Positioning your media company as a winner
Positioning your media company as a winner

In previous blogs my selection of topic has been guided by our “Bottom Line Marketing” category title. I have therefore stuck to topics with tangible, bottom line outcomes — revenue generation and profits. Today I am taking the liberty of going somewhat astray from that constraint. I am inspired by the presentations and discussion at the INMA program in Chicago on February 15th of this year.

That program was focused on integrated/multimedia selling and I learned a great deal from the speakers on that topic. However, one sidebar dialogue that came up in the course of Kirk MacDonald's (Denver Post) presentation is worth exploring further. During Q&A following an overview of Denver's impressive multimedia sales model, Kirk addressed the issue of the damaged newspaper brand and our need to assert our continued strength not only in the digital environment, but also in the magnitude our traditional print audience.

With all the negative publicity endured by our industry over the past few years regarding its financial woes and audience/circulation attrition to digital, I am not surprised that we all face a “crisis of confidence” among our advertising clients.

That is bad enough. What is worse, many newspapers face a similar issue among their own employees, including their advertising sales staff. Picture this: a newspaper account executive who lacks confidence in their product trying to sell it to a client who thinks we are the dinosaur of the media world (we just haven't heard we're extinct yet).

Likelihood the account executive will get a major investment from the client? Nihil.

At best, they will get the sympathy buy, and there aren't a lot of sympathy dollars in the client budget these days.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but we should all take a reality check.

Step back and check out your local competitive marketplace statistics. For most newspapers, this exercise will provide a powerful reinforcement of their continued leadership in many dimensions of the local media market.

It is working for us in New Jersey, and I will share briefly how we have begun to change perceptions of the Star-Ledger in the community and among our employees with the theme “We Continue Our Winning Ways.”

Here are a few ways we assert ourselves:

  • Using our audience research, we compare our average issue weekday audience in our core market to the combined 6:00 p.m. news audience of the four local TV network affiliates. No contest. And guess whose audience is older?

  • Again using audience research, we compare our average issue Sunday audience to the annual Super Bowl ratings. We win again, even if you break it out by key demographics.

  • Positioning ourselves as a multi-media company, we present total audience statistics by combining the footprint of our paid and non-paid distribution household reach in print and by aggregating the audience of our digital platforms (Web, mobile, tablet) and our print audiences (magazine, daily newspaper, weekly newspapers) into an integrated local market impact statement.

  • By also providing targeted versions of the previously mentioned statistics based on the advertising client's definition of the market.

We began our efforts early in 2010 and we did so using event marketing to make a statement. The Star-Ledger had announced appointment of three new executives, so we planned a VIP/advertiser reception to introduce them and to launch our re-positioning theme, “We Continue Our Winning Ways.”

For some topical edge, we dubbed the event “The Three Editors,” humorously styled after the popular concert genre (The Three Tenors) that was familiar to our guests. Just holding the event made a statement of our sense of self-worth. Giving it a lighter edge made sure it didn't come off as pompous or arrogant. Our key local advertisers and many of our account executives were included as attendees.

We timed the event to follow the annual announcements of key media awards, and it paid off. By the time the event was held, we had earned more than 30 first-place awards in international, national, regional and state journalism awards. What's more, our advertising creative staff also earned a slew of awards for the work they had done for our clients.

Equally significantly, several of our key awards were earned in the interactive and video categories, not just newspaper/print awards. These awards validated our claim to be a multimedia company. We had demonstrated excellence and proven our expertise in the digital/video arena. In fact, our video news team earned seven finalists and brought home three Emmys in the New York Emmy Awards competition (first time we had entered).

We strategically chose to hold the event at the Newark Museum, a close friend of the Star-Ledger, which co-hosted the event at no cost. It is a world-class facility with outdoor gardens and indoor display space that we used to present our award winning work (hung like a museum exhibit) to its best advantage.

Knowing that our guests included key advertising clients as well as key politicians, civic leadership and our own advertising sales staff, we prepared a gift bag for guests to take with them. To be sure they took the bag and looked at the contents, we photographed each guest as they arrived and included a print of the photo on a mock front page with the headline “Jersey Notables Gather at Newark Museum.” (I have since seen these on many office walls.) Also in the bag was a glossy brochure with a striking cover featuring — not the three editors — the three Emmy statuettes. The brochure listed our awards and included references to our audience leadership — qualitative and quantitative proof of our market position. The following day our account executives were armed with copies of the materials to share with all of their clients.

In closing, I will reference the movie “Patton” (and in doing so date myself). In a key scene, George C. Scott, playing General Patton, states “America loves a winner ... and they will not abide a loser.” The same goes for our advertising clients. They will hitch their wagons to the most successful media companies and abandon the losers, so we need to walk and talk like winners.

The parallel between our efforts and what I heard at the Chicago INMA event when Kirk described what was being done in Denver indicate to me two things:

  • The model is both replicable and worthwhile. Therefore you ought to take a look at what you might do in your market.

  • If Kirk in Denver and Bob in New Jersey are already finding it pays to advance the success message, then it is probable that others have also begun to do so in their respective markets. So share your ideas and add your comments to the dialogue on this blog.