Dear Advance Local Colleagues:

Thanks to all of you, Advance Local had its best annual financial performance in 2016 since we began launching our new digitally focused companies five years ago. While market-by-market results varied widely and we are not achieving our collective revenue and EBITDA targets, we achieved meaningful progress. This is a major accomplishment and would never have happened without your extensive contributions and resilience. As we know first-hand, nothing comes easy during times of change and disruption. But Advance Local made great strides in 2016, and we have high hopes for this year as well.

A special shout-out to the MLive Media Group, which had the strongest business results of any of our local companies. And congratulations to New Jersey Advance Media, which was #1 in total digital ad revenue and excelled in its new business initiatives.

As I’ve said before, the road we’ve been on since 2012 has been challenging. We will continue to face difficult decisions on programs and staffing as every company in every industry faces these days. And the need to improve our financial performance remains a necessity.

However, when you look at everything we accomplished in 2016, I have no doubt Advance Local can thrive in the years to come. Yes, we will constantly face painful choices about where to cut back and where to invest. But if we can stay focused on the unlimited audience and revenue growth opportunities we have to pursue, especially in digital, we are on the right path to a sustainable future.

Here are the headlines as we move forward:

Our talented journalists continue to break new ground, doing exemplary work, smashing audience growth records and receiving well-deserved recognition for their high-impact stories and videos. (More on this later). Our monthly digital audience regularly topped 50 million last year, solidifying our place in the top 10 news and information companies nationwide, according to comScore.

We saw phenomenal growth in video viewership, which exploded by 360 percent and totaled 450 million views for the year, thanks in large part to an infusion of new talent and a strategic focus on our branded channels on YouTube and Facebook.

Our social media audience also surged, reaching more than 7.5 million fans and followers (a 54-percent increase over 2015) and generating 80 million interactions. We started distributing our content on Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, which have generated a combined 112 million page views in the past six months.

And our newspapers continued to deliver tremendous value for loyal subscribers and advertisers, still reaching 6.5 million readers each week, according to Scarborough/Nielsen Local.

We’ve been making major investments to safeguard our future, including these:

Expanding our Advance Insights data group, which helped our local markets generate nearly $12 million in 2016, an increase of 86 percent over 2015.

Launching a 15-person SEO/SMO strategy team headquartered in Cleveland that will provide more support for our local sales teams at a lower cost.

Adding resources to our programmatic sales operation as well as Headline Studio, which just sold its first $10 million content marketing deal.

Funding important projects at Advance Digital so we can develop a faster-loading article page and an enhanced multimedia experience for our readers.

Investing in The Tylt, which provides millions of young people the chance to express their real-time opinions on social channels. TheTylt has achieved social reach of more than 74 million since its launch, with engagement rates five times higher than its competitors.

Opening three regional print labs last year in New Orleans, New Jersey and Grand Rapids while redesigning 29 newspapers using a responsive design that allows our teams to share their best work more efficiently.

Completing the Amazon Web Services migration, which achieves critical savings while making our digital operations more secure.

Doubling down on our rapidly growing content marketing, video, health care, travel and political/advocacy businesses.

Our colleagues at Advance Central Services successfully launched their new One ACS operating model, leveraging talent across all markets to accomplish an impressive series of initiatives. To mention just one of many achievements, the new enterprise circulation strategy team beat its contribution budget by $5 million in 2016. 

And ADI and ACS have continued to invest in new technologies, toolsets and streamlined business processes to improve our advertising ordering, billing and client campaign reporting systems.

We’re running as fast as we can across the organization. But we need to do more in these key areas:

  1. Upgrading our ad technology so we can enhance our ability to sell much bigger deals to more sophisticated customers. Our sales teams have become the most trusted advertising and marketing partners in the cities and states where we operate, leveraging our record-breaking audience growth, trusted brand equity and extensive digital and print solutions. We need to keep providing them the capabilities they need to compete.
  2. Developing more training and career development opportunities for talented folks throughout our organization. We have to do a better job here and you will see extensive changes soon.

Encouraging more talk at all levels of the enterprise about what’s working and what isn’t. We have to promote more dialogue and debate, collaboration and idea-sharing. We’ve gotten better at this, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

  1. And perhaps most importantly of all, acknowledging and extolling the virtues of the amazing work our journalists do daily. Our newsrooms have fought hard to be the #1 news and information sources for the communities we serve. Thanks to their stellar work, we now have larger local audiences than any of our competitors, which is a huge advantage.

The big, courageous, compelling stories and editorials keep coming, proving beyond a doubt that our writers and editors can consistently produce high-quality journalism while reaching larger audiences than we’ve ever seen before.

When you have a chance, please check out these recent gems:

– An 18-month investigation by OregonLive into toxic lead levels at National Guard armories led to the National Guard immediately closing armories across the nation to public events.

– An investigation by NJ Advance Media found that FieldTurf, the top U.S. maker of artificial sports fields, made millions selling high-end turf to schools and communities after knowing it was falling apart

– Dogged reporting at MassLive led to 12 Springfield police officers being investigated in connection with the beating of a group of men.

– Relentless digging by MLive Media Group led to a new state law that will curb abuses in the hiring of reserve police officers.

– PennLive’s aggressive right-to-know requests helped reveal that Penn State coach Joe Paterno had dismissed a sexual assault complaint made against Jerry Sandusky as far back as 1976 – and the university knew of allegations long before Sandusky was arrested in 2011.

– While the NOLA Media Group thoroughly covered the high-profile tragedies of two former football players murdered in New Orleans, the newsroom put faces on others killed in the city through its emotional series, Our loss: The human toll of murder.

– A criminal probe launched after MLive’s definitive Flint water investigation, All the Governor’s Men, led to 13 people being charged, including two emergency managers appointed by the governor to oversee Flint. 

– The Advance Ohio content team continued to shine a light on local problems, including its “Impact 2016: Justice for All” reporting on the bail bond system that led to meaningful reforms

– Staten Island’s in-depth reporting on the community’s opioid crisis received the top Community Service award from the New York News Publishers Association.

  – Alabama Media Group’s reporting drew national attention to the state’s “blackout in the Black Belt” the disproportionate closing of voter-registration offices in African-American areas.  And if you haven’t seen what the entrepreneurial AMG team has done on social media with the new “This is Alabama” project, please take a look at this:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsAlabama/

As you can see, the journalism we publish 24/7 on all platforms matters now more than ever. Congratulations to our newsrooms on their notable achievements.

As the New Year unfolds, I’ll be providing more frequent updates. But in the meantime, here’s to another strong year of progress in 2017. And thanks again for everything you all are doing to help make this possible.

Sincerely,

Randy Siegel

President

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