Follow the Leader : Emma Kennedy, The Echo

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In the third of our series of interviews with business leaders about their business journey so far, we speak to Emma Kennedy, MD of The Echo, a local newspaper based in Tallaght, Dublin.

The Echo, which is the only paid-for local paper in the city, was set up by Kennedy’s father, David, in 1980. The family bought the title back from Johnston Press in 2010 after selling it to the publisher just five years earlier. The business is now run by Emma – who acts as sales, marketing and business development manager – alongside her sister, Brenda, who’s the HR manager and part of the editorial team, and her brother, Peter, who works as the accounts manager.

What is your business’s elevator pitch?

“We’re one of the longest-serving local papers in Dublin – it’s one of the biggest suburbanised areas in the country and we’re serving those areas. We’re also a sold newspaper, so from a business-to-business perspective, that carries a lot of clout. We have a lot of loyalty from our customers because we’ve been established since 1980.

“Local and national businesses know that if they want to target people in the Tallaght, Clondalkin, Ballyfermot, or Lucan areas, the response level will be stronger if they do it through us.”

What was the key motivation and raison d’être behind your business?

“My parents are both from Tallaght, where the paper started. It had been a country town, but in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular, all this urbanisation started with people being rehoused out to Tallaght. When that happened, the area was very disjointed: all these housing developments were created with no infrastructure.

“So my father and his friends started a monthly newspaper, and while they all continued in their everyday careers my parents decided, in 1986, to go for it and continue The Echo as a full-time business.”

Looking back, would you or your family have done anything differently leading the business?

“My father sold The Echo to Johnston Press in 2005, but we didn’t expect it to be such an emotional transition, and it was something he regretted. A few years later, during the recession, Johnston Press was going through a tough time. My parents were watching the paper every week, and there was a sense that The Echo might go. So my father approached them and took it back on in 2010 – although this was an extremely difficult time to take back a business.”

What’s your driving force? What keeps you motivated to drive the business on?

“There’s huge personal input we’ve made through our entire lives: we grew up with the Echo, so personally I want to see the business develop now. I want to drive it forward and keep the communities we serve informed about what’s going on in their area.”

 

We invested heavily in IT and a new website, as well as new staff for online content development – and I think that investment sets us apart. We’ve made our presence felt online and in print”

 

 

What does achievement and success look like for your business?

“Given the difficulties the newspaper industry has faced in the past few years with the growth of social media, Facebook and so on, it’s an achievement to keep the paper going and turning it around into a profitable business – as well as keeping staff levels up and employing local people.”

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?

“Have faith in yourselves and what you can achieve.

“My brother, sister and I took over The Echo in 2012, and at the time we were probably beating ourselves up too much about whether we were doing the right thing. But my dad, Dave, told us: ‘You should be proud about what you’ve achieved on your own merit. Your own instincts can often be the very best advice.’”

What has been your proudest achievement with your business to date?

“In 2015, we sat down and created a new business model – we understood we had to invest and restructure the business to complement the digital with print.

“We invested heavily in IT and a new website, as well as new staff for online content development and social media – and I think that investment sets us apart. We’ve made our presence felt online and in print.

“As a result, we won the South Dublin Chamber Innovation in Business Award last October for our online and social media presence – that was a phenomenal achievement and probably the highlight of the last eight years.”

Your approach as a leader is best described by which three words?

“Colleague, not boss.

“I have a role in The Echo as the sales and marketing manager, so I see myself as a colleague, and I think the team here respect me for that.”

What advantages do you have as a small company in the newspaper industry?

“We’re personally invested in the business and our staff are, too; they’re very loyal to us, and we really appreciate this.

“And we know the business people in our areas, and they're loyal, too. They spend with us both because we’re the local press and because they know us. We saw a positive shift when we took back the paper in 2010 – more local companies connected with us again.”

Parting shot: what’s next for your business?

“I think getting new print readers is the biggest challenge for us going forward. Getting digital readers through social media is growing all the time. But print is different. Nonetheless, I do believe that in the digital era, things can turn 360 degrees – look at vinyl records, people are using them again.

“Our objective is to grow both parts of the business: we’ll grow our digital and social media following, and through that channel we’ll promote the paper to pick up and buy.”

 

Comments 1

Tara De Buitlear on Thursday, 08 March 2018 14:22

Nice to read a story of a family business, in a challenging sector whose resilience has carried them across challenging times, adapting to the fast changing world of media and remaining relevant.

Nice to read a story of a family business, in a challenging sector whose resilience has carried them across challenging times, adapting to the fast changing world of media and remaining relevant.
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