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Oahu Publications’ Aaron Kotarek on the Value of Innovation in News Media

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Aaron Kotarek has spent all of his career in news media and is well-known for sharing his insights on innovation and growth, whether it’s at an industry conference or via a podcast. He’s currently the senior vice president of audience and operations for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Oahu Publications, Inc. Here Aaron shares how he came to work in news media, the innovative idea that he’s most proud of and what he values most in his career.

How did you get started in the industry?

After college I opened my hometown newspaper’s classified section and saw an opening for a circulation district manager. I applied, got an interview and have been in the media industry ever since.


How has your role in circulation evolved?

When I started out in the ‘90s there were no digital offerings, only print. Back then it was a game of acquisition. Every circulation executive lived for ABC’s Fas-Fax report that showed the circulation of every newspaper in the U.S. I always made sure the companies I worked for were on the growth side of that report. Today we are in a retention environment, laser-focused on retaining core subscribers in print and digitally. The most exciting part of my role today is that I am part of the process of creating our digital future. In terms of evolution, audience executives are now revenue drivers, digital engagers, and strategic thought leaders. We have a larger seat at the table than ever before.


Anything in your career or the industry that's surprised you?

One thing that surprises me is that some media organizations continue to give away content on the digital side for outrageously low-price points. My mantra is, “no matter which platform our content resides on, it has (relatively) the same value.”


Share one program, idea, or initiative that helped your company achieve its goals?

We recently became the first media company in the U.S. to eliminate our exorbitant credit card interchange fees. We have been able to take these recurring savings and reinvest them into emerging technologies so that we can continue to gather award-winning, credible, relevant, and differentiated local news and advertising information for the communities we serve.


How has AAM supported your company in reaching its goals?

Whether I have a question regarding a bylaw or need to offer candid feedback, I can always count on someone at AAM to listen and act accordingly. Kevin Rehberg and I have had some frank conversations over the years, and I appreciate that he takes time to listen to my takes and views on the industry. When our clients see the AAM stamp of approval on an audit, I know that they are completely satisfied and reassured with our performance.


What in your career are you most proud of?

My longevity in the industry and my ability to be a change agent and risk taker.


What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in your field?

Network and benchmark meticulously with your peers. This has become a lost art and the recent pandemic accelerated the lack of networking and benchmarking we once relished.


What word describes your company?



Where do you see the industry in 10 years?

I see smaller and more nimble media organizations that will have consolidated to ensure essential scale.


What do you like to do in your free time?

My wife and I love to travel internationally. Recharging is always healthy.

Aaron Kotarek travel photos


What is one goal you would like to achieve, either personally or professionally?

Personally, I would like to spend less time on my smartphone. Professionally, I would like to do everything in my power to ensure the Honolulu Star-Advertiser remains a Top 10 major metro in volume, readership, and reach.

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