In the Home of the Braves

Article excerpt

COX SURE OF ITSELF IN SOUTH'S TOP CITY

Scoring the triple play - from TV to radio to newspapers

Atlanta, the largest market in the South, is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Delta Airlines, United Parcel Service, Coca- Cola, and Home Depot, with the metropolitan area ranking among the fastest growing in the United States.

Explosive population growth has reached such proportions that about two years ago, the steady exodus of residents from the city to the suburbs began to reverse. Traffic had become so tangled that some suburbanites started moving into the downtown area. The population shift has helped spark a long-awaited redevelopment effort in the city. Many abandoned warehouses downtown have been converted to apartments and condos, and new office construction is also on the rise.

The city is the headquarters of Cox Enterprises Inc., which dominates local media via its ownership of the market's leading broadcast TV station, its largest radio group, and its largest daily newspapers.

Cox publishes the morning Constitution and the afternoon Journal; the papers appear in combined issues on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The Constitution's circulation is more than 31/2 times larger than the Journal's. The papers' combined Monday-Thursday average circulation was 398,101 in the six months ended March 31 -- an 8.09% decline from the same period a year earlier. Combined Sunday circulation also fell sharply over the same period, dipping 4.05%, to 651,684.

After retrofitting its printing presses and making some modest design changes, the AJC, as the combined newspapers are known, officially converted to a narrower 50-inch web width on Aug. 1.

In recent weeks, the paper has launched a marketing push, tagged "News on Your Time." The new positioning, which is being supported with outdoor and radio advertising, is an attempt to "more directly appeal to our light and infrequent readers," said Paula Rattray, the papers' vice president for strategic marketing.

In January, the AJC began internal discussions on how to improve the papers to meet the changing needs of residents in this fast-growing market. Those talks led to an editorial reorganization, primarily affecting the AJC's features and metro desks, and the creation of new beat assignments for many reporters and editors.

John Walter, AJC executive editor, said that the key new slots include several lifestyle beats in the "Living" department; a rotating enterprise team in the "Metro" department; and a number of reporting positions focused on issues related to Atlanta's changing demographics.

The area's sprawl forces residents into some of the country's longest commutes, making drive-time radio an attractive option for advertisers, said John Lambis, president of Lambis & Associates, an Atlanta advertising firm. As for newspaper advertising, the Journal and the Constitution, Lambis said, "own the market."

Even though the AJC dominates, its advertising department takes care to provide high-quality service, said Lambis, who handles accounts for several brands of luxury automobiles. He said ad placement is good and the quality of ad production is fine. "To me, service is important," Lambis said. "They could take the attitude, 'We're the only game in town.' They don't seem to be that way at all."

Newspapering in a sprawling area, however, can be a challenge. According to Rattray, the AJC's strategic marketing specialist, "We consider our primary market to be the entire 20-county MSA," or metropolitan statistical area, of about 3 million residents.

Rattray said the AJC runs 15 zoned editions. The broadsheet sections, which carry a masthead identifying the geographic area they cover, offer residents community news and provide smaller advertisers a foothold. "It gives an affordable entree for an advertiser to come into the paper," Rattray said. "We like to see their business grow and their advertising budgets grow, and eventually they come into the paper ROP [run-of-press]. …