By: John Consoli
Newspaper Association of America president Cathleen Black
would like to see newspapers foster brand loyalty among readers sp.
THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY must begin marketing itself as a commodity “like a car, a computer or a basketball shoe” or else miss a “huge opportunity,” Newspaper Association of America (NAA) president and CEO Cathleen Black told publishers attending the group’s annual convention earlier this week in New Orleans.
“Say the word Nike, and what do you see?” Black asked. “Most likely, an airborne Michael Jordan.
“Say Apple, and what do you see? A user-friendly computer. Say Saturn, and what do you see? A well-made American car built in Tennessee.”
Black said when people outside the newspaper business think of newspapers, they should create the same kind of instant identification.
That, she said, is one of the challenges facing the NAA and the industry as a whole, if they want to stem the steady tide of newspaper circulation decline.
The NAA head likened newspapers to the American auto industry, which was forced by increased competition from Japanese companies to “recreate” itself and then saw customers come “flocking back.”
By the same token, she said, “newspapers can go after the huge opportunity that building brand identity offers ? credibility, marketability and new revenue.”
If newspapers see themselves as a “brand of communications,” Black said, “then we can reposition ourselves into a force that can break through the barriers to the new era of communications.”
To do this, she said, newspapers, like any other brand, must first determine whom they are trying to reach with their product. They must then invest the money needed to put out a product to reach this type of person, and defend it from all other competitive forces.
Those forces, she said, are no longer just ABC, CBS and NBC. Today, they include Fox, Cable News Network, Home Shopping Network, QVC, MTV, VH1, TBS, talk radio and talk TV.
“I don’t believe our readers appreciate us any less, or that our coverage has deteriorated,” she said. “Many of the most seasoned hands in the business will tell you that newspapers are more accurate, better written and more relevant.”
But Black said newspapers must work to give readers the “coverage, insight, entertainment, information options and other benefits that will offer them a more compelling reason to make newspapers their information source of choice.”
Black pointed out that, despite reports of declining newspaper circulation, “some 70% of the population sat down with their most recent Sunday paper.”
The association president compared reading the newspaper to watching the Super Bowl, which, she said, reaches only 28% of U.S. households, and the big three broadcast networks’ evening newscasts, which reach 41% of households.
“That’s tremendous reach and influence for newspapers,” Black said, “but keeping the 70% penetration will not be easy.”
She urged newspapers not to ignore the possibilities of added value that new media can bring to the newspaper product.
“There’s a huge market for both the electronic and the printed word, and newspapers and newspaper companies can use each to make the other even stronger and better,” she said.
She praised those newspaper companies that have invested in new media, “rather than running” from them.
“You understand,” she told those publishers, “that if our industry doesn’t offer the new media choices, someone else will, and a huge opportunity, and huge dollars, will disappear from our table.”
Black said that in a recent survey of over 650 newspapers, 35% indicated they had voice personals, 29% offered free-to-caller audiotex services, 22% had fax products, and 60 newspapers had online products.
“The NAA has made it a priority to turn up the spotlight on new media,” Black said.
She pointed out that the association was offering its first-ever New Media Lab at this year’s convention in order to give attending publishers hands-on experience with the latest tech- nology.