Michelle Johnston, Ph.D., associate professor of management at Loyola University New Orleans, spent the summer practicing what she teaches in her leadership and business communications classes. Local entrepreneur John Georges enlisted her expertise in those fields before purchasing the Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate May 1 and expanding it to New Orleans.
Georges heard Johnston speak at a conference 10 years ago and has been enlisting her leadership and communication expertise ever since to help his companies, including Imperial Trading Company, Lucky Coin AMA and distributor Harrison Company, improve performance.
Georges relied on Johnston to interview the newspaper’s leadership to find out the organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. Through those interviews, Georges found that The Advocate had loyal, passionate employees who believed in their product. He also discovered that they needed more resources to deliver a better product to New Orleans.
“Michelle’s experience was vital to the purchase of the paper. In order to successfully step in and take over operations from the previous owners, the Manships, who are revered by the staff, it was essential you gain employee support, understand where (employees) are coming from and mesh with corporate plans,” Georges said.
“New Orleans readers wanted a seven-day-a-week newspaper that was about New Orleans, not Baton Rouge. And they also wanted better customer service,” Johnston said. Based on the feedback she gathered, Advocate general manager Dan Shea made the decision to revamp the circulation department and add more staff to the customer service department. Johnston has been coaching those employees to become more customer-driven, effective communicators.
Johnston knew from her current research that creating a culture of listening makes financial sense. “If you build an organizational culture that has a strong internal and external customer-driven environment, the result is higher employee commitment and improved financial success,” Johnston said.
The New Orleans Advocate is completely redesigned, and the paper includes New Orleans-centered content. The Advocate aims to increase subscriptions by 15,000 in the next three months. Johnston is confident this can happen. “By listening to the employees and the customers, they are delivering a great product to the city,” she said.