As marketing shifts to ROI-based new media, will newspaper CEOs finally invest?


MMrketing is a two-edged sword at most newsmedia companies. It’s an indicator of advertising demand, which ultimately pays the bills. Yet it’s also a guide for the newsmedia company’s own efforts to market itself to consumers and advertisers.

The strategic disconnect among many publishers is they don’t believe in marketing. They have little to no faith in the concept, despite the ironic fact that their business model is built on convincing others that marketing on their platforms will grow their business.

If you can get a publisher in a private moment, here’s what he’ll tell you: I believe in discounting because there’s a mathematical formula that shows me a projected return on investment. I believe in hard sales because I can throw manpower against a market and through sheer willpower get a return on investment. I can’t get my arms around “marketing” in general because it’s a revolving door of people and theories.

Most industries have senior managements with similar lack of faith. The difference is the absence of irony: They’re not selling marketing solutions.

Yet maybe a quiet revolution in marketing will restore this faith.

According to Forrester Research, marketing budgets at the major global companies have declined 20% in the past year. Spending on traditional media – TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor – is down a remarkable 60%. “Contemporary” channels are seeing only minor cuts. Another Forrester study suggests 60% of marketers will increase interactive marketing budgets by shifting from traditional media: direct mail (40%), newspapers (35%), magazines (28%), and television (12%).

Forrester CEO George Colony said recently that this means return-on-investment media are rising, social media is the emerging star, and budget cuts are forcing marketing and information technology within companies to finally cooperate.

“(I)t is becoming increasingly obvious that these marketers are ... realising that consumers are no longer listening, reading, and watching their advertising the way they used to,” wrote Mitch Joel of Six Pixels of Separation. “While it’s equally easy to blame this on the fragmentation of media, it’s also plain that it’s not just ‘the internet’. It’s new media – in general – and this includes newer channels like satellite radio, mobile, widgets, apps and beyond.” He also cited channels such as Twitter, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, Google News, and Huffington Post.

Take a step away from traditional marketing, and the larger marketing communications field is in flux, too. According to the IPA Bellwether Report in the United Kingdom, “media” marketing is not the most affected communications category. The most affected is the “all other” category consisting of conferences, exhibitions, corporate hospitality, live product launches, public relations, and market research.

What does it all mean?

Newspapers are notorious for suspending their marketing operations during a recession. This downturn is no exception. Marketing staffs and budgets have been cut, eliminated, redistributed, and decentralised.

And all of these moves will get reversed – eventually.

Here’s what inevitably happens: a) a new CEO comes in who believes in marketing; b) things get reconstituted and re-funded when the CEO realises the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing; or c) the economy rebounds and the CEO then decides to throw resources at the market.

Yet something else is happening in this downturn. While the cut-and-restore dance plays out, as always, a new type of marketing is clearly emerging: one rooted in metrics, new media, community media, and information technology. De-emphasised will be promotions, media buys, and expensive creative.

Will hard metrics allow a media company’s CEO to fully embrace marketing? Will it finally usher in an era in which marketing expenditures rise from 1.5% of revenue to something closer to 5%? Can research and development budgets grow from 0.2% of revenue to something closer to 2%? Can today’s marketers be re-trained for this changed marketing landscape? Can editorial departments embrace budgets that build their audience?

The emergence of ROI-based new media offers our industry the opportunity to embrace marketing in new ways. If we’ve learned anything from this downturn, it’s that our lack of investment in marketing our brands and content were tragic errors in judgment.

Can we finally rid ourselves of marketing’s ironic position in the newsmedia industry?

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