Multi-platform relaunch of South China Morning Post focuses on total, long-term reader engagement


It’s not every day that a 108-year-old newspaper launches a total redesign; revamped content including new columns, features and new expert panelists; five brand-new weekly tabloid special interest sections; a redesigned Web site, as well as a redesigned iPad edition; a once-in-a-blue-moon change in brand positioning; and a full-on brand campaign — all at the same time.

But this is what the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language daily, did on May 16, and I thought I’d share with you a bit of an insider’s perspective.

We began the process just about a year ago with full inter-departmental task-force team discussions, fueled by extensive reader focus groups along with audience sizing and segmentation research. Delighting in what readers gave us the thumbs-up for, and swallowing the bitter pill of what they derided, we embarked upon the challenging task of self-critiquing, re-organising, refreshing and moving with the times.

Our advisor was the celebrated newspaper design genius, Mario Garcia, whose delightful exuberance and track record with 560 or so other news media organisations qualified him to be as blunt as necessary about what needed to change.

The result is a new look that is fresher, easier to navigate, more vibrant, and richer in pictures and info-graphics. But more importantly, the content has been re-thought to correspond with the way readers function in today’s multi-media society.

Interestingly our print readership has seen a double-digit increase over the past few years, bucking the general industry trend. In Hong Kong, the overall market for print readership has only declined slightly, by 4%. Even though Internet and mobile news media consumption has dramatically grown over the years, “cannibalisation” seems to have reached a stable point where the various media co-exist in harmony.

This means that readers are not throwing out the old for the new, but rather finding a usage habit for each medium that corresponds to their daily behaviour. With that in mind, our new newspaper, online edition, iPad edition, and even our Facebook page each have a role to play for different reasons at different times of day for different readers.

So our key objective with our re-launch has been to focus on the consistent but unique qualities that will drive reader engagement for the long term:

  • A clear and distinct brand personality.

  • Content that is valued by readers.

  • More opportunities for reader interaction, both with our editorial team and as part of our wider, like-minded readership community.

All this amounts to engaging a broader range of readers, especially the younger, social-media savvy audience. As much as they are earliest adopters of new media, they are also most likely to be the earliest rejecters of print media if we don’t continue to provide compelling reasons for them to consume us in print.

Therefore, we have incorporated a wide variety of interactivity into our content to keep them hooked. Our launch Web site and teaser print ads encourage readers to comment on hot news topics by clicking on a photo and entering it on our Facebook site.

When readers “like” our site in order to get their comments up, all their friends are alerted. The comments simultaneously upload to our launch Web site so that a community of comments for all current topics is built up. Great comments will make their way to our OpEd pages in print, and the circle goes on.

Our editorial articles now all include an email contact to encourage questions and more feedback from our readers. Some of our features will depend on reader contributions for their existence, such as our weekly feature weddings column and our letters pages. Like many good ideas, it’s not really all that new, but the mechanisms through which the interaction is delivered are more relevant to today’s multi-media reader.

Many of us are going through the same pains of knowing how to craft a longer lifespan from our print product today, while building a loyal audience for our content tomorrow. While every market is different, I hope this brief peek into our evolution is useful to others.

With that, I’ll get back to the grindstone of the launch and leave you with a shameless plug by sharing our re-launched Web site.

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