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General Excellence
Don Olmstead
Marketing Research Manager
Contra Costa Times

When Don Olmstead was a small boy, his favorite question must have been, “But, why?”

All these years later, he’s still asking. Now, he’s doing it on behalf of newspapers and online services, as the industry works to chart a course toward continued business growth. But the scope of his questions are as broad as ever: What do people want, and why do they want it?

Olmstead, who has the dual role of strategic plan project manager and market research manager, is helping the Contra Costa Times answer those questions.

“First, we need to do research to better understand what drives people to seek out information,” he said. “Then we need to create an interactive relationship with people.”

Industry research has shown that people want local information, Olmstead says, but it doesn’t tell why they want local information. “Is it because they want a sense of belonging to the community, or because they want a sense of power to effect change?” Olmstead said. “If, for example, the research showed that the primary reason people want local information is a sense of belonging to the community, then our response is different than if they want a sense of empowerment.”

Newspapers, he says, must do a better job of targeting information and delivering it in a more successful way.

Olmstead has done just that through his National Situational Analysis, which kicked off the paper’s five-year strategic planning process. He identified six major trends affecting newspapers and defined possible courses of action. One early outcome: The Times is testing a program that helps sales reps better advise customers on how to allocate their spending across a variety of advertising products, including online, print and targeted publications.

Hilary Schneider, Knight Ridder senior vice president, called it the best such analysis she had read. The report has been shared with others within the company.

“A lot of research doesn’t get beyond tables of numbers and spreadsheets,” Olmstead said. “I look at these things and let them tell me a story, and then I find a way to present the story in a way that decision-makers can act on.”

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