Aug 06

Two Centuries of Brand Building Pays Off

Today's guest post is by London Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Times2 The balance sheet of most major newspapers looks something like this: 

CirculationDown
Advertising RevenueDown
Editorial StaffDown
OutlookBleak

The most radical move to counter this downward spiral has come from one of the world’s oldest newspapers, The Times (Incorrectly referred to by many as The Times Of London or The London Times). Last month The Times put all its content behind a pay wall – the first major, non-financial daily newspaper to do this. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the outcome of this experiment will determine the future of the newspaper industry.

Subscription to thetimes.co.uk costs £1 for a 24 hour pass or £2 for a one week pass. (The daily print issue costs £1.) In the weeks leading up to the introduction of the pay wall, when visitors were asked to register to view articles, traffic fell 58 per cent. The paper’s share of UK news traffic, from sites like Google News, fell from 4.37 per cent to 1.83 per cent.

Losing almost two thirds of your customers overnight is enough to panic any business owner, but  is it really that bad? I don’t think so. First of all, have you lost 58 per cent of your customers or just 58 percent of your footfall coming through the shop door? How many people clicked through from Google News not caring if they read a story in The Times, The Daily Telegraph or, the 800 lb gorilla in the room, the publicly funded BBC? The fact that people should be focusing on (and the newspaper industry rejoicing at) is that 42 per cent of people chose to pay for their news from The Times. That is the kind of brand loyalty that 225 years of publishing gets you.

The other positive is that the people paying to access The Times’ content are a much more lucrative demographic than the froth that washes up on the site from a news aggregator. People see more value in things that they consider worth paying for, and that goes for consumers and advertisers. This is completely the opposite strategy to that taken by another stalwart of the British newspaper industry, the Evening Standard. As I blogged about last year, after more than 150 years, the Standard became a free newspaper. Yes, the readership grew significantly, but the brand, and the value of its content was reduced, irrevocably, in my opinion.

I am heartily encouraged by the apparent success at The Times and what it means for mainstream publishing. Yes, citizen journalism is important, and in situations like the Iran elections it can be invaluable. But don’t discount the big media groups. There are times when only the resources of a major newspaper can tell a story adequately. Two examples of this are the recent leak of the Afghanistan files to Wikileaks, which in turn passed them to The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. The other is the British Parliamentary expenses scandal, when thousands of pages were passed to The Daily Telegraph, which ensured the story was analyzed and told properly and responsibly.

There is much ill will directed at Rupert Murdoch, but as owner of The Times his brave experiment will hopefully prove to be the turning point for a troubled, yet vitally important industry.

May 06

Traditional print advertising is nothing more than white noise


May 6  
As
I engaged in my daily mental exercise of flipping through the pages of
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it occurred to
me that I never, ever stop to read the print ads. In fact, I ignore them
completely. They're physical versions of white noise.

Knowing
the average full-page ad in each paper runs about $100k per and that each
contains 40 or so full-page ads, I realized that marketers are probably burning
upwards of $4 million a day on this shotgun approach.

With
the exception of affinity publications (mine would include climbing, fitness,
running and outdoor trade press), I never read ads. And, I know I'm not alone.

Print
ads are increasingly irrelevant because we live in a society suffering from
what Richard Edelman calls 'trust deficit' (See Richard's interview with new
PR Week Editor-in-chief Steve Barrett at
www.prweek.com). Edelman's 100 percent
correct. Thanks to the shoddy behavior of such brands as BP, Tylenol (the
once-fabled gold standard), Toyota, Tiger, Goldman, the Catholic Church and
countless others, we simply don't trust what organizations tell us.

And,
that's why PR is so beautifully positioned to fill the trust gap. We're all
about engaging in conversations with trusted sources
such as reporters and
influential bloggers who vet our messages first before putting them in motion
.

But,
back to the utter irrelevance of mainstream print advertising. To test my
theory, I scanned the ponderous, premiere issue of
Bloomberg Business Week (now, there's a catchy name) and selected
three print ads at random. I wanted to see if they caught my attention,
communicated a clear and credible message and, critically, contained a call to
action. Here are the results:


May 6 - fish  
1)
Headline: 'Is your business in shape to compete'? Visual: a school of fish
aligned in what appears to be the outline of a shark. The advertiser? Accenture.
My reaction? Ugh. Talk about bad timing. Who wants to see a school of fish when
we know millions are dying in the Gulf of Mexico as we speak? Plus, the message
is mundane, trite and overused. I'd grade it F.

2)
Headline: 'NEC gives the Peninsula Shanghai what it needs – seamless service.'
The visual depicts a smiling Peninsula Hotel IT manager with some
happy-go-lucky bellhop in the background talking into his cell phone. My
reaction: I want a clean room, good service and palatable food from my hotel of
choice. But, since I'm not a hotel IT manager, I'm not interested in NEC's
message.
I'd grade this one a C+.

3)
'In my world, not connected means not in business.' This one's from Panasonic
and depicts a pretty angry-looking
businessman who, it would seem, can't get
his wireless connection. I sure hope he's not using Pa
nasonic's new Toughbook
computer. The problem with this ad is its total lack of credibility. I should
buy this Toughbook because Panasonic says so? Sorry. Not happening. I'd give
this print ad a
D.

I'm
sure the marketing powers-that-be justify shotgun advertising in an age of
one-to-one marketing by arguing that it only takes one or two sales to offset
the wasted spend. I disagree. And, I think you'll see less and less print
advertising as social media, mobile, digital and other means with which to put
one's messages in motion become more mainstream.

As
for me? I'm buying that new pair of Sauconys I just saw advertised in
Men's Fitness

Nov 18

Newspapers vs. ‘Newspapers’

Guest Post by Carl Foster, Peppercom UK

Uk mags "Good morning, Trinity Mirror news desk"

"Hi, I'm calling from Trinity Mirror PR to follow up on the press release I sent you about our new widget"

"Oh, right. When did you send it?"

"Just a little while ago"

"And you're calling from where?"

"Trinity Mirror PR. We sit on the other side of the office from you. Look, I'm standing up and waving – yoo hoo!"

"Oh yes, hi. Can you send it to me again? Or better yet, just tell me where it's saved on the server and I'll copy and paste it from there."

That worrying scenario could play out at a newspaper near you if the suggestion of Neil Benson, editorial director at Trinity Mirror in the UK, comes true. The idea that struggling newspapers should set up PR agencies as an additional source of revenue has set tongues wagging in PR circles, but the notion should be of concern far beyond our little fiefdom.

Of course, desperate times call for desperate measures. We're certainly at the stage where no idea is a bad idea when it comes to saving the newspaper industry from further closures. However, if newspapers were to set up PR agencies, even if they were to operate at arm's length, their very credibility and trustworthiness would be called into question. If the model did prove financially successful it would not save the newspaper; it would simply mean it was replaced with a 'newspaper'.

The newspaper vs. 'newspaper' concept is not new. An Evening Standard column from earlier this year highlights the rise of councils in London producing their own pseudo-newspapers. According to the Standard, more writers in London are now employed by these official papers than by the local independent press. Who is paying for this? The Standard says one of these pseudo-newspapers, the Greenwich Time, has a total gross cost of £708,000 a year, with at least £532,000 of that borne by the public purse.

Apparently Andy Burnham, the then media secretary Andy Burnham said that council newspapers were "overstepping" the mark. But this is too vague. In the U.K. we need an U.S. FCC style proposal that requires transparency for "endorsements and testimonials" by people with "material connections" to sellers of a product or service.

Would a PR agency linked to a newspaper group have a "material connection"? One for the lawyers I think.

So if the credibility of some newspapers is in decline because of the source of their revenue, and the very existence of other newspapers is threatened by a collapse in revenue, where does that leave the citizens in our democracy that need varied but credible sources of news? Well, the ad-supported, free online (and sometimes offline) model doesn't seem to be working – even if the Evening Standard has put all its eggs in that one basket. At the other end of the spectrum we have Rupert Murdoch, who will be putting all News Corp. content behind subscription walls soon, and also possibly block Google from searching its pages.

Another suggestion, put forward by Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, is a state-funded (not state-owned) media. This seems to be one of the few ways to guarantee that the media has the resources to provide credible and thorough news coverage. Dyke puts forward the suggestion in a debate on Al-Jazeera’s Empire programme, which is well worth watching. However, the question of how this funding would filter down from the giants of the BBC and France24 to local newspapers is a tricky to answer.   

So, in the spirit of no idea being a bad idea, how do you suggest the newspaper industry save itself from collapse?

Nov 10

Jimmy, forget about being the next Woodward or Bernstein. Mommy and daddy are buying you a slide rule for the holidays

November 10 - newspaper-in-trash-can I knew the newspaper business was tanking, but I had no idea how horrific the current landscape was until checking the stats in a recent O'Dwyer's news piece (See "Newspaper Circ Drops Some More," Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, November 4, 2009, Vol. 42 No. 43).

Did you know there are 44 million newspapers sold each day? That sounds impressive until one learns it's the lowest level since the 1940s!

Subscriptions at papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and Boston Globe are dropping faster than the post-season hopes of Giants' fans after Sunday's last-minute collapse (the papers reported circulation losses of 25.8, 22.2 and 18.5 percent, respectively).

The Wall Street Journal now has the largest daily circulation at 2 million (it actually increased 0.6 percent). USA Today's circulation plummeted more than 17 percent as it fell to the number two slot. (Note: the same issue of O'Dwyer's carried reports about the Journal's closing its Boston bureau and Forbes laying off 40 more staffers).

I wonder how undergraduate and graduate journalism programs are spinning these dismal results to current and prospective students. I'm proud to say I was a journalism major at Northeastern University and learned many skills that have since stood me in good stead. But, I wouldn't advise any young person to pursue a career in a dying profession.

Pundits disagree about the future of journalism, newspapers and magazines. I'm sure some form of neo-journalism will emerge in another decade or so. But, for the immediate future, I'd counsel any serious writer to run away from Columbia, Missouri, and the other great J-schools. The cost-benefit ratio no longer exists. There are few, if any, new jobs being created, and those that are pay less and provide no security whatsoever.

Instead of reading 'All the President's Men,' it might be wiser for Woodward and Berstein wanna-be's to, instead, crack open a biography of Einstein, Galbraith or Keynes.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the keyboard is no longer the meal ticket it once was. Look for calculators and slide rulers to replace reporter's notebooks and press badges as parents' stocking stuffers of choice this holiday season.