Newspapers & advertising: an opportunity for innovation

Newspapers need to innovate to survive. The speed of the internet makes it a perfect bed partner for breaking headlines and up-to-the-minute (often milli-second) current affairs, so it would be ignorant to think the future of news lies anywhere other than on the web.

However, this fact which many journalists view with such gloom is by no means the nail in the coffin lid for print media – as long as they are prepared to look to the future and innovate.

Many newspapers are dragging their heels at a time when they can’t afford to, resting on the laurels that a tradition as the fourth estate has given them. Self-promotion seems to be something which most papers consider below them in their role as the purveyors of information.

As one of the three factors in a newspaper’s revenue model (along with the digital part and, oh yes, the readers), advertising space  is top priority, and a reason why the recession has hit print media so hard. (The advertising revenue from digital is still not strong enough financially to buoy up a fledgling paper).

Seeing as newspapers are a key medium through which all global brands communicate with consumers, why do newspapers struggle to speak about their own brand effectively?

Recently, a fellow City University student, who was working at The Sunday Times, blogged (unfortunately on an internal University page) about what can only be described as an employee pep-talk by James Murdoch.

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

“The newspaper industry is in one of the greatest opportunities for innovation I have ever seen, and if we don’t grasp it we’re pathetic,” he said.

The FT write about him saying something very similar at the Monaco Media Forum here.

She noted his “overwhelming positivity” in regard to the newspaper industry (a rarity these days) – yet also his urgent call to address the issues faced by papers and embrace change.

On his blog, The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki makes a well-known but problematic observation:

“When it comes to promoting themselves, newspapers have historically been almost completely uninterested.”

Put simply, this just won’t do.

Not only do individual brands need to consider their identity and differentiate themselves to be marketed effectively, newspapers across the board should be reconsidered in terms of what they are offering readers as a product.

Murdoch spoke of a focus on engaging customers, communicating with them effectively and building strong, quality and long-lasting relationships. This may sting some traditionalists but thought needs to be given to what a newspaper can offer other than simply the news.

This is a great opportunity in print journalism to take a fresh perspective on how to communicate with readers. By no means should there be limits put on the quanitity, or quality of the news but perhaps thought should be given as to how best newspapers can address consumers needs, and promote themselves effectively in what is becoming a vicious market.

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5 responses to “Newspapers & advertising: an opportunity for innovation

  1. The Guardian seem to be the best at branding themselves, especially to London commuters (who may buy the print edition for the epic commute and sit online all day in the office). I’ve seen their rainbow motif used to advertise CiF on the side of buses, the website on Oyster card holders and I have vague memories of the jobs site being advertised on billboards.

    It’s quite hard for me to judge these things objectively, a) being a design obsessive and b) not having any figures, but I reckon the brand awareness of the Guardian’s design must be high. The colours, font, and illustration style of the adverts, the website and the paper are incredibly distinctive.

    As a result, they present the Guardian package beautifully: they don’t want to be seen as a newspaper that runs a jobs site and a dating site, but as a little online village where you can get news, debate and sort everything in your life. And I guess that’s good not only for revenue from ventures like Soulmates, but also when they need to convince advertisers that they’re *the* means to capture the professional demographic.

    I just haven’t seen this from any other newspaper. Take the Times: sure, the Obama-in-Downing-Street viral was a neat idea (à la Gabbo in The Simpsons) but it doesn’t establish a lasting brand. Nor do neat taglines like “The Sunday Times is the Sunday papers” or “We live in Financial Times”).

    Put simply, almost every paper falls short with its VISUAL communication. The Egyptian typeface and use of block colour has done wonders for the Guardian brand; everyone else needs to step up their game.

    (I had a cursory Google for figures of how various campaigns have boosted circulations, but didn’t see anything. Would make an effort, but hey – it’s Saturday morning.)

  2. I do fail to mention The Times new advertising campaign, which I think is very visual and (although I don’t have very figures) I would imagine very effective.

    I think what is important though is how newspapers think about their print medium product. You mention the Guardian but again, regarding promotion for their website (incidentally, I spend a lot of time in that village). What can a newspaper give the consumer that it couldn’t previously, or online can’t? (Maybe nothing – but it is worth some thought)

  3. The Times campaign may get a few more readers, but it doesn’t engage people with the brand. The Guardian stuff doesn’t just say “Buy this”, it says “We’re reliable, and you’ll get that same reliability whether you read our paper or use our jobs site.” They’re trying to get you to make the Guardian part of your world; the Times campaign, I feel, is less sophisticated.

    The reason I keep going on about the online earners was following on from your point about print advertising space: as an advertiser, part of the reason you buy a print advert is to leech off the prestige of the publication you’re in. Now if your readers have got a partner and a job from the paper, they’re going to take a lot more notice of who’s advertising in it. It’s pop psychology, but I take a lot more interest in the ads in my preferred papers than in, say, the Express.

    But I think we all know that as mobile devices that make online reading a pleasant experience become more widespread, the cost of getting those presses rolling is going to outweigh anything earned from the prestige-seeking advertiser. And unless there’s a sudden origami craze, I don’t think print has great potential for increasing profit in any other ways than advertising. Craigslist and co. nabbed the rest.

  4. You’re right about the Guardian creating a reliable brand, but it’s only a first step. I’m told by a comment editor there that there’s a small flaw – the website wasn’t designed to take enough advertising to actually pull in the kind of money it should. Considering what a massive readership it has over other newspaper sites, that’s an unhappy oversight.

    The trouble is, as Nicole implies, journalists need to innovate – and that means obtaining some business acumen as well as writing ability.

  5. Bit confused; aren’t we getting into the realm of advertorial here?

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