Tribune Co. Takes Branding To the Next Level

By: Lucia Moses

To many publishers, branding is still a concept that has more to do with soft drinks and other consumer products than newspapers. Yet declining market share — and the threat of future declines — are forcing some to rethink the value of their brands.

Take the Tribune Co., which just named James Ellis its first-ever vice president of brand management to promote a more aggressive marketing approach at its newspapers. Such titles are rare in the industry, although some big papers now have branding chiefs.

“Broadcasters tend to have sense of urgency,” said Ellis, who spent 20 years on Tribune’s broadcast side in marketing and promotional roles. “I think we’re developing that sense of urgency at our newspapers.”

Helping drive the urgency is the need to build frequency among young readers. For those who have trouble seeing the connection between consumer products and newspapers, Ellis offers the example of DaimlerChrysler AG, calling the Chicago Tribune‘s new youth-oriented spinoff RedEye “a little bit like the PT Cruiser of newspapers.”

Other efforts to boost readership have come from the main print product. In February, papers in Tribune’s five cross-ownership markets will carry a poster promoting Smallville on Tribune’s local WB stations.

A big fan of in-paper promotion, Ellis says improving reading frequency is as much a matter of presentation as content — a conclusion of the “Impact” study carried out by Readership Institute of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Newspapers can keep readers engaged longer using in-paper promotion, but it must be repetitive and well-placed, Ellis stressed. “We know we have to do a better job of letting people know what’s here.”

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