By: M.L. STEIN
THE LINE BETWEEN news and marketing departments still exists at Phoenix Newspapers Inc., but it’s blurring as the company changes its “culture” to boost circulation and profits.
The change, which may shock traditionalists, was described by the organization’s consumer marketing manager, J. Lynn Town, who spoke at the 52nd General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association in Pasadena Oct. 5-9.
“We have come to realize that breaking news is not the best way to grow our business,” she said. “If we don’t do a good job of it, our readers are disappointed. And when we do a good job with breaking news, we have not significantly increased readers’ satisfaction with our product. Hard news is a base line expectation that readers perceive as a given.”
Phoenix Newspapers publishes the Arizona Republic, Phoenix Gazette and Arizona Business Gazette.
Town said the overhaul of corporate culture was based on the idea that the newspapers can be more successful if all departments work together. By utilizing all of its products and resources, PNI can reach new targets, including marginal readers, for its core newspaper products, she averred.
“And by bundling our advertising efforts, we are better able to provide our advertisers with a value they can’t refuse,” Town said, adding her belief that the Phoenix model is the way of the future for all newspapers.
“I believe our industry overall is seeing the need for editors to also become good marketers,” she stated. At PNI, she went on, publisher John Oppedahl not only encourages the process but “frequently insists that editors redefine marketing’s role in the newsroom.”
“We strive to change the deeply ingrained culture that historically has said that newsroom types don’t recognize ? let alone speak to ? advertiser and marketing types,” Town said.
Despite the cultural shift, journalistic standards and ethics “remain firmly in place, but we now realize that a bit of communication can go a long way toward serving all our customers ? without compromising those standards,” the speaker declared.
“In practical terms, the dramatic switch in direction has sparked consideration of new sections, the redesign of old ones and rethinking their place and timing in the papers,” according to Town.
She cited research showing that Phoenix readers want something quite different on Monday than they want on Saturday. The Saturday issue, she observed, has become the “second Sunday paper” for many newspapers, despite predictions 10 years ago that the Saturday newspaper was a dying product.
New ideas are generated in discussions involving news, advertising, marketing, production and advertising departments.
The result has been sections that “work for everyone,” Town said, including:
u Healthy Living, which grew out of a marketing study revealing that health and fitness scored high in reader interest.
u Out There, a weekly supplement highlighting motorized transportation ? cars, boats, RVs, motorcycles and concomitant recreational activities.
u Living Here, primarily for newcomers, emerged from planning that began last November among five departments.
u ALT, a weekly page written by and for teenagers.
u A database of summer addresses for winter visitors for a special mailing that includes information on what happened in Phoenix since they left, new activities, attractions and a special subscription offer. “It has the highest return rate of any mailer we do,” Town said.
At the same time, PNI has used its audiotex system to enhance stories or create promotions “that would be impossible to do in the paper,” Town said.
Special products also have fit into PNI’s goal of integrating marketing with the newsroom, Town said. The company has launched a real estate shopper and a dining guide, and marketing also works with the newsroom on posters and reprints.
In another example, panelists from the news department take part in two press relations seminars the papers host for nonprofit groups.
The newsroom, Town continued, also played a role in a partnership with an NBC affiliate for the Saving Arizona’s Children project by increasing news coverage of children’s issues, while the ad department developed a fund-raising package for advertisers.
In a subsequent interview, Town emphasized that the change “didn’t happen overnight. It has taken eight or nine years.”
Not only has newsroom morale not suffered, she said, but “a lot of people in editorial are exhilarated by the idea of also being marketing people. They realize our challenge is to remain strong and vibrant in an era when achieving success is much less automatic than it once was.”
?(“We have come to realize that breaking news is not the best way to grow our business.”) [Caption]
?(? J. Lynn Town, Phoenix Newspapers consumer marketing manager) [Photo & Caption]