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Local Media Association names Cityside’s Colleen Leary Innovator of the Year
By Cityside staff
August 1, 2023

Colleen Leary, vice president of client partnerships at Cityside Journalism Initiative, home to Berkeleyside and Oaklandside, has been named Innovator of the Year by the Local Media Association for devising and implementing several notable and creative new revenue-generating initiatives.

“Each year, the Local Media Revenue and Strategy Innovator of the Year award recognizes a digital media leader delivering fantastic results by pioneering new concepts and experimenting in new and creative ways,” according to the Local Media Association, which is a national trade group of more than 3,000 newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and digital news sites that focuses on the business side of local media.

Lance Knobel, CEO of Cityside Journalism Initiative, said, “It’s not a coincidence that the Cityside leadership team, not to mention its board of directors, often refers to Colleen as a rock star. She is supremely talented, wildly creative, loved by her clients, and a thoroughly wonderful person to work with.”

Leary, who joined Berkeleyside in 2018 and leads all sponsorship and advertising at Cityside, has a long track record of success. Despite the fact that Oaklandside launched in June 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic lockdown, Leary rose to the challenge and has formed new revenue partnerships for Cityside, and leveraged the power of its two sites for many clients. Even in 2022, a year many businesses opted for a retrenchment of their marketing budgets because of rising inflation and economic uncertainty, she delivered 132% year-over-year growth.

Over the years, Leary has built a strong base of local clients founded on relationships she nurtures by being responsive, thoughtful and creative.

In the fall of 2022, Leary led the launch of a new event series, The Oaklandside Small Business Toolbox. The idea is to bring small, minority-led business owners from around Oakland to a convivial workshop event focusing on specific problems and skills to help their businesses succeed.

Last year, Leary heard from her arts venue clients — the biggest category in her Berkeleyside portfolio — that they wanted a new way to tell stories about their events beyond the usual show previews and ticket promotions. Her response was to create the Arts Resource Guide, an original and effective advertising package that includes monthly sponsored stories, told from the client’s perspective. This successful initiative demonstrated innovative thinking and a way to grow revenue from loyal clients with an original, content-driven solution.

In local news, forging strong community connections is vital to succeed with all forms of fundraising, including media sales. Leary is all about community — from running a local dog park, exchanging recipes with clients, getting invited to birthday parties, and sharing big hugs when bumping into clients on the street, she continuously goes above and beyond to engage with and give back to the community. Shortly after Cityside launched The Oaklandside, Leary accepted an invitation to participate in Leadership Oakland, a civic and professional development, networking, and leadership training program of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

It is no surprise that digital media executives at local news organizations around the country regularly reach out to Leary for guidance and inspiration, which she is all too happy to share.

“I’m thrilled to receive this award and thank the Local Media Association for the recognition,” said Leary. “Cityside is a deeply mission-driven organization providing local news in Oakland and Berkeley (with more cities to come). “It brings me great pleasure working with our local business community and showing that nonprofit local news organizations can be innovative in the way they approach sponsorship and advertising and achieve a healthy balance of revenue streams.”

“There are lots of awards for journalism,  but it is just as important to honor the work of those who make — and keep — our newsrooms sustainable,” said Cityside’s Chief Content Officer Tracey Taylor. “I congratulate Colleen on a very well-deserved award.”

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