By: Steve Outing
It remains one of my pet peeves — that newspapers don’t do a better job at promoting their online services in their print products. Possibly the greatest promotion machine available in newspapers’ home markets is available to them, often at no or minimal cost, yet many publishers don’t leverage the power of the newspaper to make their online ventures a success. At the same time, non-news competitors recognize that they must aggressively market their offerings — and they spend the money to do so.
Since last writing on this topic, things have gotten better. In many major newspapers now, a Web site URL is included in the front page masthead. Web addresses can be found in more places throughout the print edition. Still, the industry could do better.
One U.S. newspaper that is worth spotlighting is the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press, a Knight Ridder-owned daily whose Web site, PioneerPlanet, is positioned in one of the most competitive markets for local Web sites. (The Press’ principal competitor, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, has a strong Web presence; TV station WCCO has what is probably the most extensive TV news Web site in the country; Microsoft Sidewalk and USWest DiveIn all have local city guide sites; and Digital City has a Minneapolis online city guide on the America Online proprietary service, which will be on the Web later this year.)
Sky box heaven
In the next week or so, the Press is due to implement a major change in how it does in-paper promotion of its Web site. The most visible element of the plan will be regular appearances (between four and seven days a week) of promotion for elements of the Web site in the newspaper’s section front “sky boxes,” including Page One, according to Brett Benson, senior editor/online.
A typical Press sky box is at the top of a section front and contains promotions of three features inside the print section. The Planet Web site will have one of those print spots available to it when needed. The size is roughly 3-1/4 x 3 inches, and they will appear on the front page, Business, Sports, Express (lifestyle), and Metro news section fronts.
Previously, the Planet site got a daily Page 2 box — 6 columns wide by about 6 inches — which was used to promote online content. That regular feature gets downsized in exchange for the sky box space, and now will include mostly audiotex information and promotional material about the newspaper’s Internet access service (provided through InfiNet).
Benson says the Web staff is excited about having this much promotion space made available, and plans to use it to promote online content and features that differentiate the Web operation from the newspaper. Newspaper executives have opened the door for the site to be included in the promotion line-up up to every day, should the online staff have appropriate content to push. A more likely scenario is for Web promotion in the sky boxes to run perhaps four times a week.
Web features to be pushed will include the site’s original (non-shovelware) content, including that which augments print coverage; and the site’s breaking news component will be promoted, says Benson. For example, the site might promote an interactive graphics package that accompanies a major print story, or an online profile of the local NBA team, he says.
A recent example was when a print Page 1 sky box slot was made available to promote a “Tax Kit ’98” package that included print articles plus an interactive tax package called “Tax Time” (which the Planet purchased from a syndicate).
Benson says that the section front promotions have proved very successful in the instances where they’ve been tried before. Last May, when the Planet launched its HomeHunter real estate Web service, a Page 1 promotion was published on the fourth day after HomeHunter launched. Traffic on that day doubled, and afterward it settled back down to a level higher than the first few days. The Planet also got a large traffic boost when in December an online “Crossword Challenge” was promoted on the print features section front.
Benson says that the new promotion scheme has the buy-in of the newspaper’s top newsroom managers, including editor Walker Lundy and managing editor Vicki Gowler. That voice from the top plus the fact that many Planet staffers hail from the print newsroom has made it easier for the Web site to get coveted promotional space when needed, he says. And once you get momentum, it becomes commonplace for the Web site to get promotional space and print staffers don’t question it.
Even before the new Web promotion scheme is launched, Benson says he has had little trouble getting promo space when it was needed. He says he simply calls up the promotion budget and adds a Web promo. To date, no one has put up a fuss.
Taking online promotion in print so seriously has been a home-grown thing for the Pioneer Press, Benson says, and was not dictated by Knight Ridder corporate. He notes, however, that all of the chain’s newspapers are influenced by the recommendations of the Knight Ridder New Media operation in San Jose, California, which preaches — but doesn’t demand — that print promotion is important to new media success.
With its new sky boxes promoting new media content, the Press appears to be a little ahead of its principal competitor, Star Tribune Online. STO publisher Robert Schafer says his paper does make a serious effort to promote its Web site in the print edition, and is always looking for new ways to interject Web promotion into the newspaper. He hopes to add print promotion soon for two comics that appear only online, for example. Schafer does not get regular space in the paper’s sky boxes, however, although the Web site’s URL is included in the newspaper’s masthead.
Contact: Brett Benson, firstname.lastname@example.org
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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at email@example.com
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