June 12, 2014
Communications and Marketing
The Boston Globe CEO Michael Sheehan, a member of the class of 1982, was the keynote speaker at the Saint Anselm College Corporate Partners Program's breakfast series on June 12. He discussed the role of the newspaper that was founded in 1872 and has the broadest reach of any major metro daily newspaper in the country. It is published by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.
Joanne Pietrini Smith, chair of the Saint Anselm College Board of Trustees, introduced the speaker to a packed auditorium at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library, where virtually every guest grew up reading the Globe.
Armed with facts, statistics, and anecdotes, Sheehan refuted rumors that print newspapers are a thing of the past.
"We will survive," he said, although "the industry has been whipsawed by hurricane force headwinds."
"Content, both news and editorial, has been fragmented and published on new platforms. In 2005, advertising sales were at an all-time high. Seven years later, it had been cut in half. There was further erosion in 2013."
He also cited changes in readers' habits: "Only five percent of people under age 35 prefer print as their primary news source."
But Sheehan is convinced that great journalism brings people together, convenes community, and holds politicians accountable. There is value in insightful, accountable journalism, and in photos that are not taken, but made. He cited The Boston Globe's 23 Pulitzer Prizes, including three in the past six years for arts criticism and the paper's first for breaking news, which was awarded last April for its exhaustive coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt.
The only way to grow a business is to invest in it, Sheehan said, and The Boston Globe is investing in quality journalism by adding sections that focus on areas such as politics and real estate; a weekly poll; and a section on "all things Catholic."
He described such investment as part of the classic business cycle: "The better your journalism is, the more you attract business. You then pour that back into the newsroom."
It's important to keep coming up with ideas, said the CEO, who spent 30 years generating ideas in the advertising industry. For example, the paper has begun distribution in southwestern Florida to keep "snowbirds" subscribing.
Sheehan also discussed developing One Fund Boston, which collected and distributed $61 million in its first 75 days to support victims of the marathon bombing and is about to distribute a second round. It was the fastest and most successful victim compensation fund in the country's history and, he said, could only have happened in Boston.
"There is no city in America with the heart and soul and sense of civic responsibility of this one. And The Boston Globe is the catalyst of civic discussion here."
Sheehan is past chairman, CEO, president, and chief creative officer of the Boston advertising giant Hill Holliday, which became the 12th largest ad agency in America and the second-largest outside of New York City. He is a loyal alumnus, a 10-year trustee of the college, and a great benefactor, noted Pietrini Smith in her introduction. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Saint Anselm College in 2000.
The Corporate Partners Program is a collaboration between Saint Anselm College and leading businesses in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Today's event was the 25th CEO breakfast in the series, in a program which has funded numerous scholarships for Saint Anselm students.