Market Your Way Out: Why the Marketing Department Must Be the Print Newspaper's Best Friend

By Nenad, Deena Higgs | Editor & Publisher, January 2011 | Go to article overview
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Market Your Way Out: Why the Marketing Department Must Be the Print Newspaper's Best Friend


Nenad, Deena Higgs, Editor & Publisher


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WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF A PRINT newspaper hired singer Taylor Swift to convince teenagers to read it daily?

What if a newspaper sent direct mail only to people over 50 in an effort to get them to subscribe? Or aggressively went after advertisers who appealed to college-educated, e-book-reading voters over 50? Or held classes to teach seniors how to use their website?

What if you completely changed your newspaper to be a free alternative paper focusing on one industry? Or filled the front page with only ads? Or only local photos? And if you didn't put your name on the masthead, would people still read it?

Over the top? Too many questions? Like it or not, this is the future. It's here, and print newspapers are missing the whole point, media experts say. The point being that the marketing department should be the most important department in the news organization. Without compromising journalism ethics, of course, but with a determination that it isn't the same world anymore. The fundamental paradigm shifted years ago, and newspapers, print especially, have changed so slowly, they can't see themselves for the marketing slogs that they are.

Stick your head in the sand much longer, and you'll be wikileaked out. As one Los Angeles advertising guru put it, "I'm not the only one used to instant gratification, and (print) newspapers just don't give that to you."

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Dinosaurs Stuck in a Tar Pit

Newspaper publishers know a percentage of the population likes to hold the printed newspaper in their hand. It's a comfortable old shoe. It's easier on the eyes. They like breaking up the sections to share with family and folding it up to swat a fly. They read the stories. They look at the ads. But the number is quickly shrinking. One in four (26 percent) of adults reads a print newspaper on any given day, down from 38 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (June 2010). And of that 26 percent, only 8 percent are among adults younger than age 30.

Despite the statistics, publishers are still mass marketing their newspapers. Business as usual. Former newspaper executives who now do marketing say that's nuts.

"One of the most frustrating things is newspapers spend all this money convincing other businesses to market themselves, and they don't follow through themselves," said John Kimball, former chief marketing officer of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) who now runs a marketing and sales consulting firm bearing his name. "It's always been that way. Most newspapers feel like they are doing an adequate job. That's the problem. They are doing an adequate job"

Another marketing consultant put it more bluntly than Kimball.

"It's like trying to save a dinosaur in a tar pit,' said Bill Ostendorf, founder of Creative Circle Media Consulting, a newspaper redesign firm in Providence, R.I. (See "Don't Just Redesign, Rethink" on page 34). "They say, 'But it feels really warm in here; and you say, 'But you're sinking: They actually like it in the tar pit. They're in desperate straights, and they don't realize it because they are still profitable:'

U.S. newspapers generated about $5.4 billion in ads from their print editions, a drop of 7.1 percent, according to NAPs third quarter results. But that beats online advertising by a mile--$689 million, although that figure rose 10.7 percent. NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm called it "a continuing and encouraging trend toward recovery and growth for newspapers:'

But newspapers still feel the economic pinch from 17 consecutive quarters of ad revenue decline.

"I've been to half the top 50 papers in the U.S., and they all say things like, 'I have no money and no people, and I can't start a new thing. I can't. I can't. I can't," Ostendorf said. "They're not dying, they're committing suicide.

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