms of what readers, and listeners, and viewers are already looking at. We have systems, I think called Chartbeat which is for journalism publishers that shows what people are clicking on. For the podcast there’s little less in terms of analytics available but we are always talking to partners and we work with different publishing partners who have different insights into what’s kicking and what isn’t. And then of course, we’re looking just for anecdotal feedback as well from trusted influencers as well as the whole swaths of people out there who are enjoying our content and learning from it.
Eric: That makes sense. I guess the bigger question is then, okay, you’re gathering the research or figuring out what’s going to resonate, what can provide business and growth for LA Times, once you’ve sort of decided, I think about the type of content you’re producing at a macro level, maybe perhaps even to a CoSchedule’s producing from a content standpoint, you have such thing as an editorial calendar. How are you managing the type of content? When’s it going to release? Who’s working on what? How do you as a VP, how are you overseeing some of that process?
Clint: That’s a great question there, Eric. Again, the two different sides are doing it slightly different but in a cool way. The term editorial calendar actually comes from this industry. As editorial teams, I have a calendar of like, “On Wednesday we have a recipe. On Thursday we have a restaurant review. On Friday we have a recommendation of an event to go to.” That cadence has been around the newspaper since the beginning, then 15, 10 years ago really came to life in social media of content planning, I would say. Now it’s a part of every organization’s mix when they use great tools like CoSchedule.
On the entertainment type content, we are basically developing a programming slate. That’s vocabulary borrowed from the television film industry. It’s like, “We want to create X amount of shows in these five different verticals: food, sports, crime, and city or whatever it may be.” And then we create budgets for each and then go through there.
Now the difference is the cost of content creation for a television show or for a really well-produced podcast. It’s a short run that the investment is pretty high so it’s often we come to lose a bunch of ideas, they get filtered by a developing committee that I help lead, and then we make a decision off of that. Do we want to greenlight the show? Do we want to greenlight a pilot? Toss it around to see how people feel about it? Do we want to just say no to the idea outright or do we want to say we have additional questions we want answered before we decide to commit the resources or is there a lower-cost experiment we can do to kind of float a little balloon out there to see if people are into it?
We’re trying to kind of borrow from the best and lots of different industries which is similar probably with a lot of brands that your company works with or trying to do as well.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting. I think you’re right. You talked about some of those experiments. We do a lot of those here. It’s like, “Hey, before we throw out…” I can imagine again, as a 10x level probably with LA Times it’s before you invest in this, could we try something quickly to see what’s going to resonate. Is it going to return on our investment on that? And then, “Okay, let’s double down on that.” From your standpoint, when you measure success, how are you measuring success? Is it the amount of ads that you could subsequently sell because of the rating that you gained from the content? When you look back and say, “Okay, here’s what we want to accomplish, what’s our goal?” “Yeah, we want to put out great content.” Is that it? Where does it end? How are you measuring like, “This was a big win for the LA Times.”
Clint: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly, on my side of the fence, it’s a revenue-generating business. We’re definitely looking at advertising and increasingly, the future of journalist in publishing is to be less about ads as Google, and Facebook, and groups like that have sucked up a lot of the ads spend unfortunately for us. It’s really becoming a lot of a subscription business. If you’re listening to this, I encourage you to subscribe to your local newspaper because it’s the only way it can sustain itself, and then that’s how you keep your community healthy.
It’s really like, how do we create unique content experiences that are exclusive? Some are open to the whole world perhaps and some maybe gated and only available to our subscribers. Kind of connecting this question to the previous question, that experimentation of what that mix is something that everyone listening or on this podcast is going through. But it is more difficult here in a sense because while we’re experimenting, we can’t mess up. Our whole brand is based on credibility and trust, so whenever there’s a journalist steps in the wrong direction or does something that isn’t befitting the brand, it really has hugely negative effects on the brand. It’s something that all the brand marketers listening could probably relate to as well. If you sell insurance and you have a shady ad campaign or something, has a lack of truth in it, that can really hurt you.
What’s fun about it is experimentation sounds scary often to established organizations. But I think by planning for experimentation you’re actually protecting yourself in the long run because you’re building in experiments as opposed to people just freestyling.
Alright. We’ve reached the halftime show of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I hope you are enjoying the conversation with Clint Schaff, VP of the LA Times. Really, I just have one simple favor to ask of you. I want to hear from you. I want to know who you’d like me to have on the show this year. I want to know what topics you want to hear about in 2019 on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Thank you to those who have sent a couple of recommendations, but I want more. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions. I can’t wait to receive them. Thanks! Back to the show.
Eric: Yeah. It’s really fascinating to hear about it. I think you’re right. I think about LA Times, because you talked about this really two different kind of business. You talked about in the business side, to use your term, and the media side, or the newspaper side of it, and it’s like you almost have two brands in a way. I mean, maybe you don’t but you have a local source of people want to know what’s going on in the world. It’s a trusted brand they want to turn to and learn more about what’s happening in the world, in the United States. Then you have maybe your side, are you creating fiction? Are you creating content like a Netflix criterion? You’re trying to be your own content creator or you’re basing some of that based on factual, non-fiction content. Where is the blend between LA Times as a, again, as a news outlet and LA Times as a content creator? How do you manage those two?
Clint: That’s awesome. I’d like to say that they’re adjacent to one another. We’re not out there trying to create the next sitcom or Chuck-Laurie TV show or whatever. The stuff that we’re going to create is going to be based on our newsroom intellectual property–it’s inspired by that or based on similar stuff that we might acquire like a book or something. But yeah, I think it could come to life in all forms. We’re in the early stages of this. We’ve done some podcast. We’ve had a successful television show. We’re doing something that’s very much on the nose of news.
Actually, one of the local cable networks here in Los Angeles, Spectrum Cable, is going to have a nightly news show branded LA Times–LA Times Today it’s going to be called. That’s like, to do a daily show is a huge lift on television but that’s a good experiment for us to learn that game and who knows what kind of opportunities that’ll open up with other networks in the future. We’re doing things that are really on the nose of news and things like that but all the way to this scripted Bravo show, Dirty John which is based on a real-life journalism podcast. Obviously, with the television show, it’s the same story but it’s portrayed by actors, Connie Britton and Eric Bana. We wouldn’t call that a journalism product, we would just say it’s based on the journalism.
Eric: Sure. Makes sense. That’s cool. I think it’s fascinating like you said, the growth and evolution I think of LA Times and probably a lot of the other news outlets as well. I think one thing that’s interesting that, again if I put my marketing hat back on, obviously you’re starting to create the content, and obviously the next piece of it is how the promotion of the content. Whether you’re promoting the piece of content, you’re promoting your product or your service, have you guys found anything at your level that you find that’s particularly working well, where you’re getting a lot of traction, you’re getting better ROI in your spend for a promotional? Like the podcast launch. How did you get the word out? What did you do to push that? Where did you see the most bang for your buck there?
Clint: Absolutely. Like everyone else, we’re turning on the dials trying every possible way to get eyeballs on our content that people need to see. For podcast specifically, I found media bias are important but reciprocal sharing of content with trusted partners has worked really well. We’re doing episode drop on someone else’s podcast in exchange we’re doing it in ours and make sure that the number of eyeballs equal out, that’s worked out really well. Our journalists are constantly appearing on television shows and other podcasts. I think that brings attention back to our own properties.
Kind of a fun element too, I was a little surprised by is how big and successful our LA Times event business is. We do over 90 events a year, major food events, we have the largest book festival in the world called LA Times Festival of the Books in April. These are all really good places to have really high-touch contact with our readers, listeners and viewers, and then to most effectively serve our most loyal content consumers, and then that way their loyalty is so strong that we’re serving that tribe and then that helps us reach a larger audience. It’s similar to tactics you see in other types of media, in other products. Of course, we have a growing and great team that uses social media, paid advertising, other types of content creation to try to generate attention.
Eric: Thanks for calling out some of the unique things that are working. I think that’s some of the really fascinating stuff that I think when you get creative about some of the ways you are able to get those additional eyeballs, that’s kind of the stuff I think our listeners love to hear. I appreciate that.
Clint: But can I give you a taste… Sorry.
Clint: Like on Dirty John, I started out as a journalist what’s going to be mostly text-based story with some images and then somebody thought, “Wow, it’s going to be a great podcast.” We went back and got a bunch of audio–took a lot of work, so there’s two planks to it. Then they said, “Well, let’s get some video. Let’s create some neat videos…” using the archival photos we have of the basically the villain in the story, “…and let’s post that. Let’s do a live streaming event to talk about it. Let’s do an in-person event at a theater while we bring together the real-life characters with the journalist and with some experts on the topic at hand.” And then finally, the television show. And then retroactively, the writer came out with the book version of the story. We’re really trying to do it in every possible way. I think that’s a good model for publishers moving forward.
Eric: Yeah, that’s really smart. Leveraging different mediums to get more content. If you found something that you think is really fascinating, and interesting, that’s got some gravitas, like you said, let’s kind of evolve it and see what other ways we can make more out of that single piece of content. One of the things we talked about before while we were reminiscing about the good old days before we went live here, you talked about you’re actually going to be moving from LA up to San Fran. You basically got to be able to manage the team remotely and we’re going to like, “How are we going to do that?”
I would just love to hear again—if I’m putting myself into the shoes of my listeners as a marketing manager, or someone who’s responsible for managing a team and trying to manage direction—what have you found is the best way to provide a good visibility into, “Who is working on what? When are they getting it done?” I can imagine, obviously as a publisher and as a content creator, there’s the same deadlines and standards, and people. You’ve got copywriters, and visual designers, and the same thing goes into your content. What have you found works bets? Are you guys doing any agile marketing, sprint planning stuff, or you’re doing kind of ad-hoc willy-nilly, is it kind of traditional–what have you found works for you? What are the pain points of that? What’s working great maybe?
Clint: The newsroom, they have a bunch of proprietary tools that are pretty specific I think to their unique needs whether putting out content seven days a week, 365 days a year, have never missed a day for 137 years. And then there’s a unique kind of editorial process by which editors check the work for facts and whatnot. Very unique over there. On our side, we probably have less output but each piece of content that we create is more expensive to produce. Our content flow is less rapid but wider–is maybe how I would describe it.
We’re using cloud-based tools to try to make sure that everybody has transparency to that information. Sometimes, we’re using outside producers to produce this work so it’s important that our tools are accessible to people outside of our internet or outside of our internal systems. We can buy that with some good old, old fashioned in-person contact. I think we’re struggling with the same in-person things we were struggling with for 80 years in companies: wasted meetings, your calendar being booked-up and all that. The old lesson of every meeting should have an agenda, a point, there are decisions to be made, that kind of stuff.
Funny the most effective thing I still do, I had a boss back in Chicago years ago who gave me the advice and said, “The best thing you could do when you work for someone else, at the end of the week, send a summary of what you did that week and what you’re going to do the next week and then send it the same time no matter what’s going on.” That’s still one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. They may or may not respond to that email, that’s not really the point, it’s just nice to have that as a reference and also for personal accountability. I try to do that with my team and try to make sure that we’re all in the same direction.
Eric: I love it. That’s beautiful. It’s good to hear that the LA Times is still dealing with the same stuff that everyone else is dealing with. I love it. We’re probably getting close here to the end of the conversation. I try to end this with like, in your position—and I know you’ve had a great career with many different types of roles—but I always like to say if there is one piece of advice you could give marketers out there that they could start doing–we call this the Actionable Marketing Podcast because typically we want to leave our listeners with something they can go and implement right away, if there was one piece of advice that you would say marketers should start doing if they’re not doing it right now, right when this podcast is done, what would you recommend they start doing to help them to be a “better marketer” maybe?
Clint: Alright. Great. It’s kind of zagging away from what we’ve been talking about but one of my favorite things to do as a marketer is to try to make a list of the most surprising things that we could do that would still get us toward our objective. A good example is I think attention is when you go just past the line of what’s expected. There’s a lot of marketers go right up to that line and that’s how you get a lot of campaigns that look the same or a lot of content that look the same. If you’re willing to stretch past that a little bit, you can’t do it so far that you’re going to ruin the trust and the relationship you have with the audience. But if you can go a little bit past that, that’s where attention is, that’s where the awesome stuff happens.
A collaboration in your brand and a competitor that would be surprising or between someone in another space that seemingly has nothing in common with you. I really love those kinds of collaborations. I think maybe that comes out of our youth together, Eric. We were in the [...] the new school and tried calling Quest doing a collaboration together on the song Buddy and how those kinds of collateral joints end up being the best. The sum is better than the individual parts.
Eric: I love the example. I think that’s fantastic advice. Our CEO, Garrett Moon talks about how do you find that blue ocean, what are you doing that’s the best, how can you be the best content right on that topic in the internet? I think to look for unique ways is always a great way. Find something that’s surprising–I love that angle in a way that, like you said, still serves the purpose but still can surprise viewers. People still want to be entertained but provide some unique value.
Clint: Yeah. They’re opportunity to reach a new audience because you get their audience and yours, so I love that.
Eric: That’s a collab-o baby. You got to love the collabos. We’re always looking for opportunities. Clint not only was this fun just to catch up with you, I think there’s just so much our listeners were able to glean from your experience. It’s fun to be able to hear what’s going on at the LA Times as you guys are evolving and changing. We’ll definitely keep an eye on stuff that’s coming out. Gosh, I want to give you an opportunity man. This is a platform for you too. Is there anything that us, as listeners, we should keep our eye open from LA Times coming soon?
Clint: Yeah. We have three big podcasts coming out in the next quarter–in April, May and June. They’re all going to be pretty great. I’m very excited. And then we have a storytelling festival out here that’s part of the Festival of Books, it’s called New Story. At that festival, we highlight creative storytelling beyond books, virtual reality, augmented reality, television, fil, music, anything. We had a hieroglyphics exhibit last year. It’s a really fun celebration of all types of storytelling. I thoroughly encourage you to check that out and come out in April to Los Angeles to see us in person.
Eric: Love it. Appreciate the invite. Good stuff. Clint, thanks for representing Mandan, North Dakota so well. I knew you’d go big places and it’s fun to have you on the show here and hear about what you’re doing now. Looking forward to hopefully come and visit you sometime soon. Thanks for coming on the show dude.
Clint: Me too my brother. It was nice to chat with you.