NYC-based Papers Battle For National Ads

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By: Joe Strupp

In the span of just a few days, two of the nation’s most widely read and influential newspapers — The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — are planning major changes in their products.

The two powerhouse dailies appear to be challenging each other, as the Times launches a new Friday section similar to the Journal‘s weekend getaway guide — and both papers beef up midweek offerings for national readers, clearly chasing the same lucrative national-advertising dollars.

In addition, the Journal is promoting its long-awaited redesign, set to appear April 9, with a flurry — and a marketing budget akin to a Hollywood premiere.

The Times, meanwhile, cites the expansion of its national edition (set for Tuesday) and first new section in four years (set for Friday) as keys to increasing national exposure.

Clearly, there’s a lot at stake. The Times‘ open national-edition rate for a weekday, black-and-white, full-page ad is $123,000, which trails the Journal rate of $167,000 for a similar ad. In overall circulation, the Journal, with 1,780,605 copies, remains ahead of the Times, with 1,109,371 (of which 465,935 comes from its national edition).

After a year that has seen its ad linage drop about 25%, its lower-Manhattan offices inaccessible after Sept. 11, and its staff devastated by the kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, the Journal is hoping the redesign will give the paper a boost in readership and overall image.

“The average age of our readers is over 50 — a male over 50,” said Journal spokesman Steve Goldstein. “There is a whole big audience out there who aren’t picking up the Journal who would like it if they saw it.” A new “Personal Journal” section, devoted to linking major business stories to readers’ everyday lives, will run Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The Journal has put $225 million into the redesign during four years of planning, mainly to upgrade the paper’s 17 printing plants to handle color. The Journal readers will see beginning April 9 presents the first redesign since 1944. The new look will have Page One color and be easier to navigate, Goldstein promised. In addition, a $20-million budget is promoting the redesign through outdoor ads, TV commercials, and trade publications. The print campaign, running in four major media trade magazines for six weeks, depicts “rejected” Journal redesigns that resemble everything from Hot Rod to the New York Post.

“This is just having some fun with it,” Mitchell Engelmeyer, the Journal‘s creative director, said of the campaign created with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners of San Francisco.

Across town, Times marketers are gearing up for their own assault on readers, with plans to unleash the new Friday section, as well as additions to the Times national edition.

Starting April 5, “Escapes” will be published every Friday with information on weekend destinations, getaway planning, and real estate. The section, which has elements similar to the Journal‘s 4-year-old “Weekend Journal,” will be the first new Times themed section since the high-technology “Circuits” made its debut four years ago. (USA Today also has a Friday section, called “Destinations & Diversions.”)

On Tuesday, the Times will begin publishing its weekly sections on the arts, dining, and house and home in its national edition, while expanding the national edition’s business coverage to include more travel and commercial real estate. “It enables advertisers to showcase products across the country,” said Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. A campaign to promote the section will include in-house and trade print ads, as well as national radio spots.

Advertising in the national edition has grown tremendously in recent years, with 86% of all Times display advertising appearing in the edition last year, up from 34% in 1996, Mathis said. The ad boom has come as the Times slowly expanded its national-edition circulation, with 14 sites nationwide now printing the paper, up from seven in 1999. Just last week, the paper announced an agreement with its 15th location, the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, which will expand its circulation into Kansas and Missouri.

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