The new face of the Arkansas Press Association: Ashley Wimberley takes the helm
March 12-18, 2018
By Becca Bona
Even at a young age, Ashley Wimberley already had a taste for the newspaper industry. Growing up in a newspaper family in Rector, Arkansas left an impression on her, but didn’t necessarily direct her career path, at least, initially.
Wimberley attended Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. And although she considered banking at one time for her career path, she naturally gravitated towards public relations, perhaps partly because she got to work closely with newspapers, something she was familiar with and loved.
She worked at a firm in Tennessee directly out of college before moving to Little Rock in 1999, when she married her husband. Upon moving she secured a job at Cranford Robinson Johnson Woods, continuing her work in PR.
After seven years there, she made her way to the Arkansas Press Association (APA) in the marketing department. Through that transition, she already felt at home.
“I really knew newspapers better than I knew sales or advertising because I’d been doing public relations for so long,” she explained. “I believe that transition was able to happen because I believed in the product, and it was a natural progression for me to sell that product.”
Beyond bringing an enthusiasm to work with a tight team, Wimberley was able to bring her past agency experience to the table when she started at the APA.
“When I worked at Cranford, part of my job was to work on projects with the APA. […] I always knew the importance of the relationships and those partnerships with the press even from a client’s standpoint. I think there was always this soft spot, and then having the opportunity to come here with the marketing arm, it almost feels like we have our own internal ad agency,” she explained. “I think it’s the perfect combination of the type of pace that I enjoy and the type of work that I enjoy, all within the industry that I love.”
Since August of 2005 Wimberley has served as the director of marketing for the APA, learning the ins and outs of the organization. When Tom Larimer stepped down this year, Wimberley was ready to take the helm as executive director.
“It’s kind of funny how [my career] came full circle,” she said. “I grew up in a newspaper family, so now I’m getting to use my newspaper background but also still rely on the marketing and public relations side of things, so it’s a good mix.”
For the past 13 years Wimberley has been a staunch part of the association. She’s had time to come to know each different department – including the foundation as well as the press services department. Each offshoot is equipped with its own specific goal.
“The APA is responsible for the annual convention, education, seminars, and legislative efforts – which are huge for our newspapers,” Wimberley explained. The association is also responsible for documenting changes over the years, which is kept up to date in a museum.
“We have the Arkansas Press Services which is a subsidiary of the association, and that’s a marketing wing that works with a lot of political candidates, corporations and groups who are trying to disseminate information,” she continued. “The foundation’s mission is to really help with education.” For instance, paid internships for students of journalism are available through the separately functioning foundation.
One of the largest goals of the APA is connecting people and their message with the right reader. Before audiences consumed news in a digital format, that used to be a simpler task.
“We’ve really broadened our services now to where we do a lot of print, a lot of digital ad campaigns – we work with many different companies and groups across the state,” she said.
This format change has lead a lot of people to believe that print publications are declining, however, Wimberley doesn’t necessarily agree. Like any industry, print publications must refuse stasis to stay relevant, as Wimberley said, “Obviously there has been a change as our readership has changed. As millennials are moving into consuming media, we’re having to evolve.”
And while some people may prefer consuming media digitally as opposed to print, they’re still consuming media. Wimberley notes that changing how you look at the consumer is a huge part of staying relevant.
“It’s the same thing that’s happening to other industries. I think we’re working toward this – when we say our ‘print circulation’ – we’re really not speaking toward our full audience. We need to go to the term ‘audience’ instead of circulation or print circulation. We need to look at our reach digitally or online and in print.”
According to Wimberley, Arkansas has been relatively lucky through this change – “We are such a rural state that we haven’t seen the amount of decline as elsewhere because I think a lot of people really do depend on their local newspaper as their only local resource,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges of running an industry association, specifically the APA, is the sheer amount of different publications with varied needs that fall under the association’s umbrella. Wimberley works hard to stay on top of it.
“It’s so different in different areas of the state in terms of the operations, so I try to pull information from several different audiences,” she said. This means she talks with various newspaper publishers across the state, but she also does her research, reading national trends and industry information, as well as talking to other press associations.
“I think it’s necessary to gather information from all those different places to make sure you have a full picture. I spend a lot of time reading and there are so many different challenges in terms of FOI laws, making sure public notices stay in newspapers, and postal issues. Right now we’re looking at a tariff on newsprint that could affect us. There are a lot of different things happening locally and nationally that are affecting the industry,” she said.
As far as running the association goes, at the end of the day, Wimberley feels excited and blessed to have such a strong membership behind her.
“I’ve grown up in this association, and I think we have really supportive member newspapers who care about the success of our association and I think that’s huge. We have a lot of people who’ve been involved for a long time, and I think they help show that level of importance for people who are new to the industry,” she said. “We’ve had really strong leadership here through the years and I feel like we’ve also had strong programming at our conferences, as well.”
Similar to observing the changes in the association over the past decade, Wimberley has enjoyed watching downtown Little Rock grow.
“That’s what I’ve seen more than anything – the change in the downtown area. My kids both go to school at eStem and they’ve gotten to use the River Market as their economics class and they’ve used the downtown library as their school library,” she said.
When not working, Wimberley likes to spend time with her family, traveling to rural Arkansas and exploring places off the beaten track. “My parents were really curious people and stopped to take pictures and I know it probably drove me crazy as a kid because we would always take the scenic route,” she laughed. “I woke up and one day that’s who I am and I really enjoy doing that with my kids.”