Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How one paper solved its 'Monday problem'

The Lawrence (KS) Journal-World solved the problem of weak advertising on Monday by creating a themed edition for women that generated some $340,000 in revenues at launch from mostly new accounts.

In the following guest article, Al Bonner, the general manager of the 20k-circulation daily, tells how the paper sold almost all the ad positions for a year within a matter of weeks.

By Al Bonner

Like most newspapers, Monday and Tuesday editions are “weak” days, with little or no advertising and a lower overall page count. Over the years, we have tried incentives and packaging to increase ad count and revenues for these issues, but the results still end up the same over time: no advertiser interest and a dwindling news product.

Instead of looking at eliminating one or both of these issues to save expenses, we took another more radical approach. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Our objective was to develop an entirely new product and an entirely new audience from the ground up. Our target audience was time challenged, younger women (age 25 to 45) with families and a wide range of interests like fashion, schools, home design, raising their kids, saving time, and improving their health, their mind and their spirit.

To attract this reader, we needed to create a colorful, dramatic design, in a smaller format with advertising and information they valued. The product needed to be open and ads needed to be modular and unique in content and format. We also needed to test our content and theories on readers and non-readers to make sure we launched with a high degree of calculated customer satisfaction.

From a circulation/subscription perspective, we needed a brand new product that would stand out in the racks and our dealer locations, and be valuable enough to entice more non-subscribers to purchase or subscribe to the Monday paper or a combination of Sunday and Monday. To start with, we did not package issues that, up until this point, women non-subscribers have had no interest in. Hopefully over time, they will want to receive the newspaper seven days a week.

The development of GO started with a very different collection of employees. As noted above, we were looking for a radical approach. Instead of our normal process of the news department designing the product, we decided to use a fresh set of eyes and ideas.

As a result, we brought in a designer and manager from our advertising ad design team. We charged them with designing a prototype and making content suggestions with examples. Both were female and part of the target age group. The result was a colorful, magazine style product that was much more in-tune with the target audience. Our news staff loved the design, as did our sales team. It was a perfect non-traditional approach to creating a new print product.

We printed several hundred copies of the prototype on our own presses, using heavy, bright-white stock. We hired a professional focus group coordinator and held four different focus groups. The first group was a mix of current subscribers, male and female. The second was just female subscribers. The third was female non-subscribers in our target demographic. The fourth was a group of 25 and under females. We also gave the prototype to a variety of female groups along with a questionnaire. This produced a variety of different opinions and suggestions that drove the changes we made in a second prototype. The second version was used by the sales team and for further feedback and ad sales.

Our sales managers sent our sales team out to show advertisers the prototype and get them excited about the product. Feedback was very positive. Businesses were invited to one of two presentations held in our conference room here at the newspaper. The goal was to only sell new advertisers or add-on business.

The product was introduced with a presentation from our design, advertising, marketing and news teams. A large board with all 32 pages of ad positions was posted in the conference room. Advertisers were signed up on the spot. Sixty-five percent of the ads were sold at the meeting and the rest of the ads were sold over the next 2 weeks before launch. Ninety percent of the ad positions were sold out before launch, resulting in $340,000 in new revenue. Contracts were sold for either 52 weeks or 26 alternating weeks. So, GO was nearly sold out for 52 weeks.

To draw attention to GO, we positioned the tabloid to be the primary product on Monday. GO was wrapped around the regular, two-section newspaper, so that the first thing a subscriber saw was GO. There was a little confusion on the first day, but that went away after the second issue.

Three thoughts drove this positioning. One, we wanted the product to be considered part of the newspaper, rather than a special section. Two, we wanted women non-readers to see the product in the rack and on the newsstands and be immediately drawn to the color and the cover. Three, we wanted the product to have high importance and high visibility to attract maximum attention.

We plan to continue to position the product in this manner.

In addition to the product positioning noted above, we delivered approximately 1,500 free copies of the first two issues to medical offices, coffee shops, all of the participating advertisers and other key businesses. Our objective was to get GO in the hands of as many women as possible.

We also began sampling home-delivered copies of GO to 600 non-subscribers for eight weeks. We will keep in contact with them about the product and offer them a Sunday, Monday subscription, as well as a special seven-day offer. A postcard was mailed to the targeted households a few days ahead of the product launch, letting the customer know they had been chosen for an eight-week sample of our new magazine. Every eight weeks, we will begin sampling another 600 non-subscribers.

Our ad managers visited or talked with every contracted advertiser to get his or her feedback and to thank the advertisers for their purchases. We will be maintaining weekly contact with the advertisers to make sure we are delivering the results they were expecting. All of our advertisers were very pleased with their ads and the product. We also visited many other businesses to introduce them to the product to tell them about the great feedback our readers were providing.

Thus far, reader reaction within our target audience has been extremely positive. We plan to do follow-up surveys after readers have had an opportunity to use the product for six weeks or so. We have had only a few complaints from some older readers who do not like GO.

A couple key points: Readers love all the color, the openness of the design, the positive and useful content and the fact it was presented in a tab format. Many commented that they would like to see the regular newspaper printed in the same format.

Early on, we are very pleased with the steady increase in single copy sales. After week two, we had seen an increase of more than 15%. While it’s very early in the life of the product, we expect sales to continue to grow in the coming weeks.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Dave D. said...

....Wow ! A Sunday supplement sold on Monday. The weekend never has to end now, does it? A survey of the front page reveals no news, unless dog intelligence, costume parties and highschool senior pictures 'style' are now news. If I were Parade magazine I'd be very afraid. Ditto "17" magazine.
...They've converted the Journal-World into the Girly-World, and made money and had fun doing it.
....Just don't call it news, 'cause it ain't.

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We should all take a lesson from the lines of people who bought Wednesday's paper. People buy newspapers for news. Advertorials might work in the short-term, but over time newspapers cannot put out both newspapers and magazines without sacrificing the quality of one of those two. Let us see how this works out over three or six months.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The LJW is home to a lot of innovation, but all of these need to be taken with a little grain of salt. With their various properties in print, tv, radio, ISP and cable they hold a virtual media monopoly in their town. So you always have to wonder how much that accelerates the success of these initiatives.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the first "anonymous." People bought a ton of Wednesday papers because the content was compelling and historic, and they wanted a souvenir. Those who continue to think we can somehow return to the good-old days when newspapers had a monopoly on news will be out of work soon. You'd do just as well to click your heels together three times and say "There's no place like Page 1."

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good idea. I'm curious, though. The article states how much new revenue is being generated, but what are the expenses? Are current staff members putting this out in addition to their other duties, or were writers/editors/photographers added for this?

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait. Did this replace the Monday paper or is this an insert for the Monday paper?

6:30 PM  
Blogger Newsosaur said...

In response to the above question, this is a tabloid section wrapped around the regular Monday paper, which is published as a broadsheet.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Was Raw said...

"Girly-World"? Oh Dave D, would you be as upset if the Monday supplement was a bunch of sports stories and viagra ads? That too is not "news" in the sense that they're just games, the stories contain nothing but entertainment value, have no bearing on the real world, and are bent towards a specific gender.

It seems to me that you're just upset because female consumers are being given attention.

7:26 PM  
OpenID iancahir said...

As a longtime newspaper vet who lives in Lawrence now, the response from people I talk with is that this section comes off as desperate.

It's nice looking, but it risks offending old readers who expect the traditional, women who aren't really represented and advertisers who realize that all of this local copy can't stay this way forever.

It's a novel idea, but I'm not sure it will do the job.

And the concept of The World Co. being a monopoly is right. I have DirecTV specifically so I get something that isn't owned by them.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some newspapers are looking for a new "product." They forget that they already are a "product." That product is news, and that's why they're called a newspaper. If your news staff was given the same amount of money and extra staff to produce a high-quality news "product" on a high-quality paper on page 1, they'd get rave reviews.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's pretty, but it's not news.
Somehow, it's appropriate that this story appears at the same time that other "false fronts" were placed over the Lawrence news. See http://www.ktka.com/news/2008/nov/06/false_front_pages_put_around_newspapers/.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous mrmediapro said...

OK, so the circulation is only 20,000. We still have to wait and see if there's real traction here but it drives home a point none the less. You really have to wonder how the Tribunes of the world can't follow what appears to be a simple formula, targeted and timely editorial. An over simplification yes, but come on if it can work in Lincoln it can surely play in Peopria and some major markets as well. I wonder if "Uncle Sam" (as in Zell) thinks it's OK to really give the readers what they want. Or maybe he is just waiting for all those Automotive, Retail and Real Estate ad pages to come back.

3:27 AM  
Blogger J. Garland Pollard IV said...

Startling comment from Dave D. that he was annoyed by Girly World. I mean, aren't moms who are time pressed, tired from kids and the like allowed to have a bit of entertainment on Monday. Newspapers have to ring in revenue, and its good to see them trying some new things.

Back in the day, the Women's section was all about flower arranging, recipes and the like. Same thing but a different era and different style.

http://www.brandlandusa.com/

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Our target audience was time challenged, younger women (age 25 to 45) with families and a wide range of interests like fashion, schools, home design, raising their kids, saving time, and improving their health, their mind and their spirit."

As a woman in the target age range, with interests that do not align with those above, I wonder if the LJWorld is worried about offending women in the same age group who see "Go" as a very traditional generalization of female interests?

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Dave D. said...

..I don't do sports, my anarchist old sport. Never have. I do news. I do politics. I think newspapers ought to be about news, which is facts and, well, new facts. I'll leave the cartoon section and the sports bunk to you. Enjoy.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I do news. I do politics. I think newspapers ought to be about news, which is facts and, well, new facts."

Actually, it's easier to get facts and more facts and more facts faster, better cheaper someplace else.

How about context?

I get my "fact" fix from the web, TV but mostly my RSS feed. It's context I need. Not just the context that relates today's x to y to z.

How about contextualizing today's events in the history of the country or community?

If the supplement is giving context to it's audience, it might not be "news" but it seems to be something they value. Maybe it's the voice talking to them, in a manner they what to listen to?

There are lots of other audiences that could use the same.Think high school kids.

Maybe news, like politics, has become just too important to be left to the "professionals"?

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Dave D. said...

...Context...Hmmmm ? Just what EXACTLY is the context of " How smart is your pet " ?
..Maybe the facts are too important to be left to professionals who's goal is to invent context. Might I suggest that the first rough draft of history not be a contest of context. Getting the facts right is hard enough without the burden of interpretation. You can't be the court recorder and the judge too. If you want to Tell-me-what-it-all-means, you're not a reporter, you're a commentator. Wander back to the commentator page and stay there. I've got heaps and skads of people dying to tell me what it means, but only the reporter is there at the scene and can tell me what he saw and heard and found out. If he's honest, he won't try to tell me HOW SMART MY DOG IS.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re how smart is your pet?

It might be a history of the breed, when it started, how many are in the States, what the breed was originally breed for, how did it change or...it might be some science about what it means for a pet to be smart or....

I'm not talking about what "it means". I'm talking about how the "fact" fits into the other "facts" that have gone before.

If it's the first draft of history, why not make it a "first draft of history?"

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Evil Pundit said...

The problem is that we never get a story about "How Smart Your Dog Is".

We only get stories about how one breed of dog is smarter than all the rest, and the others are useless and if you own one of them you're a bad person.

1:15 PM  
Blogger rknil said...

This sounds like yet another empty-headed idea.

I notice there are at least half a dozen references to how absolutely fabulous the design is. Yawn. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Newspaper execs just refuse to get smart. They keep thinking they can perform the most mindless, superficial acts possible and that the readers not only will not see through them, but they also will keep running forward for more of this nonsense.

Maybe someday the lazy, gutless editors will put news back into the newspapers. But the day probably won't come soon.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Holly Hoffman said...

I hear a lot of people saying this isn't news. Well, neither are recipes, but we publish those. Neither are blogs, but we publish those. The reason we will go extinct as an industry is all the old curmudgeons shaking their fists saying "this ain't news! back in my day..." blah blah blah.

Guess what? If we just sold news, we wouldn't have advertising would we? If we just sold news, people would pay for the information, right? Wrong. We don't sell news. We sell a product. What sells works. I would pick up a female-branded newspaper. You know why? Because I'm not getting it anywhere else.

Keep the product fresh and it'll survive. Keep regurgitating pandering crap and it won't.

And good lord, you all sound old. Keep up the nostalgia for the good ole days, 'cause it ain't going back. Evolve or go extinct, 'cause times are changED.

3:01 PM  

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