Progress on the Newspaper Web Site Promotion Front

By: Steve Outing Few would argue that effective marketing can do wonders in growing a newspaper's online ventures. And, of course, most newspapers have an in-house promotional powerhouse in their printed product, which can be used to promote a publisher's Web site -- often with no- or low-cost print "house ads" available to push the online site.

As I've pointed out in the past in this column, too many newspaper publishers fail to leverage this advantage. But while this continues to be a problem, the situation is improving. Since last writing on this issue last year, a good number of newspaper Web operations have added online marketing managers and promotions directors. And their work is starting to show up.

Recently, I put out a call to newspaper Web sites to send me examples of the best Web site promotion they've done to date. Today, I'll spotlight some of the best work I received. I hope these examples will spur you to increase the Web site promotions at your own publication.

Twin Cities survival ploy

It's probably not surprising that two papers that are doing the most at promoting their Web sites outside the online medium are the competitors in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, market, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. Both papers take the Web seriously, and they compete not only with each other online but also against a strong TV station site (Channel 4000), a local Microsoft Sidewalk operation, and a Digital City unit. (The Star Tribune does work with Digital City, so DC-Twin Cities is both a partner and a competitor.) To survive as a community Web site with that kind of competition, you well better promote effectively and aggressively.

At the Star Tribune (Cowles Media), online marketing promotions manager Amy Vener says the newspaper commits to 36 print pages of Sunday space and 100 pages of daily space throughout the year devoted to advertising for Star Tribune Online (STO). She sent me a pile of newspaper ads for STO, and the most encouraging characteristic is the size of them. The Star Tribune is not afraid to devote a full page or half page vertical ad to selling its Web site services.

Some of my favorites are the full-page ads promoting STO's HomeZone Web real estate service, which use single images with lots of white space, a URL ( and a one-line description of the service. One features half a page of white space with a photo of a doorstep welcome mat; the lettering on the mat reads "WWW.ELCOME". Another shows a photo of a luxury home with a computer "Enter" button superimposed.

STO ads also promote online crosswords and games (showing up in the Sunday comics section); Uffda!, STO's search engine that locates Minnesota-based Web sites ("Oooh yah, it's pretty darn easy to find Minnesooota Web sites online, don't cha know"); STO's traffic conditions feature; and during the Winter Olympics, STO ads promoted up-to-date coverage online as being superior to television ("Get into the Olympics without even lifting a finger"). STO also participates in frequent contests online, run in conjunction with outside partners and promoted with print advertising.

The Pioneer-Press (Knight Ridder) provides another good example of effective online promotion, but in its case I'll focus on efforts outside of print display advertising. (I reported on the newspaper's new commitment to promoting its Web site in my March 4 "Stop The Presses!" column.) Most laudable is the paper's commitment to running promotional spots in the paper's "sky boxes," which run on section fronts next to the section mastheads. On a recent business front page, for example, the spot is headlined "On PioneerPlanet" and includes a promotion for the Web site's Motley Fool investment feature, which is available only online. On a features section front, one of the sky box spots promotes "TV Planet" online personalized television listings. A further promotion spot sits atop the print TV listings, touting the searchable nature of the online listings.

Good online promotion doesn't have to be big, just smart. On the P-P's agate local movie listings, at the top is a text promotion to the Web site's JustGo online entertainment guide service. Every paper with an online entertainment presence should do this simple thing.

Some other good Web site promotion seen in the P-P print edition: The Web site's URL is printed at the top of the print classifieds section. A blurb on the weather page invites readers to get the latest forecasts online. A "Score Updates" promo in a Sports section sky box urges readers to go to the Web for the latest scores. In a sidebar box accompanying an investigative feature about "Tobacco On Trial," an online promo tells readers where to find additional information on the Web site.

In Miami, turning it around

In a column last year, the Miami Herald was oe of the newspapers I chastised for its lack of print promotion of its Web site. The situation has turned considerably since, due in large part to the hiring of a full-time marketing manager for online services, Susan Brandt.

In the Herald's print classifieds section, much of the filler space is now occupied by ads promoting the CarHunter, JobHunter and HomeHunter Web services, and pointing out that home seekers can find south Florida MLS (Multiple Listing Service) listings and photos online. The paper also runs 1/2-page display ads promoting these services in the classifieds section. At the top of the classifieds index on page 2 of the section is a box, "Find all your classified ads on HeraldLink.". In the business section, you'll find ads promoting HeraldLink's JobHunter service. And in the Tropic Sunday magazine, full-page color ads promote these and other HeraldLink services.

Oddly, there's no URL on the classified section page masthead on page 1 of the section. And in the "Placing an ad" description below the index on page 2, there are not yet instructions for placing an ad online; you have to dial in by phone.

The Herald's news section is taking the Web a bit more seriously now. The Web site's URL is printed immediately below "The Miami Herald" logo type of the page 1 masthead. On page 2 daily is a 2 column by 8 inch "Today on HeraldLink" feature promoting a "HeraldLink Exclusive" and "HeraldLink Extras," which are supplemental materials for articles in the day's print edition.

In the Friday weekly entertainment section, Weekend, the Web site's JustGo entertainment guide is promoted with a small logo at the top of the cover page -- a nice touch -- and with display ads and repeat logos throughout the section. By contrast, the Monday Business section -- the largest of the week -- isn't so generous with references to the Herald Web site. For example, the section runs a print version of The Motley Fool, the online investment advice column -- but it makes no reference to the online version except to tell readers to write The Fool care of the Herald's postal address or to a e-mail address. A clue to this shortfall may be found in the business section's staff box, which includes e-mail addresses for most of the reporters and columnists, but none for any of the business editors.

Web promotion, Texas style

At the Houston Chronicle, Web site promotion is a mixed bag, as well. On the front page, the URL to the paper's Web site is a single line on the newspaper index at the bottom of the page. There's no Internet reference in the page 1 masthead, which I consider to be a serious oversight. But elsewhere, the situation improves. One of four sky boxes above the masthead of the zoned ThisWeek neighborhood sections, for instance, promotes the fact that news from the inserts is available on the Chronicle's Web sites. And the weekly Technology section gets it right, printing the URL leading to the Technology section of the Chronicle Web site above the Technology logo on the section front. The section also includes a 1 column by 3 inch standing feature on the section front called "On Site," which promotes what's available online at but not in print.

The Chronicle Web site also has an extensive display ad campaign, and director of administration, marketing and electronic products Nelle Spates sent me a sampling. Ads promoting Chronicle classifieds feature both the print and online classifieds, and customers can place ads online. Other display ads promote an online space news site; the paper's online local entertainment guide; Directory Center, the Chronicle's home-grown local business and services directory; and point-to-point driving directions available online. The Web site also promotes in print ads joint online contests done in conjunction with local businesses.

Free-ads paper promotes online

In Amsterdam, a classified ad-only print publication called Via Via is doing something smart. On its front page is a large graphic promoting the newspaper's Web site ("Now Also On The Internet"), the URL, and a headline explaining that placing an ad in the publication is free.

Via Via offers free classifieds to advertisers, and makes its money from paid display ads and from readers buying the print edition (for 4,50 guilders, or about $2.25 US). But the Web site is an important part of Via Via's business strategy, and Web users can view the current week's advertisements for half the price of the print edition, 2,50 guilders. If you're willing to read week-old ads, the Web site will serve them up for free. According to Guy Spriggs of the Rosetta Stone Consultancy, which provides the technology for the Via Via classifieds Web site, six months into the project the Web site is getting about 30,000 user sessions a week, with about 2% paying to view the latest ads. Print sales are around 50,000 copies per week.

The front page shouts about the Internet version of the publication, rather than just subtly printing a URL. I would like to see more publications better integrate print and online, like this, and not be afraid to turn customers over to the Web. Via Via's management claims that the Web promotion has had no effect one way or the other on print-edition sales. My one complaint about Via Via the newspaper is that it does not run its URL on every page; it should be there, not just on the cover.

More coming

I don't want today's column to get too long, so I'm going to stop here. But I still have other samples that newspaper executives have sent me that I'll get to later. So I will continue to spotlight good print promotion of news Web sites -- as well as other types of marketing -- in future columns. If you have some good examples of Web site promotions that you would like to share with me so that I can share it with the rest of the interactive news industry, please send them to me at this address (assuming that they cannot be sent via e-mail): Steve Outing, Planetary News, 1067 Marble Court, Boulder, CO, USA 80303. Alternatively, my e-mail address is Thanks!


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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