WKU Student Pubs a finalist for Business Pacemaker

WKU Student Publications this week was named a finalist for the Associated Collegiate Press Student Media Business Pacemaker for 2024, honoring the organization’s overall business practices as among the best in the nation.

It is the first time WKU has been a finalist for a Business Pacemaker, with the entry compiled by student leaders from Student Publications Advertising and the Cherry Creative branded-content studio. The Business Pacemaker assesses everything from revenue growth and business practices to training and creative approaches to generating revenue that supports student-run media.

The finalist designation is the latest affirmation of a top-to-bottom restructuring of Student Publications’ business operations, launched in 2018 after a student-led group took a hard look at changes we needed to make to bring sustainability and growth potential to the organization.

And it offers an opportunity to tell the story of how creative ideas from our students have grown into products and services that have significantly improved the business outlook for Student Pubs.

The key moves from that 2018 restructuring were to separate the creative staff from the former College Heights Herald advertising staff and form Cherry Creative. The ad staff also became its own student-led organization under the name Student Publications Advertising, with a new focus on generating revenue across all our platforms, not just the Herald.

Among the innovations the new structure nurtured was the WKU Housing Fair, launched in 2019 in collaboration with WKU Housing & Residence Life. The event allowed apartment complexes that cater to students to gather at the Housing Fair and show students what they offer, and it immediately became one of our largest revenue-generators. The Housing Fair’s success led to creating a Best of the Hill Festival to accompany the Herald’s popular Best of the Hill issue each spring, also generating significant revenue.

While an evolution was already under way, it kicked into high gear as a result of the 2020-21 pandemic, which saw the university close for most of a semester to in-person classes, interrupting the printing of the Herald newspaper and cratering income for our revenue-dependent operation.

Facing a remote graduation in May 2020 with an inability to offer our traditional, printed graduation section, always a money-maker, Cherry Creative launched a digital WKU Graduate Guide at wkugrads.com, capturing revenue to help us continue paying students. That project was honored with ACP’s first Innovation Pacemaker in 2020, and has continued to grow and produce more revenue each year.

Student Publications Advertising also moved its focus to digital, working to sell the new daily email newsletter the Herald launched when WKU shut down on March 11, 2020. That newsletter continues on a daily basis during the fall and spring semesters, with weekly deliveries during winter and summer terms. It now goes to more than 33,000 subscribers. It has, in effect, become the Herald’s new front page, reaching more people in a single day than the former newspaper did in a week. The Herald print edition has transformed into a monthly enterprise news magazine.

Since the end of the pandemic and operations returning to a more normal status, Wes Orange, the advertising adviser, has placed high priority on improving our sales training, including deepening the students’ knowledge of the array of products, events and other opportunities to reach the WKU community that we offer across Student Publications.

And while Student Publications Advertising and Cherry Creative, advised by Sam Oldenburg, are separate divisions within our operation, they meet regularly and work closely together to brainstorm ideas, bring in clients, deliver exceptional products – and generate revenue.

Revenue for the 2022-23 academic year grew by 37% over the previous year – phenomenal growth for a media operation. That growth is continuing this year, with revenue for Fall 2023 at $84,475, a 36% increase over Fall 2022 revenue of $62,137.

Finally, the list of other finalists for the Student Media Business Pacemaker reads like the royalty of the business-side of student media, so being a finalist alongside these perpetual icons is particularly gratifying. The other finalists are:

  • Main Hill Media, University of Arkansas
  • Mustang Media Group, California Polytechnic University-San Luis Obispo
  • The McKinley Avenue Agency, Ball State University
  • The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University
  • Central Michigan Life, Central Michigan University
  • Northwest Student Media, Northwest Missouri State University
  • The Appalachian, Appalachian State University
  • The Daily Dar Heel Media Corp., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Texas A&M Student Media, Texas A&M University

The Student Media Business Pacemaker winners will be announced March 9 at the ACP Spring National College Media Conference in La Jolla, California.