By: M.L. Stein Scripps League marketing executive says newspapers should abandon targeted-audience editions and return to their role as mass marketers sp.
NEWSPAPERS SHOULD consider abandoning the popular practice of targeting specific kinds of readers and return to their original role as mass marketers, a newspaper chain executive said. Greg Stevens, chief marketing officer at Scripps League Newspapers Inc., suggested that newspapers follow the lead of national-brand manufacturers and fast-food restaurants, which are broadening their customer bases by offering a variety of products. Total-market-coverage vehicles and shoppers have helped shore up the bottom line but they have done nothing to boost the flagship newspaper's share of the market, Stevens said. In a speech to the Cal Western Circulation Managers' Association convention, he said it's time for newspapers to resist the "increasing pressure of advertisers" to reach only subsegments of the population "and [their] demand to pay only for what they reach." Because of pressure from advertisers, big newspapers have created suburban zones to attract smaller advertisers there and have produced a spate of freestanding ancillary publications, Stevens said. Newspapers have gone further by "supersegmenting" themselves, producing more special sections in which they lump news of interest to particular groups of readers one day a week, he added. Stevens traced this practice to newspaper executives' decisions in the 1970s and '80s to largely abandon circulation diversity and go after "quality audiences." "But guess what the buzzword in consumer-goods marketing is today: reverse segmentation," the speaker declared. "Some national marketers feel segmentation may be an idea whose time has passed. Extend the line, get crowded out; extend another direction, get crowded out. National marketers see it as a vicious circle and are tired of it . . . . Perhaps the mass market is cyclical and it's coming back." Stevens cited broader-based new entries in grocery, household, and health and beauty aid products ? "the kind that would benefit from advertising exposure to the total readership of the newspaper." He said the time is ripe for newspapers to return to mass readership because they can do a better job of reaching it than television, cable or direct mail. He noted that the reach of television networks has been shortened by the advent of cable, leaving TV channels to offer advertisers a "relatively small pie-slice of the population, much like radio." Although available channel options have increased tenfold, viewing time per household a day has not increased significantly, Stevens said. Therefore, he asked, "What medium has the opportunity to reclaim its role as the definitive reach vehicle? You bet. Newspapers." Newspapers, he continued, also have an edge on direct mail and shoppers as a mass-reach print medium and now is the time to capitalize on it. However, to achieve this objective, the industry may have to revise its advertiser-oriented approach and pay more attention to the editorial side, Stevens said. "While we're busy pleasing and going after readers our advertisers want to reach, we may be ignoring informational needs and product appreciation potential of other segments of our market populations and thus opportunities for the broadening of our foundation," he said. Most editors tend to put out a paper that they would like to read, he explained. Because they usually are well-educated, family-oriented people with above-average incomes, editors are very much like the people whom advertisers most want to reach, he concluded. So, except for on special pages, minorities, young people, senior citizens and non-professional working women are not considered newsworthy or important in most newspapers, Stevens maintained. Advocating reader participation as a "great tool in building loyalty and adding credibility," he said, "I think too few editors are brave enough to find ways to feature readers' creative writing, poetry and art. But they should." Moreover, readers, who are receiving less help from financially strapped governments, could be invited to turn to their local newspaper for help and information via print, telephone or home computer, he said. "We are already facilitating the coming together of buyers and sellers," Stevens continued. "What about an extended mission to bring people with problems together with the sources of solutions for them whether from the community at large or other readers?" Stevens said electronic information systems can be a factor in this process but the main outlet should be the newspaper. "Ink on paper has sufficient immediacy, frequency, depth and breadth, convenience and permanence to make it better suited than any other medium . . . for intelligent consensus," he argued. "But consensus isn't worth anything if big parts of the population are left out of the process. That's our challenge: to make sure they are not."