Television, radio, magazines and newspapers are so different, but the same in many ways. It’s valuable to watch and learn from what the other media are thinking about and look at their priorities for change in this new media landscape. All media are evolving and in some ways are becoming more like each other.

I recently attended a conference, an industry event for broadcast research. The primary focus was on how to get commercials noticed. There was a great deal to take away for newspapers!

Commercials at the beginning of the break perform better than those in the middle. Ads in programmes with high viewer involvement have higher ratings than those with lower viewer interest.

Wonderfully, the speaker raised the point that the print and now online media have always been able to capitalise on ad placement, and that this is an approach more broadcasters needed to adopt. Google has led the way in the digital world with contextual advertising.

What are the broadcasters talking about when they say their industry needs to pay more attention to what the print media has always done? Capitalise on their content! Many newspapers do this, weaving the value of ad placement into sales presentations — truly “unlocking the value of content.”

It is easy to forget what we have, and take attributes for granted. Upfront news is the familiar request. We know that readers read newspapers for the news and the advertising; it is the sum of all the parts that is “content.” The paper is portable, and readers can hang on to it and read engaging editorial and advertising copy on their schedule. A commercial is gone the moment it is over.

Priming commercials works at an unconscious level by showing or saying one thing that leads the viewers or readers to think about another desired concept, which is associative learning. Contextual placement to enhance this cross-over or associative learning is what both print and digital formats provide when advertising is placed adjacent to synergistic content. That content can be relevant news items, targeted sections or pages of the newspaper, special supplements or advertorial pieces.

Content is what brings readers to the newspaper; it can then be leveraged to build an advertiser’s business. Since 85% of our decisions are made at the subconscious level, everything published in the newspaper has an impact on readers on some level. Newspapers can shape the impact of their messages through how they deliver their content, and then use content to drive readership and their advertisers’ business objectives.

The success of any communications programme can be difficult to measure; researchers generally ask questions that require access to conscious thoughts. The usual questions relate to brand awareness. Recently, advertisers have viewed success from “intend to purchase” responses, or actual sales data can be used if the campaign is of a measurable magnitude. A number of advertisers have found such tactics successful and the measurement criteria more useful than standard brand awareness measures.

Another strategy used by broadcasters is to place brief bits of content into the middle of commercial breaks to keep viewers’ attention throughout the break. Often that piece of content they insert is a brief news item!

What does this do for the reader or viewer? An interesting finding from some research we did is that a key attribute newspapers offer their readers is consistent layout. That is a telling tidbit. Contextual ad placement is likely related to that finding: “Give me information in a sensible manner, and make it an easy part of my day.”

Appropriate ad placement can enhance the effectiveness of the communication because it makes sense to the reader — it binds together the various content pieces offered by the newspaper. Commercials, by their nature and in many cases by design, are disruptive. They break the flow of information or the previous storyline and perhaps this results in a “disengaged” viewer.

Cross-over learning or disruption? Both are valuable under different circumstances and for different messages. Deciding which is right for the advertiser is the challenge. Using the content to leverage the desired results is what counts.

There will always be new things to learn as newspapers move into the less-charted territory of digital media and real-time, “all the time” content. Television, radio, magazines and newspapers are all using their current strengths to build up their presence on the “not so new” Internet platform, and learning and integrating the assets of the other media. Added to that is the exploration of new opportunities only available in the digital world. Some basics apply, but many are irrelevant.

There is a lot to learn, but it’s always important to lean on newspapers’ core strengths — it’s all about the content!