'We are the center of attention'
September 29, 2015
Husband and wife team live the good life
publishing a newspaper in the ‘Most Beautiful Place in America’
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
Deb Campbell had never sold an ad in her, life but when she had an opportunity to apply for a part-time job selling ads for the Holly (MI) Herald in 1995, she jumped at the chance.
After all, how hard could it be, she reasoned.
“The day I interviewed, I was running a little late, and as I hurried through the door, my heel caught on some carpet or something, and I tripped,” she said and laughed.
“Then I looked up and announced, ‘Well, I’m here.’”
Owner and Publisher Alan Campbell, 59, hired her on the spot.
“He never even asked if I knew anything about selling ads,” Deb, 57, said.
Alan added, “I hired her because it was pretty obvious she could handle anything.”
The couple married in 2002. Together, they own the Leelanau Enterprise, a 138-year-old weekly newspaper situated on Lake Leelanau in scenic northwest Michigan.
Alan had bought the Holly Herald from his father in 1983. Don Campbell had owned it since 1963.
Holly is a small town in southeast Michigan, and media competition was fierce. Alan had worked for Leelanau Enterprise before purchasing the Holly newspaper from his father, and when Enterprise owner, Dick Kerr, decided to retire, Alan had a chance to buy the newspaper.
So he sold the Holly Herald to a newspaper group, which in turn sold it to the Gannett Corp. Gannett shut the Herald down about 10 years ago.
“I needed enough money to make a down payment on the Leenanau Enterprise,” Alan wrote in a personal column earlier this year.
“I just figured Holly would always have a Herald Advertiser because, well, it always had before,” he wrote.
Today in Leelanau County, the Campbells and the newspaper are thriving. The Enterprise has twice won the Michigan Press Association’s Newspaper of the Year honor in its weekly circulation division.
This year, the newspaper won four first-place awards and multiple other awards in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Editorial Contest.
“We are the center of attention,” Deb said. “We are on a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water, and there’s no competition.”
There are no chain stores or big box retailers, either. No fast food chains like McDonalds or Burger King.
Agriculture, tourism and small, local businesses dominate the economic landscape, and that suits the Campbells just fine, Deb said.
The 8,100-paid circulation newspaper employs 15 full-time and eight part-time staff.
Tabloid sized, the core paper averages 48 pages, but it swells to as many as 84 pages during the summer. The July 2, 2015, paper was 64 pages, divided into four sections. A classified advertising section was 16 pages plus a glossy insert. Most of the ads were for real estate.
The 2015 Summer Visitor’s Guide is 132 pages, and the just-released fall Leelanau color tour book comes in at 72 pages. Both guide books are glossy magazines, packed with advertising, dining guides, entertainment and things to do.
The paper hits the stores and post office on Wednesdays and arrives at readers’ homes on Thursdays.
“We have a great staff,” Deb said. “We own a Goss press, which is unusual for a paper of our size.”
In 2011, an online poll sponsored by the morning TV show “Good Morning America” voted Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, located on the shore of Lake Michigan as the “Most Beautiful Place in America.”
The seashore is located in the Enterprise’s coverage area. The news that it is America’s most beautiful place boosted local tourism as well as home sales, and attracted retiree homeowners, who are regular newspaper readers.
Leelanau County’s nearly 22,000 residents are culturally diverse, with people of German, English, Polish, Irish, French and American ancestry making up the population.
The maritime climate and rich soil produce grapes that go into a variety of wines, including the Rieslings for which the area is well-known. Cherry-farming is abundant, and 70,000 acres of beautiful vistas and rolling topography attracts lovers of the outdoors from far and wide.
The Leelanau Enterprise was founded in 1877 and has changed hands 14 times, but it has had just four owners since the 1940s, according to Alan.
Alan worked for the Enterprise before buying the newspaper. He and Deb are co-owners and last year were featured in a Publishers’ Auxiliary article by Ken Blum about husband and wife publishing teams. “Hard work still required: American legends” appeared in the August 2014 issue.
Alan handles the editorial side of the newspaper and Deb is in charge of advertising and human resources. Business decisions are a joint effort.
When they started out they did most of the work themselves, including delivering the newspapers to the retail outlets where single copies are sold. “I would drive,” Deb said. “And if he took too much time inside, I’d beep the horn.”
One day, they were running late because they were short staffed and had a web break on the press.
“We arrived at a stop to find a woman standing outside the store literally tapping on her watch and looking at us,” Deb said.
But instead of being stressed out about that, she considered it good news.
“It was a compliment, really, that she wouldn’t go home, and waited 20 minutes for her newspaper to arrive,” Deb added.
Over the years, times were hectic and crazy. During the winter of 2013-2014 Mother Nature dumped 250 inches of snow on their peninsula—much of it lake-effect snow.
“We have never missed a deadline through storms and power outages,” Deb said. “We have been blessed to be able to get the newspaper out each week and never miss an issue.”
The Leelanau Enterprise has an online presence, but its appearance there is much like the print edition.
The Campbells consider the ads as part of the content their readers enjoy just as much as the news articles. Advertising sales include a forced online buy. Advertisers on contracts pay $3 a week for the online ads and advertisers not on contracts pay $7 a week.
“We scan the ads and rotate them on our Web page. Occasionally they appear on the home page and at other times they are on different inside pages,” Deb said.
Social media is an afterthought at the Leelanau Enterprise, Alan said. The newspaper’s Facebook page has about 900 followers and mainly posts Ken Scott’s photos each week.
“We have a reporter who knows how to manage a Twitter account, but he appreciates not having to do it,” Alan said.
This year, the Campbells published a coffee table book made up of special scenic photos shot by professional photographer Ken Scott. The photos have appeared on the back page of the newspaper’s A-section during the past 10 years. The book sells for $40 and they have sold enough copies to pay for the production and printing.
The Campbells’ biggest challenge lies in being on the job all the time.
“You finish one project and it’s time to start on another one,” Deb said. “We don’t settle for average. We think of our customers and our readers and strive to have a great product every week.”
Deb estimates she works just under 50 hours a week. Alan works between 50 and 60 hours. Both take work home and respond to phone calls in the evenings. Alan always carries his camera to be ready for that next great photo op.
Still, they manage to make time for their 14-year-old son. Alan even coaches his middle school basketball team.
In the column to his readers last February, Alan wrote:
“A few days ago, I turned 59 years old, which meant I have been making payroll as the owner of a newspaper for 32 years …. It’s been my life. And a good one, if I do say so myself.”
Name of newspaper: Leelanau Enterprise
Owners: Alan and Deb Campbell
How long have you owned the Leelanau Enterprise? 18 years.
What is its circulation? 8,100, all paid.
What is its publication schedule? In stores and post office boxes on Wednesdays, mail delivery on Thursdays.
Does your newspaper have a personal mission statement or motto? If so, what is it? Serving America’s Beautiful Place.
How many people are employed at the Enterprise? 15 full time and eight part time.
What is the most rewarding aspect of publishing a weekly newspaper? Having someone call to say we’ve affected the community in a positive way.
What are your biggest challenges? Trying to top last week’s newspaper, every week.
What are your top goals for 2015-2016? To assist voters in navigating what is sure to be a charged political season, and to increase sales no matter how big or small in every department—printing, phone book, visitor guide, online and of course ROP advertising.
What are your newspapers’ most distinguishing characteristics? Fiercely independent and vocal, yet accommodating to all views.
How do you view your newspaper’s role in the communities it serves? As a leader in community discussions and decisions.
Discuss your views regarding digital publishing and social media and sticking mostly to print. Why does this strategy work for you? We never abandoned print. Instead, we embraced the concept that the Leelanau Enterprise newspaper is the flagship of all our products. We made no layoffs—and less money—during the recession because cutting editorial staff will also cut off your importance to the community.
What is one thing you will never change? Caring for Leelanau County. We’re truly blessed to live and work here with a staff that also cares.