W Communications boss offers his views on the PR and marketing campaign behind The Sun on Sunday launch
Warren Johnson, managing director of W Communications, which was tasked with the launch of the Independent’s sister newspaper i in 2010, spoke to The Drum to offer his view of the marketing and PR strategy used by News International to launch this first Sunday edition of The Sun. We were quite curious about their [News International’s] strategy. We are the only other people who have any experience of launching a nation newspaper in the last 25 years. When we launched i, the strategy was to generate blanket coverage. When you are launching a newspaper these days, you are entering the client market and most people will want to write it off as a failure and prove that the industry is in terminal decline. One of the objectives was to prove very quickly that it had been an instant success and not through cannibalising other titles, but by growing the category. They [News International] had to prove that they could pick up those million-or-so readers who had just left the category, as well as hopefully gaining some of the marketshare that The Star on Sunday and The Sunday Mirror had picked up and then held from them. They needed to make sure they hit those numbers, but at the same time, and this is more evident, they had to take a straight bat, and a non-News International approach, with not shouting too loudly and being a little bit more humble as the Levinson Enquiry continues. They straddled a fine line between being as inoffensive as possible and looking to work through their circulation distribution teams than their marketing teams. Their senior executives and editorial staff were certainly conspicuous by their absence. If you were going hell for leather, you’d expect more of them to be on TV and be commenting, and there was none of that. It was clearly a very softly softly approach and they were clearly hoping that The Sun’s brand would be enough to get people talking about it and capitalise on those. Probably the pricing was one of the key factors which would have off-set quite a low-key marketing programme, and made it pretty compelling in itself, allowing them to market less aggressively than they would have done before. The splash with Amanda Holden was certainly part of the mission statement to seem to be a female focused, family friendly title. The type of journalism that the News of the World was known for has perhaps gone away permanently now. Rupert Murdoch has reinvented newspaper many times and I have no doubt for a minute that they will find a way of having a high selling, highly popular Sunday that can do it through the lens of more positive stories. Their columnists were an interesting choice. Katy Price was clearly a nod to regaining some of the Express Group readers that they may have lost, while Nancy Dell'Olio was less female friendly and perhaps there to attract the older males. The launch probably did benefit through the peaking of interest within a short time but I don’t think that it suited marketing. It almost felt like a soft launch to me. As to what they do to maintain interest in the second edition - that is the question. They’ve done what they need to do to get the product out there with minimum criticism. A lot of people would have been interested in picking it up, it’s universally been regarded as bland, and they’re going to have quite a balancing act in getting people a little more excited about the content for next week while at the same time, being very clear not to do anything that might tar the brush of News International. My guess is they’d have to pick up some extraordinary celebrity exclusives, and this Amanda Holden thing will continue and maybe grow momentum with other celebrities, but along more of a Hello or OK! feel to them. In time you may actually see The Sun on Sunday feature more celebrity weekly stories which are usually more positive. It might be interesting to see them begin to pick up celebrity wedding stories, and they are positioned a lot better for it over a weekend. That might be the territory they go into, but they’ll certainly need to provide more compelling reasons for people to buy.