Robert Royer learned much about how other newspapers do things, not to mention how to deal with natural disaster.
Two promotions. One switchover to outsourced printing. One major hurricane with historic flooding.
Robert Royer's NEX GEN year was busier than most.
Royer, 28, joined the mentoring program as multi-media sales and marketing team leader for the Victoria Advocate in Texas. About six months later, he was named retail advertising supervisor, and near the end of his NEX GEN year he was promoted to local display manager, with broader duties.
Along the way, Royer said, he learned about publishing from mentor Zach Ahrens of The Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas.
"The main thing was the ability to open my eyes to the industry and be able to meet other executives and network, and get to know a little bit about the best practices that they are doing. I have only worked for one paper ever in the Victoria Advocate," Royer said.
Royer grew up in Houston and finished his marketing degree at the University of Houston-Victoria, where the cost and online options allowed him to both work and go to school. He had been in the restaurant industry when he was recruited by the Advocate and started moving up the ladder. Royer enjoys Victoria's business community and his wife was able to stay at home with their first child.
"I have a soft spot for the Victoria economy and local business community," he said. "I tried it out and it was perfect, so I stuck around."
But he was aware that he needed to know how other newspapers and media companies operate, and the NEX GEN program helped fill the gap. Most mentees have an on-site visit with their mentors, and Royer spent three days in Topeka with a side trip to the Kansas City Star where the Capital-Journal is printed.
"This was really the best part of the program. I got a 'Publishers 101' crash course," Royer said. "For example, I don't know what a day in the life of an editor is like, or I didn't before the program."
Ahrens made sure Royer spent time in every department of the Topeka newspaper. Watching outsourced printing in action in Kansas City proved especially valuable.
"Three weeks after I got back in town, we made the same business change, to outsource our printing. So we no longer print in-house." The family-owned Advocate outsourced to Corpus Christi, Texas, resulting in much-improved color quality over its elderly press in Victoria, Royer said.
But soon after the switch, Hurricane Harvey brought historic flooding and wind damage to Houston, Galveston and nearby Victoria as well as other parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Nor was Corpus Christi spared.
For six days the Advocate couldn't deliver a full paper, so it printed e-editions. "There was a mandatory evacuation. We had no carriers. We didn't have a way, literally, to get it out."
For about three weeks after the hurricane, Royer dropped out of touch with Ahrens because he was spending most of his time visiting advertisers in person to see what they needed from the paper and what their revenue problems were. But Ahrens had called him early on to see if the publisher could offer help, and they soon resumed their regular telephone consultations.
Obviously, circulation and revenue were affected by Harvey. "We're still recovering from it, but surprisingly, about two months after the hurricane, our average run rate per week is back up to what it was before the hurricane."
Royer said Ahrens was especially effective as a mentor because the Kansas publisher is himself relatively young.
"He was able to share with me a lot of the experiences he had as a young executive," Royer said. "That was really helpful."
SNPA will invite applications this summer for the NEX GEN Class of 2018-19.
Watch for additional interviews with members of the 2016-17 NEX GEN Class in upcoming issues of the eBulletin.
Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.