By: Joe Nicholson
Thinking the unthinkable
Church and state tie the knot in Britain: ‘no fuss at all’
by With delegates from 40 foreign countries outnumbering Americans at the 69th annual World Congress of the International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA) in Miami this week, the Americans departed pondering lessons learned from the foreigners.
There has been much chatter among Americans about Los Angeles Times publisher Mark H. Willes’ efforts to boost circulation by getting his marketing and editorial staffs to work together more closely. But a British newspaper has gone further than Willes advocates, with its deputy news editor assigned to report to marketing executives, and there has been no fuss at all in Great Britain.
After a presentation of the marketing arrangement at the Nottingham Evening Post, audience questions concerned only details about the marketing campaign. In subsequent interviews, however, some American executives expressed reservations.
The British paper’s campaign was undertaken after years of circulation erosion turned into a “quite alarming decline” with losses reaching as high as 11% a year, says Timothy Saunders, marketing director of the Nottingham Post Group.
In Saunders’ presentation, and in a subsequent interview with E&P, he says the paper had lost its connection with readers. Surveys found residents described the broadsheet as “old-fashioned, boring, bland, becoming apart from the community,” he says.
The newspaper was relaunched as a color tabloid, and a promotion campaign began two years ago, with a budget of $300,000 for the first six months and with subsequent expenditures made at the rate of $200,000 a year. Circulation at the Evening Post, now about 96,000, began to stabilize as it undertook an array of efforts, including a series of front-page crusades. A series entitled “Silent Killer” reported on carbon monoxide poisoning: The paper bought and donated hundreds of home alarms, and it called for legislation in local councils and the British Parliament’s House of Commons.
Another crusade, entitled “Time for a Pint,” told of blood-supply shortages, urged residents to donate, and later reported donations had swelled so much that Nottingham was providing blood to other areas in need.
Evening Post editors and marketing executives formed a “close working relationship” and met informally daily to plan promotion of each crusade with multimedia advertising built around the message, “Touching Your Life.”
Saunders rates circulation, now ranging between stable and a loss of 1% a year, “acceptable at this stage of development.” Concern about intermarriage of editorial and marketing “is a false fear,” he says, adding, “We understand the rules, and we don’t cross over.”
Michael Kilgore, marketing communications director at The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune and chairman of a 6-year-old marketing committee that includes his executive editor, says his committee gets market research on the kind of stories readers want. But he adds, “We never suggest stories.”
Although Kilgore is a former reporter and editor at the Tribune, he says some reporters express concern that his committee will compromise editorial independence. “They want to make sure nothing we ‘suits’ on the third floor do infringes on that,” he says. “And I don’t blame them.”
Joe Frederickson, INMA’s outgoing president and The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise’s vice president of marketing, listened to Saunders’ presentation and says, “If that works for them, more power to them.” As for an editor reporting to marketing executives, he says, “I want to be among the last to suggest that reporting relationship in my world.”
“I doubt very much you would see my paper take up a blood drive in the news columns,” adds Frederickson, who says issue advocacy belongs on editorial or opinion pages. “If we lose the trust of people, the results would be disastrous.” He concludes, “Many newspapers in Great Britain are different. They have a different set of rules.”
INMA executive director Earl J. Wilkinson, who did not attend Saunders’ presentation, says British and American newspapers are “very different” partly because British papers “are held responsible for circulation performance.” Assessing the congress, Wilkinson says he was struck by the extraordinary talent shown by the 1,563 entries from 27 countries in the 64th annual E&P/INMA Awards for Excellence in Newspaper Marketing. Contest entrants and convention participants seemed to be giving the message, “Let’s go on the offensive,” says Wilkinson.
“In many ways, newspapers are a mature industry. We tend to play defense,” he adds. “The people at this conference are talking about, ‘No, let’s gain market share. Let’s gain customer share. Let’s stop playing defense.”
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