Every Number Tells a Story
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Colleen Newvine, MBA '05, is the consummate storyteller. She began her career as a newspaper reporter, and today she continues to share tales of interesting people doing interesting things through freelance writing and her widely read blog, Newvine Growing. But her position as head of market research for the Associated Press (AP) requires her to tell stories from an unconventional source — numbers. "A spreadsheet is similar to an interview with a source," Newvine says. "I look at it and ask what story it's trying to tell me. Then I communicate that story to the people who need to know it."
The Associated Press is a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by a consortium of U.S. newspapers. Newvine's initial job at the organization, as deputy director of U.S. newspaper markets, was to keep those owners happy by helping member newspapers with sales and marketing. She describes it as a hybrid position that also included managing the newspaper customer database. "If we needed to know how many of our customers buy a photo service, or how much annual revenue we have from college newspapers, I was the go-to person to make sure we had that data."
An internal re-organization in 2008 meant Newvine's department was being reconfigured. She sensed an opportunity. "I thought to myself, ‘If I were going to do any job at the AP, what would I want to do and how can I make that happen?'" Wanting to continue working with data, Newvine considered the fact that the firm didn't have a central office for market research — it was usually handled at the department level, such as among newspapers, broadcast media, and new media. She saw value in consolidating the work not only for efficiencies of scale but for a more holistic understanding of members' needs. Newvine wrote a job description. Then she pitched the chief revenue officer as to why the position needed to exist and why she should be the one to hold it. Fortunately, the vice president for marketing operations also saw the value of a market research role on her team. "A meta-level role such as mine hadn't existed before," Newvine says. "It's a huge honor to be the first person to hold such a position in a company the size and age of the AP."
Today Newvine is responsible for supporting market research needs companywide and is the AP's only full-time market research professional. Depending on the situation, she either relies on third-party data that already exists or leads the research initiative using outside consultants. Given the changing trends in media — and the newspaper industry in particular — the job can take her in a number of directions. One recent project looked at consumer attitudes toward the AP and their opinions on leading news organizations, including the AP.
The rise of online and mobile news sources has provided challenges for the AP, but Newvine also notes the organization is well-positioned to weather change. "We still have to be first and accurate and well-written, regardless of the platform," she says. "We are a 24/7 news organization that was initially oriented toward newspapers. Then broadcasters, then websites became part of the mix. So this is the next evolution for us."
Newvine discovered journalism when she needed a fifth-hour class her junior year of high school and began working on the school newspaper. By the time she entered the Ross Evening MBA Program, her love of journalism fueled her desire to gain the business skills necessary to help the industry with changing media trends. She says the learning curve in some of her classes was so steep she contemplated quitting the program, but along the way she discovered a love of statistics and market research that positioned her for her current role. "If you dug through the files and read my application essay, I would basically be describing the job I have today as the reason I wanted an MBA."
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Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, email@example.com