Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Get with the Program

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Get with the Program

Article excerpt

The editorial department is the biggest problem in a newspaper's marketing dynamic, said Stuart Garner, president and CEO of Thomson Newspapers.

Asserting that newspapers must be market-driven to stay alive in an era of intense competition and declining readership, Garner went on to say: "It makes me angry to see complacency in lots of newspaper departments, particularly among editors and journalists sitting in ivory towers believing they're on God's work and above all this marketing stuff.

"God's work it may be, but God didn't give them the right to bore the pants off readers."

In remarks to the International Newspaper Marketing Association's 67th annual convention in Los Angeles, Garner, who began his career as a reporter, said Thomson has seen the light on the importance of total newspaper marketing and profits have risen accordingly

The Thomson Corp., whose international holdings include 71 daily newspapers, will have revenues in excess of $1 billion and a profit of nearly $200 million this year, Garner said.

But from 1989 to 1993, he noted, the firm's compound annual growth rate was 1.5%, well below inflation, and profits were dropping at a compounded rate of 13%, sliding from $330 million to $175 million.

Through all this, circulation consistently fell, he recalled. "We were dead in the water."

In 1993, Garner said, the company adopted a new strategy.

"We quite simply had had the business back to front," he explained. "We were cost-driven, not revenue-driven. We were product-driven, not market-driven. We were price-driven, not customer value-driven."

Many other newspapers were in the same situation, Garner said, adding, "The sad thing is that there are still lots of players in the newspaper industry who haven't changed at all."

What rescued Thomson, he claimed, was its selling off of 70 of its papers and pulling the rest into Strategic Marketing Groups (SMG) to maximize synergies. The U.S. and Canadian papers are grouped in a way that gives them strength and diversity of talent to better serve regional markets, the speaker said.

The key to the new approach was "to stop thinking as a newspaper company, to look at ourselves and ask, what do we do well?" Garner said. "What were our core competencies and how could we leverage them for maximum benefit?"

To make the SMG strategy work, he continued, Thomson joined its newspapers, printing facilities and distributing arm for new marketing solutions. As an example, he said, the company's eight dailies in Canada, its Thomson Web Printing Brand, and Thomson Distribution Services are used for product development, niche publications and other new media.

"All of them," Garner emphasized, "were focused on satisfying customers' real needs -- not on selling yet another ad to that automotive dealer or writing yet another column for the newspaper, but focused on providing total solutions for the customers in our marketplace."

The idea, he said, is to strengthen the company's core product, its newspapers, while exploiting new products and revenues. At the same time, new competencies in marketing and new media are meshed with the original newspaper competencies, he added.

An effective marketing strategy depends on editorial cooperation, Garner contended, declaring that "marketing should be the king for all editors. They should forget what university professors stuffed into their heads, find out what readers really want and give it to them. …

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