By: Dorothy Giobbe Public Relations Society of America head says newspapers should stop being so critical of themselves; not enough of the general public is being made aware of all the industry's positives sp.
NEWSPAPER MARKETERS ARE an important part of newspapers' success and must operate on a basic principle: "you gotta believe." That's the message Ray Gaulke, chief operating officer for the Public Relations Society of America, delivered to attendees at the recent International Newspaper Marketing Association conference. "I always believed newspapers were the most powerful delivery system ever created for the delivery of news and information," Gaulke said. "The big problem is that not enough people know that." Gaulke, a former chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, said, "When I was at the NAA, I sometimes thought that newspapers and marketing were oxymorons." Gaulke said that the newspaper industry tends to be overly critical of itself. "In my recent readings about the newspaper industry, rarely do I find anyone in your industry saying anything good about the future of newspapers," he said. Gaulke urged newspapers to "be optimistic, at least about your pessimism, because this is a very powerful delivery system." He said, "I don't believe for a moment that there aren't some organic problems in the newspaper business, especially as it relates to electronic media. "What I'm suggesting is that as marketing people, if you don't believe in the product and communicate its power and strength, who else will?" Instead of dwelling on the problems that the industry faces, if newspapers could "see everything through the eyes of your customer, your problems would be a lot easier," Gaulke said. "I'm sure that this incessant self-examination has a noble purpose somewhere in the newspaper business, but I think it smacks of masochism, and I guarantee that in the corporate world, if any chief executive or board of directors spent of all this time berating and belittling itself, it would be thrown out of office," he said. Last year, Gaulke wrote to about 50 newspaper ombudsmen to "get a grip on what was really going on out there." He asked the ombudsmen to rate their top concerns from a list of common complaints about newspapers. The topics included pack journalism, excessive negativism, charges that newspapers are soft on business, sensationalism, and readers' perceptions of biases. Also, Gaulke asked the ombudsmen if they felt the problems were growing or receding and if they are solvable. Gaulke got a response rate of about 40%. The three major difficulties the ombudsmen cited were contending with charges of partisanship (33%); criticism of lurid, splashy sensationalism (28%), and arrogance and inaccuracy (28%). About 48% of the ombudsmen said the problems have increased in the past year and they were evenly split as to whether they have the capability to solve the problems. Gaulke said that the responses "tell me that newspaper marketers have the same problems that infuriate, irritate, exasperate and disconcert corporate CEOs. "You have a problem more with perception than with reality," he told the marketing execs. Working with perception is a marketer's job, Gaulke said. "The qualities of value and trust have to be managed just as much as any other corporate resource, and I ask you if your papers are truly concerned about the value and trust of your advertisers and readers. "Television, not newspapers, tell us what is going on in the outside world, and the only way to compete with television is to offer added value, things you don't get from CNN: perspective, analysis and interpretation," Gaulke said. To create stronger bonds with customers in the local community, the ombudsmen suggested creating a rotating panel of citizen observers who would "spend an afternoon watching the newspaper come into being," Gaulke said, and perhaps "become an ex-officio member of the editorial board, sitting in and occasionally contributing . . . ." The ombudsmen also suggested that newspapers issue annual reports. "Why shouldn't newspapers give an accounting of their stewardship for the year to the community?" asked Gaulke. The report would cover "not profits, but how [the newspaper] served the public trust." Gaulke said, "I know you don't control the editorial product, but as marketers, you have to represent the reader. "All too often, you have seen your role too narrowly as an adjunct to selling advertising. That's an important mission, but that's not the total mission." Gaulke also said that marketing personnel should "become the bearer of good news in your organization." "There are a lot of young and highly talented people inside your newspaper who are very worried about their future," Gaulke said, because "they read all the bad news that the newspaper prints. "Your job is to bring them the good news to keep them excited about the business and to keep them motivated to do their very best . . . keep them focused on their personal role in the mission, which is to keep seeing the reader and the advertiser as the most important assets. If you don't do the cheerleading, no one else will. "I recognize that this is not going to be an easy task, because it's about change, fresh thinking. It's about internal risk taking, but more importantly, it's about survival. "The fact is that while some may have doomed the newspaper business to death, you're not fated to die." "The newspaper industry still has enormous power and financial clout. It has the resources to do almost anything it wants to hold and enlarge its role, if it has the will." ?( What I'm suggesting is that as marketing people, if you don't believe in the product and communicate its power and strength, who else will?" ?(-Ray Gaulke) [Photo]