Marketing campaign introduces Columbus Dispatch readers to magazine-style redesign

By Darrell Dawson

In recent years, The Columbus Dispatch has given its readers new apps, a redesigned Web site, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds galore. We understand that constant innovation in the digital space is mandatory. 

But we took a look at our roster of products and found there was still room to innovate in print, as well — even if it meant totally remaking the newspaper readers have loved for 142 years.

In September 2012, after much discussion, The Columbus Dispatch was scheduled to move from a broadsheet to a brand-new, first-in-the-world format that, at 10.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep, feels more like a magazine.

In our marketing campaign, we called the new-look Dispatch “Formatted For Life.” 

Why? Because it took into account the way people consume media in the 21st century. The new size would also enable readers to more easily handle and travel with the newspaper. 

One focus-group participant remarked how it would allow him to see his wife across the breakfast table in the morning. One said the new format reminded him of an iPad.

Central Ohioans were also going to get a better overall reading experience, with more vibrant colour and better sectioning. This wasn’t a move to a tabloid — the sections of a traditional broadsheet were to remain. We even added Business and Nation & World sections to the daily newspaper at a time when many other newspapers are cutting sections.

Most importantly, the news hole was to remain the same.

Obviously, this new format was something we wanted to shout about. But we also had to prepare our overall readership for the change after 140+ years in essentially the same format.

We brought in an outside agency to create TV spots, print ads, and other materials. A Web site about the “new” Dispatch,, was also created as an informational hub. It included a blog from our editor, a way for folks to sign up for a free trial when the new format launched, and more.

Before the new format’s planned debut of September 10, 2012, our editorial department published a special section, telling readers all about the change and what was in store for them.

Included was a piece our marketing department created about the differences between the “old” and “new” Dispatch. 

We flooded our market with advertising and information about the new format that was on its way. We also invited core readers to a series of informational events around Columbus where they could ask editors and front-office staff anything they wanted.

And they came away impressed.

Our base readers — normally resistant to any change at all — were proud that their hometown newspaper was making the leap to this new format. Additionally, 400+ people had signed up for free trial subscriptions at

Unfortunately, after months of build up and anticipation, production troubles forced us to delay the launch. A full-page ad the day the new Dispatchwas supposed to hit newsstands and front porches explained the delay.

Our readers stuck with us, though, and the technical difficulties were ultimately resolved. The first Dispatch in its brand-new format hit the streets on January 28, 2013.

To call the product launch a success would be an understatement. Just look at the numbers:

  • 38% more voluntary (and 7% total) starts, year-over-year.

  • 16% fewer total stops year-over-year.

  • 46% more subscribers under the age of 50. 

And 100% proof that innovation in print is still possible.

About Darrell Dawson

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