I'll admit I wasn't bouncing off the ceiling with excitement over the prospect of a four-hour company leadership training session. And, yes, we did those exercises: Name your best/worst coach and why. With my boss sitting less than 5 feet away? And all sorts of bosses in the room? Could there possibly be a correct answer?
But in retrospect, and I shared this with many, I thought it was perhaps the most inspiring, invigorating session I've attended in my 35 years at the Daily Herald. Given all the hardship we, and of course the newspaper industry, have been through much of this millennium, it was great to hear a recap of what the company has done to cope with challenging times. Much of it I knew, but there were innovative things going on in other departments that were news to me.
And perhaps some of these things are news to you, too. Sure, I'd be happy to share:
• Daily Herald events. This gives us a golden opportunity to interact with our readers and advertisers and to provide something beyond our print and digital products. When we started two years ago, we gave readers a chance to talk to our newsroom experts such as movie critic Dann Gire and sports columnists, while food editor Deb Pankey launched our first Cook of the Week event. "Engagement journalism" is what the boss calls it. We were proud to pull off 12 events in 2012, and we've launched almost that many in the first quarter of this year. They've included a televised political debate among the gubernatorial candidates; a weigh-in of 200 community and business leaders for the latest incarnation of our Fittest Losers contest; and sponsorship of four screenings of "17 Seconds," chronicling the Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup. Coming up in May: A banquet at the Sears Centre honoring our prep athletes from virtually every sport.
• Commercial printing. In 2002, we opened in Schaumburg a state-of-the-art printing center, designed to accommodate future growth. When that growth didn't occur amid the recession and a slumping print industry, we went looking for other business. Our biggest customer is Shaw Media, publishers of the Northwest Herald, Kane County Chronicle and, most recently, the Joliet Herald-News. Between that and other work, we're producing 42 percent more newspaper copies than four years ago. We're still looking for more and possibly different types of printing work.
• Niche Publications. The special section arm of the company turns out 185 publications per year, including Readers Choice, Suburban Parent, Healthy Pets, holiday gift guides and community-focused "town sections." In 2009, we produced the annual guide for the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce; this year we plan to do 52 of them, many well outside our circulation footprint -- Chicago and the North Shore, Milwaukee and southern Wisconsin and even the Central Valley of California.
• Digital. The newspaper, of course, has become a player in the digital world with our website, daily email blast, mobile app and the like. Meanwhile, our advertising staff has formed DHigital, which helps customers with everything from designing websites, optimizing search engine capabilities, GEO tracking, social media, online video and "reputation management" -- all important things in today's world but ones many business owners might not have the staff or time to deal with.
Sure, all of this innovation helps the bottom line, but sometimes adversity can make you better. My abject enthusiasm for our leadership session stems from how the Daily Herald was thrown a huge industry curveball, but managed to hit it out of the park.