The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
The press in recent times has been all about the press. The Murdoch takeover last Fall of The Wall Street Journal dominated the news for weeks. Is he a white knight or a spoiler? Beyond that, there have been many articles recently about the glum future of newspapers. Are they dying? Can the Internet save serious journalism?
The fact that these big newspapers have gone public makes things worse as Wall Street has weighed in with attacks on the management of The New York Times and their lack of financial performance. Even Warren Buffett has pronounced that the present model–meaning print–isn’t going to work. Being publicly owned puts all the focus on the numbers. And when you’re trying to improve your numbers to make investors happy, you cut the things you should be investing in such as people, promotion and innovation.
No one has worked harder to improve the numbers than Donald Graham, the CEO of the Washington Post Co. He was one of the first to aggressively push into the digital world, yet critics say Graham needs to move even faster to get the business online.
In an effort to recapture young readers, the Post in 2003 started a free weekday tabloid called the Express, which now publishes 185,000 copies a day. It’s profitable. A year later the company acquired El Tiempo Latino, a Spanish-language weekly. It also publishes five paid-circulation suburban newspapers, 34 free suburban weeklies, 12 military newspapers, and real estate and auto guides. To squeeze a few more dollars out of its presses and trucks, the Post Co. distributes The Wall Street Journal in Washington, and it prints and circulates the local edition of the satirical newspaper The Onion. Bar mitzvah invitations may be next.
Yet, despite all this effort, print advertising revenue at the Post is six times that of Internet revenue. It’s still about the paper. Needless to say, all this is one tough marketing problem.
Sometimes to solve a problem in one industry you have to study other analogous industries. In this case I would look to the retail world. There are similarities. The store name is the brand where I go to shop. The newspaper name is the brand where I go to read. In both instances, I go for what’s in each, so content is important. And in both instances, there are competitive forces that are causing great difficulties.
For example, good old Sears Roebuck has been under enormous price pressure from the likes of Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Sears, through the years, built very powerful brands. Names like Die Hard, Kenmore, Craftsman and Weatherbeater Paint are what make the difference for Sears. If they are to survive, their strategy should be to promote these brands as "sold only at Sears." They can’t compete on price or selection.
In my estimation, newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have to pursue a similar "read only at" strategy. They have to work hard at aggressively branding their writers such as The Times’ Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman. The more powerful these brands become, the more I’ll have to buy the paper or pay to read them on the Internet. Also, the more I’ll be willing to pay for the paper. The sports world understands this. If Tiger Woods isn’t in the tournament, television ratings take a big hit. Why do you think that Los Angeles soccer team paid so much to get Beckham to kick a ball around?
Beyond the celebrity writers, newspapers have to talk more about their reporting staff–how many they have all around the world and their credentials. They have to point out that accuracy takes money, hard work and lots of talent. (Stuff you can’t get from cable television or The Daily Show.) Many years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an ad with the headline: "Every day the Kremlin gets 12 copies of The Wall Street Journal. Maybe they know something you don’t know." Now that’s the kind of advertising I would like to see more of on behalf of their hardworking staffs.
What newspapers have to realize is that in today’s over-communicated world, it’s as much about content as it’s about news. It’s as much about celebrity as unknown reporters. It’s as much about how you get the news as just printing it. This might be a tough reality to face for the owners of these papers, but the barbarians are at the gates. You’ve got to wheel out and aggressively promote your big guns, your organization and why you should be read.
And, if you keep your readers, the advertisers will come.
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