Newspapers are places where marketing and branding are not only given little value, they are often viewed with suspicion. I remember being told not to call the paper a “product” in front of people from the newsroom. Unless it’s their face on a billboard or bus somewhere, many journalists believe that they are above marketing (though who can deny that a headline isn’t the same thing as a tagline).
As such, it is nearly impossible for a marketer to discuss the need for brand attributes, brand positioning and brand statements at a newspaper. And 10 years ago, as a lowly newspaper marketer, I was growing increasingly frustrated with my inability to communicate the importance of doing so.
Then I came a across a speech given by INMA CEO Earl J. Wilkinson in which he stated that newspapers reflect and affect the communities they serve.
I fell in love.
No one speaks and writes more poetically and passionately about the power of newspapers than Earl. Though as much as I loved the notion of newspapers reflecting and affecting the communities they served, I felt that notion was incomplete.
Newspapers also connect the communities they serve.
At one time, these connections abounded: politicians and voters, cops and witnesses, performers and audiences, buyers and sellers, landlords and renters, the unfortunate and the generous, the bereaved and the comforting.
The newspaper’s ability to reflect, affect and connect a city and the people who live there became my marketing mantra. It was our purpose, our strength and our unique selling proposition. I spoke of it whenever I could, and across the organization people got it. It had resonance, clarity and authenticity.
Ten years later, we don’t speak of connection so much as we speak of engagement. But really, they’re the same thing.
And this week, Earl posted a piece on his blog lamenting the newspaper industry’s current inability to measure engagement. He focused on how old media metrics don’t apply online:
Metrics, metrics everywhere. We’re drowning in data. Research budgets have been cut, so there aren’t enough smart people around to make sense of it all. Our instinct is that we’re reaching more people than ever before. Yet instead of brand loyalty, we’re fighting for every second of attention with more and more granular pieces of content with sensationalized headlines which turn out to be our biggest marketing weapon (what did “sex” and “headless chickens” have to do with last night’s city council meeting?).
All we want to do is make a difference. Yet we can’t sleep at night because we have no idea what level of engagement we have with an audience we can’t quantify or weave together in an adequate enough storyline to monetize.
While I’m thrilled that Earl agrees with me about headlines being taglines, I must admit that I’m shocked that a piece about digital engagement didn’t have a single reference to social media.
Engagement is not a thing to be measured, it is a thing to be practiced (well yes, and then measured – but first practiced).
Earl, I hope I can help you the way you helped me all those years ago. This is all you need to know:
Old marketing is archery, new marketing is ping-pong.
(Though I would very much like to, I can’t take credit for this simple yet brilliant observation. I found it on SlideShare in a social media presentation by Jay Baer.)
As I wrote last month, a failure to embrace community will become a leading cause of death for newspapers. The potential for meaningful audience engagement has never been greater than it is right now. But I’m afraid that convincing newspaper execs that ping-pong is necessary is even more difficult than teaching them about branding.
Here’s hoping Earl buys-in and becomes a social media evangelizer.
Then we can all sleep better.