By: Dorothy Giobbe
AS TECHNOLOGICAL advances begin allowing media to offer multiple delivery and selection options, newspaper marketing departments must place added emphasis on creating and retaining customers in order for newspapers to remain competitive.
In a session at the recent Newspaper Association of America conference in San Diego, Michelle Foster, vice president/market development at Gannett Co. Inc., examined the increasingly important role of the marketing department in the customer/newspaper relationship.
Newspaper marketing departments must move into an era of “no-excuses marketing,” Foster said, “where we do the right things to create and retain customers . . . no matter what.”
That will entail a shift from “inside-out, operations-driven companies” to “outside-in, customer-driven companies,” she added.
Newspapers “need to manage our customer base at least as well as we manage our costs because our customer base is our largest single asset,” Foster said.
In addition to technology, databases and information, newspapers urgently need to develop the intellectual, marketing and educational skills that will “animate and apply” those new tools to the industry, she said.
“I think that we run a risk in our industry, due to our focus on technology as a tool for reducing staffing and taking known processes and making them more automated, to vastly underestimate the new skills needed to successfully implement . . . customer-driven marketing strategies. We simply do not, as an industry, have the precision marketing skills that we will need to be successful in this new era.
“We run the risk of becoming so absorbed in getting our databases up and running and getting the computer systems up to speed that we ignore an equal investment in the analytical and marketing skills that will enable us to profitably and competitively use these tools inside of our newspaper.”
While some newspapers have tried to patch holes in existing systems or adjust operating procedures, Foster said, marginal improvements in existing processes won’t produce sustainable results “because the processes we have in place now were never designed to create and sustain customers over time . . . because of that, they are failing us in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.”
Foster also drew a distinction between a “sales mentality” and a “marketing perspective.”
The “sales mentality” operates under a premise of “bigger is better . . . if we make it, they will buy it, and if we make more, they will buy more.”
Newspapers that are driven by a “sales mentality” “end up with one-time customers or churners who shop for discounts and never subscribe for more than eight or thirteen weeks at a time.”
Eventually, sales-driven newspapers “run out of market and run out of people whom you can trick or . . . cajole into buying your newspaper.”
A “marketing mentality,” on the other hand, “doesn’t assume that the more we produce, the more we can sell,” Foster said. “It starts with customers . . . and seeks to understand those things that create value in the customer’s mind and then deliver them. A ‘marketing mentality’ believes that if we don’t have customers, we don’t exist.
“The bottom line is that [newspapers] need to move from being sales-driven to marketing-driven,” Foster said, “because in the long run, companies that have sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with their customers are the ones that will thrive and be healthy.”
She added, “A marketing perspective doesn’t work unless it touches every single department within the company, even the bean counters.”
Foster said that while many newspapers appreciate the importance of the customer/newspaper relationship, few have planned for the impending changes.
One barrier to change may be that “the departments of strategy and vision don’t outweigh or outvote the more operational departments that are more firmly rooted in the status quo and the way things have always been,” Foster said.
Fundamental change will require “leadership from our own marketing leaders.”
“For the long-term survival of our newspapers, we have to find a way to meld the vision of departments like ours with the implementation of the operations departments like circulation, advertising and production,” Foster said.
Such intradepartmental synergism can be achieved by clearly defining the role of the market development department, she said.
Market development is a “distinct discipline with distinct abilities and accountability and should not be confused with public relations, promotion or advertising.”