Cult Branding and the Art of the Deal at Newspapers ’05

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By: Jennifer Saba

Several themes prevailed during the Connections and Marketing with Classified portion of the Newspaper Association of America’s joint conference with Nexpo held in Dallas this week. Overall, the NAA was pleased with the turnout of over 8,000 people for Newspapers ’05.

?There was no one standing in the hallway and looking for a golf game,? quipped John Kimball, senior vice president/CMO.

However some of the more popular sessions were those from other industries, especially those industries known for their branding tactics.

One session on cult marketing lead by B.J. Bueno, co-author of the influential ‘The Power of Cult Branding,’? overflowed with attendees. The early morning Tuesday meeting was held in a room to accommodate 200 people though 300 managed to squeeze their way in so they could apply Bueno’s tactics to newspapers.

The lunch speaker on Monday, former Nike “katalyst” Kevin Carroll, was a ?grand-slam home run,? according to Kimball: ?People just loved his presentation. He talked really about learning to play and act like a kid again to bring some sense of adventure to the work place.?

Another popular session that would make The Donald proud: The art of negotiation. Four hundred attendees crammed into a room to learn skills that could be applied as much to buying a home as to nailing an ad contract.

Sessions on nuts and bolts topics, especially around circulation, were also well attended. And little wonder, since there’s been a lot of chatter about third-party and other-paid circulation of late. Several sessions were dedicated to growing home delivered copies, single paid copies and how to comply with new Audit Bureau of Circulations regulations.

For example, in one Monday mid-afternoon session on home delivery diversification, Steve Lee, senior vice president circulation and consumer marketing at the Los Angeles Times, jolted the sleepy audience of about 100 with pithy remarks about loss of the telemarketing.

?If telemarketing was a drug, we were ready to check into the Betty Ford Center,? he cracked.

The Times raked in 5,000 to 10,000 orders per week by burning up the phone lines. ?We had to scramble,? he explained after the Do Not Call Registry was implemented. ?It wasn’t easy and it was very painful.?

Indeed, in the last FAS-FAX report for the period ending September 2004, the Times experienced one of the steepest drop-offs in circulation, with daily copies down 5.5%. The paper attributed the decline to a renewed focus on full paid home delivered and single-copy sales.

According to Lee, the paper is starting to see some results at least in the subscriber turnover. Churn has been ?reduced dramatically? Lee said. In October 2004 it was at 142%, in November 2004 it was at 88%, in December 2004 it was at 64% and in January 2005 it was at 57% — ?the lowest we’ve been in 20 years,? he says. Part of the reason: The Times started a heavily marketing its product through direct mail, radio, and TV.

During another Monday session on circulation strategy, Gregg Vivolo, customer relationship marketing manager, for The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group, gave tips on how he’s growing circulation at the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune through coupons. His paper strategically placed coupons for $.50 off a Sunday paper at the register so people could easily grab it, which they did in droves, he said.

Tuesday’s late afternoon round table provided newspaper executives an opportunity to meet directly with advertisers from all over , including Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, CompUSA, and Best Buy. Wal-Mart took up three tables and brought all their media buyers to address any questions and handily passed out sheets with their numbers and territories.

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