In Pittsburgh, Finding the Value of a Free Afternoon Tab

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By: Jennifer Saba

It started at the beginning of the Iraq war. The Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh, Pa., had two reporters in the Middle East filing daily reports. One was embedded with the Marines, while the other worked in northern Iraq with the Kurds. Due to the time difference, some dispatches often would get filed too late to make the morning edition.

So the paper decided to produce an “extra” edition distributed on weekday afternoons, for 25 cents. It was, according to Ralph Martin, president and CEO of Tribune-Review Publishing, a success, selling 7,000 copies a day. But in addition to giving the reporters more space and readers more information about the conflict, he adds that the edition served another purpose: “It was a great way to test a tab and the afternoon market.”

Weeks later, the Tribune-Review opted not to kill the extra edition, even after “mission accomplished” was declared on May 1, 2003. The tab morphed into a free home-delivered paper called Trib p.m., which covers local news and events.

The company tried different ways to distribute the product in the Pittsburgh market, since the Tribune-Review is far stronger in the surrounding areas. Executives found distributing it for free with the use of hawkers and newsstands hardly made a dent in the city. “We would see people in the neighborhoods and downtown reading the paper, but that is hard to quantify to advertisers,” says Trish Hooper, chief operating officer of Tribune-Review Publishing Co.

That’s when Tribune-Review execs realized that Trib p.m. would see better penetration if it were delivered to homes. Since February 2006, distribution has ramped up to 34,000 copies with an 85% stick rate.

Several other companies have their own spin on this strategy: Copley Press launched a free home-delivered product, Today’s Local News. The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., puts out a paid home-delivered tab, OC Post. And Philip Anschutz’s chain of Examiner papers continues to deliver free dailies to homes in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Anschutz also has placeholders in 70 other cities, including Pittsburgh.

For the Tribune-Review, the afternoon tab is pulling in advertisers the daily could not reach ? mostly B- and C-level, such as local retailers and restaurants. “We have been able to get a lot of those street-level merchants we were not able to get before,” says Hooper.

The demo the paper has not been able to net, however, is the 18-to-34 set. “Be careful about thinking [free tabs] are a cure-all to grabbing younger readers,” Hooper warns. “It took us a while to realize we had a mix of readers.”

That was a disappointment at first, but when advertisers learned the tab targets certain ZIP codes, they saw it as an opportunity to reach specific areas. “We are trying to go for the most interesting stories” regardless of the reader demo, says Hooper. “The morning paper is all the stuff you need to know. The afternoon paper is all the stuff you want to know. That is what p.m. is about.”

“We wanted a place to showcase their work,” recalls Trish Hooper, chief operating officer of Tribune-Review Publishing Co.

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