LDS Church media properties to roll out values-based strategy

Published January 6, 2010 7:54 pm
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The CEO of Deseret Management Corp. is meeting Thursday with employees at media properties owned by the LDS Church to lay out a values-based growth strategy that appeals to religious and secular consumers around the world.

The strategy will be based on standards consistent with church principles but "are by no means exclusive to the church. They are universal values," Mark Willes said Wednesday.

The standards haven't been clearly fixed yet, but they will apply to all church-owned commercial media properties, which have been struggling with declining revenue and profits as consumers turn to the Internet and other digital media for news and information.

The properties are the Deseret News , KSL television, KSL NewsRadio, Deseret Book, Bonneville International and Deseret Digital Media, which manages the Web sites and other operations of digital-media properties owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Willes believes the Deseret News and other media properties can produce lively and pertinent products for the world that are grounded in morality, civility, integrity and respect for people's differing views.

He thinks the audience for values-based news and entertainment is huge and exists far beyond Utah and the Mormon church.

"The mission statement is going to be, 'We are trusted voices of light and knowledge reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide.' And if you are like most people, you are going to say, that's kind of a ridiculously ambitious mission for this little teeny company in Utah," Willes said.

Willes is a former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and former CEO of its parent company, Times Mirror Co. In February, the LDS Church First Presidency asked him to take over leadership of Deseret Management, which oversees commercial businesses attached to the church, including the Deseret News and KSL.

Within a month, Willes launched a sweeping shake-up of Deseret Management to cope with worsening economic conditions. At the time, he said the First Presidency wanted Deseret Management run as an operating company instead of a holding company.

The difference was significant. As a holding company, Deseret Management's role was largely passive, limited mostly to offering advice and counsel to its subsidiaries. Under the new structure, Deseret Management is directly involved in running the subsidiaries.

Willes' next action was to halt sales of life insurance policies and annuities by Beneficial Financial Group, a century-old insurance company and subsidiary of Deseret Management. Agents stopped selling policies in August.

In September, Willes created Deseret Digital Media to run the online sites of Deseret Book, Deseret News , KSL television and KSL radio.

The meeting Thursday will be attended by about 70 people, who in turn will convey Willes' message to other employees. Willes said some changes will be apparent soon. A new policy on posting online comments on Deseret News stories could roll out in about six weeks. Other changes will take years to implement.

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