And the winner is …

What is your paper’s attitude to promotions? Do you do them occasionally and grudgingly or often and with gusto? The Teesside Evening Gazette promotes all the time and, as James Evelegh reports, they’ve got rather good at it.

By James Evelegh

Remember how at school prize giving, all the prizes used to go to the same person – and it wasn’t you! Well I’ve just discovered that regional newspapers work exactly the same way. There are a thousand or so papers out there, but all the prizes at the recent Newspaper Society Sales and Promotions Awards, went to the Teesside Evening Gazette …. or so it seemed.

The Evening Gazette were either the winners of, or were highly commended in no fewer than six categories ("Best in-paper reader offer", "Best content or platform promotion", "Best reader acquisition campaign", "Best reader retention campaign", "Sales promotion campaign of the year", "Campaigning newspaper of the year"). Quite a night! So what is the secret of their success?

The team is headed up by Lynn Melvin, newspaper sales & promotions director and Shirley Foster, promotions manager. There was a very clear ethos underpinning their approach to promotions. Both knew exactly what their job was and why they were doing it. It was not, Lynn stressed, about short term incremental sales. It was about adding value to the newspaper and, through that, providing readers with additional reasons to purchase. Of course, awareness of the importance of sampling and enticing in new readers is an ever present, just as short or medium term tactical considerations might determine the timing and nature of any particular promotion, but they are not the main drivers of activity. The paper is seen by its staff as the sum of its parts and promotions is a core part of the product and not a marginal activity called into action whenever a quick fix is needed to address a dip in circulation.

The team

Reporting to Shirley are two full time promotions executives and a trainee. Shirley and her team run about six major four week promotions each year, but there will be smaller scale promotional activity running throughout the year. The major campaigns take about four months from conception to implementation and the team handles all aspects of the promotion: from the original concept, through design and artwork, raising sponsorship to fulfilment and prize giving. In terms of timings, they suspect that most regionals follow a similar pattern of planning major promotions after school holidays, to get people back into the purchasing habit.

Enough small talk – what are their secrets? Well the first is strong market knowledge. Now, Lynn is quick to point out that what works on Teesside might not necessarily work elsewhere, but if your first base is "market knowledge" and you ensure that all promotions are rooted in this, then you won’t go far wrong.

Relevance and winnability

All Evening Gazette promotions are designed to maximise participation. Experience has taught them that, when it comes to prizes, small is good and big is bad. Indeed Lynn says that she would prefer to offer a hundred different parts of a car rather than a car itself. The degree of winnability is paramount. A few years back the Evening Gazette organised a promotion with a small number of Disneyland Florida holidays as prizes. It flopped. Not only is Florida not a big holiday destination for Teessiders (so it failed on relevance) the chance of winning was very remote and as a result take up was poor. The lesson was learnt and not repeated. Their recent GNER promotion illustrates their approach perfectly. The offer was for cut price train tickets (£10 to Edinburgh and £15 to London) and a staggering 12,000 people responded. The Evening Gazette’s December 2003 ABC was 58,181 so this represents over 20% of the readership! The offer was relevant, attractive and above all attainable. Similarly their 2003 Easter promotion "Free For All" was based on the premise that every reader could trade in two tokens for an everyday household item – like milk and bread. A total of 3,378 readers claimed their free two litre carton of milk and 2,735 claimed their bread rolls. Not glamorous, but very effective at engaging with the readership. Value for money is a core theme of most of their promotions. All in-paper promotions are branded with the tagline "the paper that pays for itself" and total reader offers in 2003 represented a saving of £1,500.

So, on the assumption that you have come up with a promotion that is winnable and relevant, what else does the team at the Evening Gazette suggest can contribute to the success of a promotion?

Keep it fresh

Avoid getting stuck in the rut of repeating promotional ideas. Both the mechanic and the concept need to be mixed and matched. If you have one promotion in the paper, then make the next one a card based game. All the key variables – shape, size, offer, proposition, prize – should all be rotated. Card game based mechanics have a bit more weight and make the game something special, but again don’t overuse. Incidentally when using card games, typically Shirley will not look for an off-the-shelf promotion, but instead will go to the supplier with a concept in mind. This leads us to the creative. Idea generation is often the hardest part of the process. Unfortunately there are no golden rules but the odds are that promotional teams that are highly motivated, led by enthusiastic managers and working in an environment where promotions are seen as an integral part of the newspaper offering will tend to come up with good ideas.

Don’t overcomplicate

Other key bits of advice (some of which sound disarmingly obvious) are: keep it simple. If the aim is to maximise response then don’t ask the readers to jump through too many hoops. Make the game attractive and appealing. Again this is down to the quality of the original idea. Fresh ideas are more likely to be appealing than tired old reruns. Lastly – promote it! Every week, the Evening Gazette devotes a column to forthcoming promotions. Publicising the winners is also crucial. All winners are invited into the offices to have their picture taken and this will appear in the next day’s edition. The immediacy and the "hey-the-winners-look-like-me" factor all help further promote the current promotion as well as reinforcing the credibility of the paper’s promotions in general.


So your newspaper didn’t win any awards but you fancy the idea of vibrant and successful promotions. What do you do? Having met Lynn and Shirley and seen how the Evening Gazette approaches it, I would suggest that the key thing is to get the structure right. Firstly recruit skilful and enthusiastic managers, secondly staff the promotions department properly – one man and his dog will probably not be enough, thirdly make promotions a key part of the product offering (two minimum requirements here: do what Evening Gazette editor Steve Dyson does and ensure that someone from the promotions team is present at every planning meeting and devote good prominent space in the paper to promotions) and lastly see promotions as part of your offering to existing readers and not just as a tactical reader acquisition tool. But what about the cool creative ideas? Once you have the foundations in place the award winning ideas will start to flow. Look forward to seeing you at next year’s bash.

Case study 1 – Bid to Win.

To support the January cover price increase the Evening Gazette ran a five week promotion entitled "Bid to Win" during January and February 2003. This was an auction game, where readers collected "Gazette Miles" which were printed on tokens each day behind the mast head on page 2. There was no limit to the number of tokens collected, so many readers grouped into syndicates to pool their tokens. Readers collected the tokens from Monday to Saturday, totalled them up and then phoned in their total to a special number. The highest bidders (ie those who had collected the most miles) were then contacted to have their tokens verified and the winner won the holiday. In an interesting twist, readers had the option NOT to bid each week, but to retain their miles either to bid for the following week’s holiday or in the hope of winning the end of campaign cash prize. A radio campaign started the pre-promotional activity which was then followed by flyers distributed by the "Roadshow" team, various types of A2 colour bills, window banners and in-paper activity. In order to drive sales, higher numbers were printed on the poorer performing circulation days Friday and Saturday although it was decided not to print huge numbers (with lots of zeros) of Gazette Miles since this might have confused older readers. Gazette Miles were also downloadable from the paper’s web site. There were five weekly holidays to be won and a £5,000 cash prize for the highest bidder at the end of week 5. The winner of the cash prize was a community centre which had collected 240,500 miles. Given that a total of only 2,300 miles were printed in the newspaper this was testament to the pooling capacity of the community centre.

Case study 2 – Boro’s Best

This was a ten week promotion run over the closed football season to support sales of the Sports Gazette during the quiet summer months. In conjunction with Middlesbrough FC thirty two all time favourite players were selected. The promotion was kicked off with a free wall chart for every reader available from newsagents along with a token to collect the first set of players cards. Each card featured a picture of the player along with statistical information. Each week a token was printed in the Sports Gazette which could be redeemed by post, at the club, or from Evening Gazette branch offices. Over 2,000 sets of cards were collected and an additional 2,585 copies of the Sports Gazette sold – a 2.4% increase year on year.