‘It angers longtime readers when you offer special deals to new subscribers only’
January 14, 2015
Publisher’s path brought her home to her family newspaper
By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
rowing up with her family’s newspaper, Regina Barton Keilers was reluctant to enter the business, but today, one year into her job as publisher of the Fayette County Record in LaGrange, TX, she is having so much fun it doesn’t even feel like work to her.
At Christmastime, she was wrapping up her big holiday promotions for both subscriptions and advertising. For Keilers, keeping her long-term readers on the subscription list and her longtime advertisers in the newspaper is her top holiday priority.
“It angers longtime readers when you offer special deals to new subscribers only,” she said in a phone interview.
So she decided to add a customer loyalty program to her marketing activities, offering $10 off the newspaper’s subscription rate for anyone who renewed for an entire year during a special promotional period. Even if a reader’s subscription renewal falls mid-year, she honors the special rate.
In an e-mail, she reported on her success selling new subscriptions.
“The promotion has now exceeded 130 new subscriptions,” she wrote.
A semi-weekly county seat newspaper, The Fayette County Record boasts 4,732 subscribers and about 1,000 in single-copy sales, covering a population of around 5,000 LaGrange residents. A monthly TMC product blankets Fayette County.
Keilers uses the TMC and single copies to carry postcards advertising her special subscription promotion, and no advance payment is required to sign up. New subscribers may simply fill out the postcard and indicate their preference for receiving a bill.
“If they don’t pay within a month, we just cancel them,” she said. “The worst-case scenario is they may read a few issues of the Record for free.”
The 93-year-old newspaper was founded in 1922.
Keilers’ father bought The Fayette County Record in 1976 from Bonner McMillion, who purchased it from Louis John Sulak, the original owner, in 1965. Sulak’s son, John Louis Sulak, served as editor for years, and his wife, Lillie, worked, at the newspaper, too, until she finally retired at 85. Now at 102, she still is part of the newspaper’s family.
Keilers grew up like most newspaper kids, doing odd jobs—mostly in the darkroom and in the composing room. After graduating from high school, she lost interest in the newspaper; studied education; and taught math, science and social studies to fifth and sixth graders in the local school system for 26 years. When her father died in 2003, her brother, who had served as ad director, took over the newspaper. Sixteen years older than Keilers, he worked out a plan for his sister to become publisher upon his retirement, but in 2006 he was killed in an auto accident.
Keilers, who wasn’t ready to step in to lead the newspaper, hired Larry Jackson, an experienced publisher who was close to retirement. She worked with him in a near-apprentice capacity until he retired Dec. 31, 2012, and then stepped up.
Now closing in on her first full year as the newspaper’s publisher, she is creating new programs and making her own mark.
LaGrange is located about halfway between Austin and Houston along Highway 71 in Texas. It is a major German and Czech settlement, and today, their influence is still seen and felt through the community’s local architecture and customs.
Up until 1973, LaGrange was home to the famous Chicken House brothel, according to the local travel and tourism website. The building housing the brothel operations was relocated to Dallas, and all that is left of the storied enterprise is the legend, the website states.
The Texas Quilt Museum, which sits close to the town square, brings tourists to LaGrange. They dine at local restaurants and shop along the town’s main street.
Local business is The Record’s bread and butter. Keilers maintains a close relationship with all of her advertising clients, and she has created a holiday special that benefits local merchants and shoppers, while buying a ton of good will for the newspaper.
“Eat, Shop and Play,” which runs from Black Friday through Dec. 21, offers shoppers a chance to win prizes just by buying goods from participating merchants. Shoppers may bring the receipts and punch cards from participating merchants to the newspaper or local Chamber of Commerce where they are punched, allowing the shoppers to be entered into a drawing for gift cards worth $100, $200 or $300. This year, Keilers reports, shoppers submitted receipts representing about $20,000 in local purchases, resulting in a winning promotion for local retailers.
“We have a huge loyalty base,” she said. “I know everyone here. After all, I taught half the county.”
Although married to print, Keilers is a strong proponent of digital publishing and social media. She ventured into online journalism using a paywall from the beginning, thanks to Jackson.
“He insisted on starting a paywall, and I’m glad we did,” she said.
Pushing the print edition over online, Keilers offers online-only subscriptions to out-of-county readers. In-county readers must subscribe to the print edition and then they can get the online newspaper for free. She values the advertisers who place inserts and wants to make sure her readers get them.
“If readers are more than 50 miles away, they wouldn’t use the inserts,” she said. “Their ability to read the paper online makes the news more timely for them.”
Keilers uses her Facebook page for news and advertising updates and has 2,719 followers. Her goal is to use her online product and social media to drive readers to the printed newspaper.
She also works hard to retain a loyal staff and employs 18 people who work a variety of schedules from full 40-hour work weeks to part time, as needed. She values every single one of them.
“If any of our employees leave, there will be a big hole to fill, so I am doing what I can to keep them,” she said.
She offers a flexible schedule and pays 100 percent of her fulltime employees’ health insurance. She also offers a retirement plan and runs a family-friendly operation. After all, she has raised a family of her own—three daughters and a son, ranging in age from 18 to 27. She is a grandmother, too, and she knows how important they are.
“When a person has family issues or personal issues, we insist their families come first,” she said. “The reason our newspaper is doing so well is because our people are here for the long haul.”
Keilers, the reluctant publisher who once chose a career in the classroom, is now at home in the newsroom.
She has never been happier.
Name of Publication: The Fayette County Record.
Publisher: Regina Keilers.
How old is The Fayette County Record? It was established in 1922. We are in our 93rd year of publication.
How long has it been in your family? My father bought the paper in 1976.
Your newspaper’s circulation? Our paid mailed circulation is 4,732 as of today, but we have approximately 1,000 in single copy sales each issue, giving us a total circulation of about 5,700.
Frequency of publication? Twice a week—Tuesdays and Fridays.
List some top goals for the coming year? To increase our circulation by 3 percent to 5 percent.
What aspect of the paper are you most proud of? We are the No. 4 semi-weekly in the state of Texas.
How do you view your newspaper’s role in your community? We are the source for local news. We want to be the newspaper that our people turn to for news and information about their community.
What do you love to hear from readers? “I can’t wait to get the next issue of the newspaper.” “Your paper just keeps getting better.”
One thing you’d never change? Our focus on local news coverage. Many of the surrounding community newspapers are being bought up by large chain publishers, and then the fallout from that is a decrease in local coverage. We still want to cover the local football games, the livestock shows, the 4-H competitions, the high school band concerts, etc.