Imagine this. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and you and your football buddies are watching the biggest game of the year along with millions of other sports fans around the country. But maybe you’re like me and you just watch for the commercials. What if in between the advertisements for beer, cars and potato chips, this image appears?
The sun is barely rising over the horizon. A pair of headlights illuminates a dark suburban street and a delivery person tosses a rolled-up newspaper on to the front porch of a house. Inside, the sound catches the attention of an adorable golden retriever who slips through the doggie door to retrieve the newspaper. Later, the family is seen sitting at the dining table, eating breakfast and going over the newspaper. Dad scans the sports page, Mom clips coupons and the kids laugh at the comics. While a moving instrumental score plays, we see others starting their day with their news: a commuter sitting on a subway train scrolling through his newsfeed on his tablet; an elderly couple trading their favorite newspaper sections as they drink their coffee at their favorite diner; a college student watching a news video on her smartphone; Robert Downey Jr. shaking his head (or maybe patting himself on the back) as he reads the reviews on his latest movie. As the commercial fades to black, these words flash on the screen: In print and online #ReadNewspapers.
Cute dog? Check. Celebrity appearance? Check. A strong message with an opportunity to go social? Check. Come Monday morning, people will be asking each other, “Did you see the newspaper commercial?”
Now you know why I asked you to use your imagination at the beginning of this story. A commercial for the newspaper industry during the Super Bowl, the television mecca for marketing? It’s a far off dream, considering the hefty price tag. The Washington Post reported last year that the average cost of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl was about $4 million.
But my Super Bowl commercial is just one scenario. Locally, newspapers have been thinking of great and creative ways to promote their brand, but when it comes to marketing the newspaper industry on a national level, the ball has been dropped. For every “Print isn’t dead” headline newspapers run, there’s at least five “So-and-so newspaper reports declining revenue, numerous layoffs.” It would be easy to pick up the shovel and start digging the grave for newspapers, but before we prepare for the wake, let’s take a moment to breathe new life into the industry and reintroduce ourselves to the public.
Get the message out
In 2011, the Newspaper Association of America introduced a campaign called “Smart is the new sexy.” According to the NAA, the ads were meant to “speak to the timeless merits of newspaper journalism, newspapers as vehicles for savvy shoppers, and the community insights and information that newspapers provide.” The campaign featured print ads which included QR codes to encourage users to share their connections with newspapers, and the NAA encouraged newspapers to engage with consumers via social media.
The campaign was meant to create a “national dialogue,” instead there was backlash from members of the media. “(The ad) features a skinny (geeky?) young woman with green hair and glasses sitting at a table with a cup of coffee. Does she look smart or sexy to you? If so, you need to get out more,” said John Hamer, creator of the TAO of Journalism. Even here at E&P, we were disappointed with the NAA’s execution to market the industry.
If we want people to see the newspaper industry as something innovative, perhaps launching a campaign with cartoons under the slogan “Smart is the new sexy” wasn’t the best way to do it.
Take a look at the American Library Association’s Read campaign. When ALA Graphics was created in the mid-1970s, it created posters and bookmarks to coincide with National Library Week. In addition, ALA produced and placed radio public service announcements with the help of celebrities, and there were print ads and media interviews. According to an American Libraries magazine article written by Peggy Barber, former ALA associate executive director of communications, the first Read poster debuted in 1980 and featured Mickey Mouse reading by a fire. From there, the Read series was born.
Read posters have featured the likes of Snoopy, actor Orlando Bloom, and most recently, musical artist Taylor Swift. According to Barber, “Every ALA Read poster featured original illustration or photography and none of the celebrities ask for a dime for their participation.”
Current ALA Graphics director Rachel Johnson said new Read posters come out every year. “We do our research and see who is an avid reader, and then we reach out to see if they would be willing to participate. Celebrities get to pick their own book for the photo shoot, and sometimes they bring their own copy.”
Over the years, the Read logo and design has evolved (and ALA even tried a Listen campaign marketing audio books), but Johnson said the main points are still there: the familiar Read brand pictured with the celebrity holding a book. “That has stayed constant,” she said.
Although ALA has trademarked Read when it comes to “posters intended with encouraging reading,” Johnson said she could see a similar marketing campaign with the newspaper industry. Why not find well-known newspaper readers who would be willing to participate in a promotional photo shoot, and then place the images in places where people read them, such as coffee shops and subway trains?
Johnson admits libraries have been affected by the economy, but the goal of Read is to get people to the library and show them “a library is more than just books. It’s about information, an access to computers…there’s so many things you can do there.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Find your identity
With more and more choices on how audiences can choose to receive their news, newspapers need to find who they are and appeal to that market, said Karen Post, author of “Brand Turnaround.”
“What is their personality?” she said. “Newspapers need to add a human personality and realize that great brands can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t be afraid to create sub-brands, like sports, lifestyle, and investigative…there’s the mother brand, and there are the children of the brand.”
Post encouraged newspapers to take advantage of these brands. “Co-brand with others outside the industry,” she said. “For example, take a lifestyle brand and partner it with a fashion brand like Tory Burch. Leverage on the success of those brands and expose yourself to a different audience.”
Branding expert and author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future” Dorie Clark said what used to make newspapers stand out was its location.
“Newspapers used to be protected by their regional boundaries, but now the Internet has opened doors. People in California can now read about what’s going on in Boston,” she said. “What makes you different? It’s not about your geography anymore. You need unique content.”
If newspapers are looking for star power to promote the industry, they only have to look inside their newsroom. “Newspapers should celebrate their columnists who have created a strong personal brand,” Post said. “The opportunities and resources are already there. You just need to support them. Don’t underestimate the power of speaking engagements and co-branding. Ramp up your identity with something thoughtful instead of just your columnist’s photo and byline in the paper.”
As more newspapers shift gears to drive into the digital realm, and we see more media organizations erase the word “paper” from their brand, what becomes of the name?
“News is not outdated, but the word paper is,” Clark said. “They should focus more on the news part…the conception hasn’t faltered, but the execution has.”
Post said, “Rebranding with a new name can often be an excellent strategy as it gives the brand a reason and opportunity to connect to the market and make a splash. Plus it can serve as a new positioning element if the name better reflects their distinction. In light of many big brands making a change that backfired, it’s always a good idea to test and socialize the proposed change before fully committing to it.”
Newspapers should also embrace its multiplatform identity. They have to remember they’re no longer just in the print business. Vin Farrell, global chief content officer with Havas Worldwide, said newspapers should take a look at what happened with Kodak. “They created the first digital camera (in the late-1970s), but they failed to acknowledge that they were also an imaging company, not just a film company.” Because of that, companies like Canon and Nikon were able to swoop in.
It may be hard to believe now, but print may one day be a disruptive media force. Before Bob Provost began teaching at Rutgers Business School in Newark, N.J., he spent nine years as director of marketing with the Star-Ledger and three decades with the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. Provost said newspapers face marketing challenges in two ways: with advertisers and with consumers.
“What made us stand out at the Star-Ledger were our print offerings,” he said. “That gave us a competitive advantage as more media companies headed toward digital offerings. By offering print, we were offering something different. Print also offer a level a trust…it’s about the institution.”
Provost said, “We need to share we are a multimedia company. That people are reading us on computers, tablets and in print…we undervalue ourselves and the power of reach and knowledge we have with our audience…If you think about it, people always say, ‘I was reading my newspaper.’ You don’t hear ‘my TV’ or ‘my channel six news. You have to respect that level of intimacy and ownership.”
Bill Day, an executive director with research-based consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., said when he works with businesses their contracts usually include a marketing component. “They usually ask, ‘So, how do we get the word out?’ But in the newspaper world, that’s a rare request. They’re very hesitant to try marketing strategies because there’s no budget or it’s not very high on the list.”
Day, who has served in sales and advertising departments with both Gannett and Tribune, said his company recently conducted a study with 3,000 news consumers and found that while many still want their news, they don’t make an appointment to consume it. “They don’t pick up a paper or watch the six o’clock news,” he said. “They want the news to come to them. They think, ‘It will find a way to me.’”
So, how can newspapers find them? By being everywhere and on everything.
“Take advantage of TV. Shove an ad in the consumer’s face,” Day said. “Don’t put it up on your own website. Go outside…Look at Google. When they want to promote a new app or Google Plus, they go outside their online box and put out TV commercials. Same with Apple. They put together a TV and print campaign.”
Engage with audiences
Chances are you or someone you know participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge this past summer. The New York Times reported people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and Aug. 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter. That’s a lot of ice, but most importantly, that’s a lot of people learning about ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). So what made this challenge so popular that everyone from your Aunt Sally to LeBron James participated?
One reason is that the ice bucket challenge was a shared experience.
Not only should newspapers take a cue from YouTube and Vine to create social engagement, but they need to educate consumers on how to use the product.
“You never have to explain to someone what a newspaper is,” Day said. “People are familiar with the product, but no one really knows about it.” He explained that people already assume they know what a newspaper is and what it provides, but that’s not always true.
“They always want to see more of things to do (or a calendar of events), but the paper already has that on its pages,” he said. “It means people are not familiar with the product. That’s a marketing problem. Either people don’t know it’s there or they don’t appreciate the format it’s being presented in.”
News consumers are looking elsewhere for their content because frankly, newspapers aren’t doing it for them. Day said, “They’re watching Jon Stewart and John Oliver…look at what Oliver did with the FCC (a Net neutrality segment from June caused the FCC’s website to crash due to online comments)…newspapers used do that…have the ability to get consumers engaged, excited and passionate.” He also points to the highly-popular Serial podcast series from the creators of This American Life as another example of “consumers desperate for high quality.”
Whether it’s engaging with audiences socially or with provocative content, now is the time for newspapers to step up their game because it’s true—the audience is waiting.
Shake your pom-poms
Remember what I said about picking up that shovel and digging the grave for newspapers? It’s time the industry stopped contributing to the doom and gloom that’s constantly hovering over us like a dark cloud.
“The newspaper industry is constantly beating itself down,” Day said. “When you’re dealing with layoffs at The New York Times, it’s a big deal in New York or with a publication like E&P, but why should USA TODAY cover it? It shouldn’t be a national story; it’s only relevant in its own markets.”
Provost said the newspaper brand is damaged because they are not defending themselves. “Instead of celebrating our digital audience and growth, we’re wringing our hands over declining print and staffing changes.”
He traces it back to 2006 when high-profile media acquisitions, like McClatchy and Knight-Ridder and Sam Zell and Tribune in 2007, along with the reported financial troubles that came with them dominated the headlines. “Those stories shook the confidence we had with advertisers and readers,” Provost said. “And we haven’t restored that confidence.”
Go back to your roots
When department store JC Penney went through its own reinvention a few years ago with a new CEO, the business rebranded with a new logo and store layout, and it even eliminated sales in its new “fair and square” advertising campaign. After consumers rejected this new JC Penney, the company immediately restored its logo and brought back its sales and clearance racks. Business experts say this model for JC Penney failed because it did not realize brand and culture went hand in hand.
If newspapers are going to experiment with their marketing strategy, they must not lose sight of their true mission, which is to be a trusted news source. Their history is steeped in democracy and fighting for the truth. Somewhere along the way, in between chasing digital dollars and responding to a brave new world, newspapers forgot who they were, and now it’s time for a reassessment. Clark advises any brand in need of a reinvention to “do some soul-searching. Who are you? Who do you want to be, and what steps do I need to take to get there?” It might like sound like an appointment with a therapist, but I believe a little soul-searching wouldn’t hurt.
But keep moving forward
A commercial promoting the newspaper industry may never air during the Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find new ways to spread the word that newspapers are a powerful brand. Thanks to cable news, social media and the Internet, we live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle, so the greatest challenge for newspapers is to find a way to stand out in the crowd. But the entire industry has to come together to start this movement.
When I reached out to the NAA to ask if they would be the ones to take the lead, director of communications Sean O’Leary said, “We don’t technically do a national marketing campaign for newspapers and we do not have a marketing committee. We provide content and materials to our members for them to use at their discretion.” At their discretion? In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a choice. If newspapers don’t make it a priority to fight for themselves, to invade every market and meet every consumer, the brand will surely suffer.
Newspapers aren’t the first to deal with a reinvention. Look at what iTunes did to CDs; Netflix and video stores. The key is staying relevant, and information will always be relevant. People will always want their news, but if newspapers stay vigilant on reporting the truth on any and all platforms, and if they work on raising their self-esteem, newspapers will be known, not as a dying brand, but as a healthy one.