Advertising Takes Larger Role in Chicago Paper Wars

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By: Aaron Baar

(Adweek) Advertising has been a minor element in the war between the Second City’s two major daily newspapers. But that’s changing as the Chicago Sun-Times embarks on its first ad campaign in seven years (an in-house effort), while the Chicago Tribune seeks a new agency.

The smaller Sun-Times, a tabloid that’s stronger in the city than the suburbs, has resurrected a tagline from its 1970s heyday, “The bright one,” in an effort to increase readership as it rides out a scandal involving its owners that is expected to lead to the paper’s sale. Print and radio ads broke last week. One features a young Hispanic mother with the headline, “No matter how much I’ve changed, the Sun-Times has always kept up with me.” Another shows an Asian woman with the line, “I think for myself and I think the Sun-Times is just … brighter.”

The Sun-Times intends to make an emotional connection with readers via work that is “bright, friendly and multicultural,” and a “reflection of the city,” said publisher John Cruickshank. “There has to be a positive appeal,” he added.

Both newspapers are locked in a fight for readership. On one side is the Sun-Times, whose circulation rose 0.5% from about 480,000 in 2002 to approximately 482,000 in 2003, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. On the other side is the larger, better-financed Tribune, whose 2002-03 circulation fell 0.4% from about 515,000 to approximately 512,000 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and rose 0.2% from about 679,000 to approximately 681,000 on Wednesdays through Fridays, according to the ABC.

In October 2002, the publications launched competing tabloid spinoffs targeting 18- to 34-year-old readers. Cruickshank, who became the Sun-Times’ publisher in November after his predecessor, David Radler, left that month, made the decision to return to advertising. The Sun-Times’ parent, Hollinger International in Toronto, is under federal scrutiny over the financial dealings of its former CEO, Conrad Black. The paper is expected to be sold.

“It’s time to tell people about the changes we’ve made to our newspaper,” Cruickshank said.

The Tribune, which is stronger in the more affluent suburbs, is in the midst of a review for its $4 million account following its split with MARC USA in Chicago late last month. The newspaper is down to a “handful” of Chicago shops, said Kelly Shannon, director of brand marketing at the Tribune. Contenders include Omnicom Group’s DDB, WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam, Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, and Interpublic Group’s Draft, sources said. The newspaper seeks a shop with greater capabilities, particularly in direct response, than those possessed by its former agency, Shannon added.

The latest Tribune ads, which broke last fall, also aim for an emotional connection with readers by showing reporters speaking about their jobs and love of news. “It’s about maintaining relevance and how we differentiate ourselves,” Shannon said.

John Lavine, director of the Readership Institute at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, said establishing a newspaper’s brand can help increase circulation. “How you do it depends on what people you want to reach and the community you are in,” he said.

A decision in the Tribune’s review is expected by the end of April. Chicago consultancy Jones Lundin Beals is managing the search.

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