How Publishers Can Find Your ‘Niche’

By: Jerry Campagna

When my wife and I bought Reflejos in 1996, I knew virtually nothing about newspaper publishing. Reflejos was a fully bilingual monthly that was distributing just 5,000 copies in a few suburbs outside Chicago. Twelve years later, this first paper to target Latinos who set up homes in the ‘burbs and not the barrio has been a success by any measure.

Now it’s a handsome, Mario Garcia-designed weekly that mixes mostly Spanish-language articles with English digests, and distributes 100,000 copies in Chicagoland’s fastest growing home to Latinos.

In the year since retiring as “el presidente” of Reflejos, seven years after selling it to Daily Herald parent Paddock Publications, I’ve spent considerable time on my own appropriately termed “reflections” about niche publications — in the vein of “if I knew then what I know now.”

Reflection No. 1: The best option for launching a newspaper is to develop a stand-alone, organic publication with dedicated editorial, sales, and circulation resources, and a strong three-year financing model. Don’t attempt to “translate” general market newspapering best practices.

I believe much of the success of ImpreMedia, now the largest Latino publication holding company in the U.S., stems directly from its decision to allow its publications to maintain local strategic and tactical autonomy while building mission-level corporate synergies, especially in national advertising and shared special sections. The focus must first be on identifying the target audience and advertiser base, because if you start with oranges, you rarely end up with lemonade.

Reflection No. 2: Early on, I wrote, sold, and delivered most of the finished product. At lunch time, I would stop at a local taqueria, order my lunch, and place copies of the paper on other booths. As patrons sat down, I observed how and what they read –; and it was a real eye-opener. Stories that jumped pages were often not finished. Non-energetic cover photos rarely got readers’ attention, no matter how appealing the title. And stories that weren’t read equated to ads that weren’t read — leading to fewer repeat advertisers!

The lesson: Don’t try to out-think your readers from the newsroom. Go out into the community and quietly observe how they navigate your product, regularly. I believed this to be so important that all my new staff members, regardless of rank, had to ride a circulation truck as part of their initial orientation.

Advertisers are not, and should not, be concerned with your circulation numbers — unless your circulation is not being read!

Reflection No. 3: Innovation is always disruptive to established mindsets. I should have better studied the existing marketing and management paradigms at the “C Level” of client executive floors and created more effective “Marketment” bridges — as I do now — so that the entrenched marketing mission could more effectively evolve.

Reflection No. 4: We could have grown more rapidly if I had sought the advice and learned the best practices of successful Latino publishers in other markets. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, and still isn’t, a school for publishing Latino Style. Such new publications all face the challenge of language navigation, but there’s no need for this common “Spanish-Spanglish Anguish Syndrome” if you first clearly identify what type of reader and advertiser demographic you wish to reach. First-generation Latinos should be targeted with all-Spanish newspapers. Acculturated Latinos can be targeted with all-English papers.

Reflection No. 5: I would have partnered with a local university to conduct a graduate market study of language/acculturation/lifestyle in the Chicago DMA. That study would go directly to the president of a potential corporate advertiser — hopefully bypassing the “Spanish-only” advocates among Latino marketers.

When I started as a publisher in 1996, targeting a Latino was much like ordering an original Model T Ford: you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Today, even the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies acknowledges that reaching the Latino consumer requires a much more targeted, segmented approach which includes the necessity to communicate culturally relevant messages in English, bilingual, Spanish, and even Spanglish formats.

The suburban Latinos whom Reflejos targets form a different market and live lifestyles distinct from those in Chicago. For one thing, the suburban Latinos are growing faster. Between 2000 and 2006, the city Latino population grew by 3%, while the suburban Latino population grew by 19% — a clear indication of the shift from an urban to suburban Latino demographic.

Oh, one other reflection: I would have eaten fewer gorditas and more salads at the taqueria — my waistline still reflects those market surveys!

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