Marketing at the speed of news


In my quarter-century-long marketing career, I’ve never had to think faster, move quicker, be more innovative and collaborative, nor be more flexible than I have in news marketing.

Each day is a roller-coaster ride that closes with a big “PHEW!” and, even then, the day is never truly over. News, after all, is 24/7 and so, therefore, is the marketing opportunity.

News marketing isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Sure, we still have our subscription promotions, partner deals, point-of sale challenges, loyalty and CRM programmes, our events and sponsorships, our multi-media marketing campaigns (if we can afford them). All of the usual marketer’s staple portfolio of tricks and responsibilities to keep the product moving.

But the pressure of modern news consumption habits has fashioned a new form of marketing.

I quote from Rajiv Verma’s interesting cover story article in the April issue of IDEAS magazine, “A unique vantage point for the future of newspaper economics,” in which he talks about how his non-media background has influenced his seven years at HT Media Ltd. He says, “A newspaper, or any other media product, is no different from a consumer product.” He goes on to explain that each product marketer has to define the needs and wants of the consumers, and deliver the solution efficiently with an effective marketing plan.

Quite true. But in my own marketing experience, no other product has the opportunity to give you an unforeseen, brand-new selling opportunity every single day or, indeed, hour or minute of the day.

Most products are a bit like teeth: They are formed; they break through; they serve their purpose; then they decay and maybe eventually fall out. It’s the classic product lifecycle.

Unlike teeth, news is much more dynamic and ever-changing, and falls less easily into the standard classification of a consumer product, because what makes up that product is the content, which changes all the time. Coke is essentially Coke, and although you can spin off variants such as Coke Light, Cherry Coke, and so on, you don't change the formula of Coke every minute. While there are general formulae on what essential ingredients you put in your newspaper, the mystery ingredients are still there to be discovered every day.

As Rajiv also says, content really is king. Hear, hear. Our content is the living, breathing, pulsating lifeblood and embodiment of our brands. Hence, news marketers need to respond to the living dynamics of our content and have our finger on the pulse as much as our editorial teams do.

To both sides, collaborating with “the other side” can sometimes seem as much fun as having a root canal. However, times are changing and challenging, and we have to test our boundaries to find a place where we can help each other to find the most engaged audience possible.

But how do you market at the speed of news?

Most marketing/communication plans are planned months in advance, with carefully orchestrated strategic plans behind them, definitive ROI, and carefully crafted creative executions. We already have a lot on our plates just managing to execute the structured plans we put into our budgets. How can we anticipate or find the budget to support what hasn’t even happened yet? How can we do news-marketing? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Creating a new perspective on current news: In my last blog, “Creating news: the new world order in journalism,” I talked about devising fascinating topics as talking points through use of research, polls, etc. We need to know what’s cooking or even suggest conversation provoking topics; the trick then is to pre-sell without losing the edge on exclusivity.

  2. Shouting the loudest when there’s a big wave: Analytics always tell us that clicks come in waves. Big news, big clicks. To start with, we have to catch the crest of that wave with unique perspectives and unmissable content. Then, within the first hours of it breaking, and continuing with its subsequent ripples, we need to be on top of leveraging every marketing tool we can — SEO, SEM, social media networks, e-marketing, print-to-online or online-to-print. We have to work rapidly, have the most fascinating and shareable content, and catch those waves.

  3. Anticipating the next wave: Some big ticket news items can be anticipated well in advance. Whether it’s a world event or the escalation of a simmering issue, catching the heat of the moment with the most interesting perspectives can be a great marketing and editorial opportunity.

  4. Drawing eyeballs to stuff they missed: Yesterday’s news, tomorrow’s fish-and-chips wrapper? Not really. The beauty of online archives is that our content now lives on forever, with easy reader access. The opportunities to repackage, reposition, and re-sell are limited only by our imaginations. The New York Times did a great job of this archive marketing with their Lively Morgue photo archive, which showcases their photojournalistic best in a shareable Tumblr site. Online readers love to peruse pictures and photos; the incredible success of Pinterest bears witness to that.

The world of news-marketing is so full of adrenaline-pumping opportunities today that other products seem slow and uneventful by comparison. Thinking smart and quickly, acting on instinct without planning, and sniffing out nuggets to boost the usual marketing complement: it’s enough to ruffle the orderly and well-planned feathers of any traditional marketer. The challenge of staying true to the principles of your brand is equally critical but doubly hard when you’re zipping along this fast.

But wow, what fun!

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