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Show and tell: press freedom gives marketers a powerful product to sell

09 May 2011 · By Joe Talcott

The public too often underestimates the importance of a free press to society. Newsmedia companies should seize every opportunity to highlight it as an intrinsic, essential product feature with tangible benefits for every consumer.

World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993. Every year, it represents an opportunity to commemorate the fundamental principles of press freedom around the globe, and to pay solemn tribute to journalists who have lost their lives or have been imprisoned in the line of duty.

This year WPFD was on May 3, and it was a huge day for the press in Australia — but not for that reason. That day, you see, virtually every Australian media outlet carried the same message: “Osama bin Laden is dead.”

So what does press freedom or the killing of bin Laden have to do with marketing, and this blog? If you still subscribe to the four Ps of marketing, then your product is a key component of your marketing plans. And in crass marketing terms, “press freedom” is an essential product feature and an invaluable consumer benefit. We've recently seen historic events in the Middle East with people rallying for greater freedom and changes in governments. When people are free to voice their opinions and the press is free to report them, freedom happens. Press freedom is a cornerstone of free societies.

But in many democratic countries, including Australia, freedom of the press is taken for granted. In some cases people feel the press has too much freedom, or acts irresponsibly with the freedom it possesses. As one publisher told me, “If you ask our readers about journalists in jail, many will say they are in favour of it!” That is indeed regrettable. And it is something that marketers can help change.

Many brands have had great success by reminding their customers of features and benefits that are taken for granted. Safety should be an essential feature of automobiles, for example, so car manufacturers score points by talking about air bags, anti-lock brakes and “crunch zones.”

But is it possible that we marketers have taken our product for granted as well? In our effort to sell more papers we have devised clever sales promotions, subscription bundles and advertising jingles. Very little has been done to remind our readers about the benefits of this wonderful product.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Agnello Dias present the “Two Indias” campaign from The Times of India. Seeing that work again was inspirational and made me think: “It sure beats giving away a free DVD.” The Times of India hit the mark by executing a campaign that did not talk about how important a newspaper was, but demonstrated its importance.

In the lead-up to World Press Freedom Day, we considered running advertising that would talk about the important role newspapers play in modern society. But on the day itself, we ran the story that people wanted to read and presented it in a way that demonstrated a real benefit. I hope we can do that more often. And I hope we can find ways to communicate that powerful consumer benefit more effectively.

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The “Bottom-Line Marketing” blog aims to bring together the principles behind marketing with the real-world experiences of newspapers transitioning to newsmedia companies. Our bloggers are some of the leading marketers at the world’s leading newsmedia companies today, most with experiences with packaged goods and brands such as McDonald's and Disney. They will aim to show how marketing – often under-utilised in the news industry – improves the bottom line (even a baby's bottom).

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Bob Provost
Distinguished Executive-In Residence
Rutgers Business School
Newark, USA
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Scott Stines
Cedar Rapids, USA
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Geoff Tan
Senior Vice President & Head of Strategic Marketing
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
News Centre, Singapore
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