Mobile navigation


The top twenty

How agitated do you get when your circulation flat lines or decreases? If the answer is “very” then help is at hand. Margaret Snowdon, through her Excellence in Newspaper Sales Benchmarking initiative, has identified twenty key factors. If you get these right, your paper will be well placed to make sustainable sales increases.

By Margaret Snowdon

I have a dream… that every local newspaper can achieve sustainable actively purchased newspaper sales increases through excellence. Life is truly local! People want to read our newspapers. Sales figures for the weeklies reflect this with 51% showing increases and readership growing in the last ten years by 15%.

The dailies continue to face a challenge from internet news and changes in lifestyle. More than three quarters of the UK’s leading regionals experienced a decline in the second half of 2003 and the vast majority have shown consistent declines for nearly five years. With leading agency directors questioning the validity of running campaigns in some regional titles when sales are showing continued decline, what is the solution?

There isn’t one solution! Twenty critical success factors have been identified and to achieve sustained increases all twenty need to be achieved at a level of excellence. They apply to all regionals whatever their size and frequency. The study involved one hundred newspapers and twenty five top brands. Here are the twenty factors for achieving sustained newspaper sales increases.

1. Believe.

65% of the top performing titles believe that they can achieve sustainable year on year newspaper sales increases. This compares with 32% of the poorer performers. One paper which demonstrates a strong belief is the Mansfield Chad.

2. Get a vision.

38% had a clear vision, 28% had no vision and in 34% of titles, the MD, the editor and newspaper sales director / manager each had a different vision! To quote from the Koran, "if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there." Management guru, Tom Peters urges "I dare you to get into the dream business." The Brighton Evening Argus not only has the vision but is turning it into reality.

3. Give it a focus.

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. Top performing titles strive to keep newspaper sales at the top of their agenda. The Blackpool Gazette is a paper which has a total company focus on achieving newspaper sales increases.

4. Start with your customers; know, understand, use, anticipate, lead them.

69% of top performing titles had done market research, compared with 31% of the worst performing in the last twelve 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. Frequently the problem is one of unfocused data. Lots of newspapers have lots of data, but it is useless unless interpreted and made meaningful. The missing ingredient is why? Why do customers buy or not buy? Northcliffe’s Reading and Noting Survey is an excellent example of product research which is being used by editors in the group to shape their newspapers for the future.

5. Focus on customer loyalty; create a value orientated integrated marketing communications (IMC) programme.

Only 14% of titles are using a database with a further 42% working towards this. Those who are using one say that the creation of their database is enabling them to put a greater focus on customer loyalty. Don Schultz says "we need to start with the people, identify their actions and activities and then turn those into naturally occurring market segments. We need to identify who buys, how they buy, when they buy, how much they buy and how much they may buy in the future." A newspaper which is focusing strongly on customer loyalty is the Grimsby Evening Telegraph.

6. Monitor the five P’s; profile, penetration, perceptions, preferences, propensity.

Only 15% of titles made an attempt to assess all five P’s, with a further 51% assessing at least one. By regularly assessing the five P’s you can identify and analyse early warning signals that may impact on your newspaper sales performance. The South Wales Argus shows how well they understand their local market with a consistently strong sales performance.

7. Produce a strategic marketing plan based on brand management.

Only 36% of newspapers benchmarked had a strategic plan regarding the creation and marketing of their newspapers. This compared poorly to all of the top brands.

8. Create remarkable papers – for customer success.

"I can’t live without it" and this reader was talking about her local evening paper, not drink, drugs, sex! Our papers need to be compelling and change the mindset from – "I’m not sure I need it now" to "I’ve got to have it now!" Brendan Hopkins, CEO of APN News and Media says "we must provide the customer with what they want or better still, with what they believe they want. Editorial content must excite and entertain and be relevant, particularly to the younger end of our market." All the regional newspapers, such as the Paisley Daily Express who are showing circulation sales increases are creating remarkable papers for their markets.

9. Capitalise on "Life is Local"; news, views and information.

84% of the top performing titles devote more than 60% of their papers to local news compared to 52% of the poorer performing newspapers. In research 78% of people said they want local information and 71% want to belong. The Barnsley Chronicle says, "the word is local – we have a remorseless focus on local news and sport."

10. Create outstanding value; every day, every week.

For the fifty daily titles benchmarked, there is an average 10,500 fewer copies sold on a Tuesday than on a Thursday. The pagination for a Tuesday averaged 40 tabloid pages compared to 72 on a Thursday. If the paper isn’t good enough, people aren’t going to buy it. Just consider the effect if every customer just bought one more copy each day / week. Titles such as the Exeter Express & Echo attribute much of their recent sales success to creating a better paper.

11. Determine optimum reasons to purchase and keep it relevant.

All the top performing daily titles have a different supplement / section each night aimed at different segments of the market. The top performers are layering their content so there are at least two balanced reasons to purchase every day on top of the news. The Western Daily Press is a good example of this.

12. Manage 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. Achieving newspaper sales increases is the responsibility of everyone. This is illustrated well at the Northampton Chronicle.

13. Make 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. Newspapers need to look at their channels to market. The Leicester Mercury is the only title which is achieving this factor to a high level of excellence, with 98% of their deliveries taking place within a ten minute window.

14. Deliver outstanding value with a consistently rewarding experience and customers will pay for it.

Only one title benchmarked had a scientific approach to pricing with the creation of an econometric model to identify key sales drivers and assess likely impact on sales. This proves that if you add value, price is not an issue. Archant Norfolk takes a scientific approach to pricing, identifying the relationship between price increases and key sales drivers.

15. Target promotions to create loyalty and value.

Only 14% of titles actively target promotions, with 49% semi targeting and the remainder not targeting at all. The following attitude sums up the approach of many: when sales are falling the rallying call is more bingo, expensive promotions, canvassing. Attrition strategy at its best! Newspapers need to be more innovative. The Leicester Mercury is the title which has the most targeted approach to promotions.

16. Capture customer value and keep existing customers.

£10.5m is spent by the fifty daily titles benchmarked on canvassing to get new customers. Only 35% use market / customer intelligence to direct their canvassing. The Teesside Evening Gazette is a good example of a paper who is doing this well.

17. Move to brand management; the creation and marketing of the brand.

Only 19% have a brand strategy with a further 54% working towards it. Those who have a strategy are using customer intelligence to shape and drive their brands. Branding is about the masthead, though it is much more than that; the logo, the slogan, the marketing campaign, the advertising, the advertising budget. But in the end branding is about credibility. The Carlisle News and Star has a very clear understanding of their branding, which they use effectively in the creation and marketing of the title.

18. Monitor performances.

There are twenty five key indicators for measuring newspaper sales success. It is generally accepted what gets measured gets done.

19. Encourage innovation.

Timothy Balding, of the World Association of Newspapers, says "innovation, the willingness to experiment with new ideas and strategies and to lead change is, I believe, of fundamental importance to the future of publishing.’

20. Promote talent.

There is one other critical success factor. Not something that is easy to measure. In fact it is very subjective. Some newspapers centres were very passionate about achieving newspaper sales increases. One response we had was: "I am not only passionate about achieving newspaper sales increases – I’m obsessed."

Excellence in newspaper sales can be achieved through the creation and implementation of a joined up, hard edged strategy based on the twenty critical success factors. The creation of the brand (editorial and advertising) needs to work together with the marketing of the brand (marketing, newspaper sales and promotions) in an integrated way.