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Evening newspapers can increase their circulations!

Margaret Snowdon looks at the key factors which are driving circulation. She highlights two evening titles achieving encouraging newspaper sales performances because they know exactly who their readers are, and could be, and provide them with what they want on a consistent basis.

By Margaret Snowdon

Most evening newspapers are hoping to maintain their sales for 2005 and, for many, that would be an achievement. However two newspapers in northern towns have experienced an encouraging sales growth over the last six months. Neither has benefited from huge inward migration or economic growth, but both titles have created strong marketing strategies that have delivered results.

The Excellence in Newspaper Sales Initiative (ENSI) highlighted that successful newspapers make successful decisions about which customers to target and what value proposition to offer them. Basically they know exactly who their readers are, and could be, and provide them with what they want to read on a consistent basis.

The Hartlepool Mail launched a new edition in September 2004. Editor Paul Napier says, ‘when I arrived in Hartlepool, I recognised that there was an opportunity to provide the people of Peterlee with their own edition. My view is that the more local we are and the closer we can get to our readers, the better.’

The profile of the people in Peterlee was very similar to that of the main Hartlepool area but, as a new town, Peterlee had built up its own community, which did not relate hugely to Hartlepool. Napier produced a dummy copy of the Peterlee Mail combining the strengths of the Hartlepool Mail with an emphasis on local Peterlee news for the people of the clearly defined area of Peterlee. The Peterlee Mail research was commissioned with two aims; firstly to assess the impact on sales of launching a Peterlee Mail edition into Peterlee and secondly to define potential readers in Peterlee, based on customer profiles, penetrations, preferences, perceptions and the propensity to purchase.

Reaction from the research was very positive with over half of respondents expressing their intention to purchase a Peterlee Mail with lots of Peterlee news. Typical comments from the research included:

* ‘It would be of more interest to me – I think it is a big enough town to have its own paper.’
* ‘Because Peterlee is more to do with where I live than Hartlepool.’
* ‘Because I live in Peterlee and want the news here.’

Napier says, ‘people in Peterlee were crying out for news of relevance to them and they wanted us to tell them about their own lives.’ The research also highlighted the importance of having local advertising too as respondents commented that they would not feel that the Peterlee Mail was for them if it covered Peterlee news but all the ads were from Hartlepool.

In September 2004, the Hartlepool Mail launched its Peterlee edition. Napier adds, ‘we have put a focus on Peterlee and the more Peterlee news we can deliver, the happier our readers are. We have also backed this up with a strong commitment to Peterlee with the opening of an office there. Basically we need our reporters on the ground in Peterlee, living Peterlee.’

The Hartlepool Mail and Peterlee Mail know exactly who their readers are and could be and provide them with what they want to read on a consistent basis.

The launch was supported by a targeted newspaper sales and promotions campaign. But has this resulted in increased newspaper sales? Napier is "very confident of showing a plus for our ABC July – December 2004’

Meanwhile, over in Carlisle

The Carlisle News & Star has also been experiencing encouraging sales during the July to December period. This has been attributed to many factors but particularly a market initiated optimum print times review, to ensure that people can get a copy of the News & Star at the right time. Another major factor was its unique focus on its brand strategy.

The Carlisle News and Star not only knows exactly who its readers are and could be and provides them with what they want on a consistent basis, but it also understands its brand values, has a consistent brand strategy and communicates this to its readers and potential readers. The company maintains a strong focus on the Carlisle News & Star and all its titles as a brand with regular brand audits and reviews of brand strategy.

Dave Bowden, assistant managing director of Cumbrian Newspapers explains, ‘we have managed to link our branding with our newspapers and our marketing. We have worked hard to ensure our brand audits lead to workable plans which are useable on a daily basis. We involve all departments in this process and get their feedback too.’

Another key factor is the strong working relationships between editorial, advertising and newspaper sales and promotions. Dave adds, ‘we undertook a project with Ashridge and have worked hard to ensure our management team works together. We have a really strong co-ordination between our advertising director and editorial and have been able to expand pagination for not only commercial benefit, but also reader benefit’.

So what result has this had on the circulation of the Carlisle News and Star? Dave says, ‘we have achieved a 2.07% increase for the July – Dec 2004 period’.

Both the Peterlee and Carlisle papers are delivering the value proposition by:

Giving editorial and newspaper sales a focus. In our research, all the daily titles showing increases said that achieving newspaper sales growth was their number one focus together with achieving profit and advertising revenue. Only 39% of the titles experiencing declines said that achieving newspaper sales was their first or second objective.
Starting with their customers – knowing, understanding, using, anticipating and leading them. 69% of top performing titles had done market research, compared with 31% of the worst performing in the last 12 months. 76% of those who had undertaken research had undertaken a readership survey but only 31% had done any specific product or newspaper sales research, as the Hartlepool Mail and Carlisle News & Star have done.
Capitalising on life is local – news, views and information. The ENSI research revealed that 84% of the top performing titles in terms of newspaper sales devote more than 60% of their pagination to local news compared to 52% of the poorer performing titles.
* Producing a strategic marketing plan based on brand management. Only 36% of the newspapers benchmarked had a strategic plan regarding the creation and marketing of their newspapers.
Managing the brand – working as a team. In 71% of the top performing titles, the editor and the newspaper sales departments are geographically close, compared to 35% of the worst performing. This is seen as a major factor in strengthening the relationship. But achieving newspaper sales increases is the responsibility of everyone.
* Making it available - when, where and how customers want it. Only one title benchmarked is making it available when, where and how people want it. 47% of titles are working towards it.

What is clear is that it is vital to have a well thought through marketing strategy for achieving sustainable newspaper sales increases. To test your strategy I have prepared a simple quiz. Try assessing your marketing strategy for achieving sustainable newspaper sales increases.

The best marketing strategies are those that fit best for each newspaper, as each newspaper is unique and circulates in different market conditions. The ENSI undertaken by Media Solutions in 2003/04 uncovered three simple steps that were being undertaken by titles, which are showing newspaper sales increases. They ask:

* What sort of market does our newspaper circulate in?
* What is the best way (strategy) to provide our optimum paper (value proposition) for our market?
* How do we adapt our culture to fit?

And finally, do you know exactly who your readers are and could be and provide them with what they want to read on a consistent basis?

Newspaper Sales Quiz

1 Does your newspaper target channels, readers or groups of readers who have different needs? Yes [ ] No [ ]
2 Does your newspaper target clearly identifiable segments of readers who have the same needs? Yes [ ] No [ ]
3 Do you produce a paper for ‘everyone’ with occasional added value to target different groups of readers? Yes [ ] No [ ]
4 Do you deliver reader segment specific value propositions with each target segment being made unique and compelling reasons to read? Yes [ ] No [ ]
5 Does your newspaper fully understand its strengths and weaknesses and how to use them to build circulation? Yes [ ] No [ ]
6 Do you have a clear strategy for building on your newspaper and its newspaper sales strengths and minimise identified weaknesses? Yes [ ] No [ ]
7 Can your readers get what you are offering them from other sources? Yes [ ] No [ ]
8 Does your newspaper offer benefits to your readers that no one else is offering them? Yes [ ] No [ ]
9 Do you understand your brand values and how you communicate them to your readers? Yes [ ] No [ ]
10 Do you have a clear and consistent brand strategy where your brand values are consistent with those of your readers and potential readers? Yes [ ] No [ ]

If you answered yes to questions 2,4,6,8 and 10 then you should have a good year in 2005. If you answered yes to 2,3 and 4 then you may want to revise your strategy. If you answered yes to only one or none of 2,4,6,8,10, then you may want to produce a marketing strategy.