Toronto Star meets advertiser need with national reach to schools

It’s no secret that tweens and teens do not represent a large audience for newspapers. In fact, seeing a young person reading a newspaper would probably cause heads to turn and stare.

While the newspaper may not be a young person’s first choice for news and information, it is still very much used as a trusted educational resource in schools. Indeed, we have advocates in the form of educators who are driving students to newspaper content as a reliable tool in the classroom.

Several months ago, an advertising client inquired about our ability to reach schools across Canada through the Toronto Star Newspapers in Education (NIE) programme.

Like most regional newspapers, our NIE programme distributes newspapers and education resources to schools within our delivery area, so we don’t have the ability to reach schools outside Ontario.

But this advertiser wasn’t looking for a standard, in-newspaper advertisement. Instead, the advertiser wanted our in-house custom content group, Star Content Studios, to develop, market, and distribute an educational resource for schools across the country.

When a second advertiser had a similar request, I started thinking about whether we could, in fact, expand our reach to schools outside our newspaper delivery area.

Aside from delivering the newspaper to schools, the Star’s NIE programme creates custom, curriculum-based resources on various topics such as anti-bullying, financial literacy, social justice, and health and wellness.

These subjects are relevant to educators and youth all over the country, not just in our market. This is why we decided that for our next resource, we would include a small marketing test to schools outside our province.

The next resource we developed for schools was a topic that had national relevance, namely World War I. In recognition of the 100-year anniversary of World War I, we had planned to develop an eight-page, newspaper-style resource focused on Canada’s contribution to the war.

We executed a very small e-mail marketing campaign and Twitter promotion to a few schools in British Columbia and Alberta. We offered the resource to these schools for a small fee.

The results: We distributed more than 30,350 copies of the World War I resource to students in Ontario, plus an additional 1,650 copies to students in British Columbia and Alberta. We didn’t have sponsorship support for this programme, so schools outside our core market had to pay to receive the resource.

To expand the exposure, we also provided the digital version of this resource to a newspaper in Newfoundland so it could share the content with its NIE subscribers. Once the printed version sold out, we allowed schools across the country to access the digital, interactive version of the resource online for free.

Getting internal approval to promote this resource outside our market took some convincing. Some colleagues felt it was presumptuous to think that teachers from other provinces would have any interest in Toronto Star content and that they would automatically assume the content wasn’t relevant to their area and disregard the programme.

I believe this small test tells us that if the subject is relevant and the content is inclusive, then perhaps the geography of the content provider is irrelevant.

I believe incorporating this small marketing test was worthwhile and that based on this first-time response, there seems to be an appetite for these resources beyond our core market. As a follow-up, we now must determine if there is a sustainable advertiser appetite to support continued promotion of these types of programmes to schools.

Reaching students and educators in the school system is not an easy task for marketers and advertisers. Frankly, utilising NIE as an advertising channel to reach this target audience isn’t the best option for all advertisers.

If your advertising client simply wants to promote its latest burger to students, this probably isn’t the right partnership. If, however, the advertiser want to bring awareness to a social or community programme, such as anti-bullying, that they support, then there are many ways a newspaper’s NIE programme could support this objective.

Perhaps there’s a way for your NIE division to support advertiser engagement with youth in a meaningful, responsible way through newspaper-based education resources, either regionally or nationally.

While you may never see a teen dropping change into a newspaper vending box (if anyone sees that please take a picture and send it to me!), we do have ambassadors in the form of educators who rely on newspaper content as a resource tool in the classroom.

In our experience, this trust extends to the educational resources we create for schools through Newspapers in Education.

About Nadine Chevolleau

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