As the news product evolves, so should your marketing strategy, staff


Most newspaper executives have a vision, at least in theory, that takes them from a print enterprise to a transitionally bundled product set, and ultimately to a digital-only medium.

Technology, newsrooms, and advertising teams are shifting and re-tooling to ready for the transitions and, in most cases, newspapers are at least halfway there.

In contrast — and despite being responsible for a large portion of the revenue plan — marketing in many cases is still being handled with a circulation tool kit rather than with direct and digital marketing sophistication.

As an industry, our marketing skill set has not kept pace with our product ambitions.

Take a look at the diagrams. The two trajectories are purposefully lined up comparing product and marketing evolution.

  • Before it leaves the print-only phase, a newspaper’s marketing skill set should develop beyond traditional circulation tactics.

    High-churn channels and renewal-dependent offers, which might make economic sense when a newspaper on the doorstep was as important as a front door, should give way to direct marketing strategies where each acquisition and renewal touchpoint has a distinct profit and loss.

  • In the “perfect” marketing evolution timing, circulation tactics would be replaced by early digital marketing capabilities before the digital product transition even began.

To make up for this disconnect, newspapers need to augment their circulation teams — not with circulation managers renamed as audience directors, but with direct and digital marketers who have an appreciation of circulation demands.

Some recruiting tips that I’ve used at both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

  • The magazine industry is a perfect recruitment ground for professionals with strong direct marketing expertise, understanding of circulation, and the ability to bring that skill set into digital channels. Some of the most effective online acquisition campaigns I’ve seen were created by these individuals.

  • For strong digital marketers, make sure they have direct response and sales responsibilities in their current roles. Pretty, branded digital marketing can effectively communicate to its intended audience, but it might not instigate response from the target.

    Digital marketers from cable and other subscription-based business models are an excellent fit.

These skill sets aren’t cheap; but revenues are not expected to remain flat. Just as they invest in new technology, newspapers need a complementary investment in new talent.

  • Apply incremental revenue targets to each new full-time employee to clearly articulate the value expected from the position and the individual.

  • Identify candidates who thrive in an entrepreneurial space and who want to create a new marketing ecosystem; provide them with the marketing tools they need; and then reward them for success.

Investment in talent will align product and marketing evolution for significant and sustainable growth – in print and digital.

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