Media Focus Group
Tanya Alonzi of Mediaedge: CIA and Keith Crane of Crane Communications. Celia McCann of Market Research UK. Lynn Garvey of Faulds, McCann, Clive Beckler of Feather Brooksbank, Alonzi, Crane, Garvey and Beckler.In this session we explore media buyers' perceptions of the way in which the Scotsman has changed in the last couple of years, whether The Scotsman Publications Ltd is now in a clearer position to move forward and what the future might hold.
Taking part in this discussion were Tania Alonzi (Mediaedge: CIA), Keith Crane (Crane Communications), Clive Backler (Feather Brooksbank), Lyn Garvey (Faulds Media), with Celia McCann (Market Research UK) moderating and reporting.
The article reflects the views and opinions of the media buyers present and not necessarily that of media owners or others.
There were a number of issues surrounding The Scotsman Publications Ltd that were perceived to have historically, and also more recently, affected the paper's capacity to optimise its potential success.
One view was that Scotsman Publications Group has not managed to consistently devote the required attention and focus to each of its three titles - the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News - resulting in fluctuating circulation levels. The re-branding of the Evening News, for example, corresponded with an increase in sales, which subsequently dropped again when the management focus moved to the Scotsman. In line with this was the view that the publication's leading brand had been left unattended for too long.
Acknowledgment was also given to the comparatively limited financial resources of Scotsman Publications, relative to a number of its national counterparts such as News International, who have much 'deeper pockets' and are therefore more able to sustain the impact of changes over time. Potentially, another weakness of Scotsman Publications is that perhaps operating solely in publishing poses more difficulties than for those companies enjoying the benefits of a range of media strengths. SMG, for example, also enjoys the benefits of revenues from cinema, broadcasting and radio.
Critically, neither the Edinburgh Evening News nor the Scotsman were perceived to have capitalised on the inauguration of the new Scottish Parliament in order to create a product that politically and culturally could become part of the fabric of life throughout Scotland. This was considered by some to have been a missed opportunity.
In part this was attributed to the paper's perceived ambiguous position with regard to its news coverage. Specifically, the question was raised as to whether the Scotsman should be positioning itself as Scotland's national newspaper covering international news for the Scottish people, or whether it should be focused solely on Scottish news. Views on the likely success of adopting either of these approaches were mixed.
On the one hand, adopting a more 'Scottish' focus could be deemed to be too parochial and thus potentially could alienate some of its readers. Strong competition in the national newspaper arena, on the other hand, could prove too strong for The Scotsman Group.
Against this backdrop also lies the age-old East Coast versus West Coast battle with the Herald for the undisputed position of 'Scotland's national paper'. There is a fairly strong consensus that the pursuit of this position is not particularly constructive because it would be almost impossible to make any substantial impact on the papers' respective core audiences. There was even some suggestion that the ongoing battle between Herald and Scotsman is diverting attention from a bigger (and growing) problem: the threat of the 'marauding' English titles.
The year 2000 marked a number of fundamental changes to the structure of the Scotsman, namely, the introduction of S2, a separate business section, and the property section. These media buyers viewed those changes positively. It would also be true to say that the Scotsman is very much viewed as a quality product, overall.
The management's decision to adopt a price reduction policy, however, was universally deemed to have been inappropriate. Whilst this policy was not seen to have had a negative impact on existing readers, neither was it seen to have resulted in any long-term benefits. This was based on two key reasons: although the price decrease increased circulation in the short term, this was not matched by a substantive/attractive enough change in product offering to retain any of the new readers in the longer term; whilst price-cutting may have increased sales circulation, advertisers and/or media buyers have more of an interest in readership levels and growth.
Along with the acknowledgement of a quality product there was recognition that the Scotsman is a strong brand. Values mentioned included traditional, quality, with strong associations with Edinburgh and good political coverage. Furthermore, these attributes are not seen to have deteriorated or weakened over time.
There was a consensus that there is a need perhaps to remind consumers of these values, and perhaps reinforce the values in consumers' minds, through advertising (both above- and below-the-line). Alternative formats were also deemed to be worth considering. For example, more effective marketing use of the website, e-mail and business updates.
There were two other consistent recurring themes throughout the discussion, namely, the need to focus on a more tightly defined group of consumers and to extend this across not just standard demographics but also lifestyle, and the need to have a clearer position in respect of what it is aiming to deliver, that is, international/national/
With regard to the former, there was a view that, potentially, if the recommendation was to concentrate on the East Coast, then in theory there could be an opportunity to promote The Scotsman Publications within its core heartland via the micro-regions available through STV.
So what does the future hold for the Scotsman? It was clear that it is not the only newspaper facing challenges. An increasingly competitive marketplace, changes in the way news is delivered and consumed, all highlight that publishers cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
Whilst the importance of responding to and meeting audience needs is recognised as imperative, there was a fairly strong indication that the newspaper also needs to consider its current approach to responding to the different industry players. There was some suggestion that the Scotsman team need to be out speaking with the agencies and media buyers.
A question was raised with these media buyers on their impressions of Andrew Neil and his perceived role and impact on The Scotsman Publications. Viewed as the key influencer behind the relaunch in 2000 and the perceived failed pricing strategy, he is considered to have tried to mirror what was achieved with The Times in London. His reputation appears to extend beyond that of the Scotsman, attributed with being a national figure with expertise in both journalism and broadcasting.
However, it is the editor who appeared to be considered as the important figurehead for a newspaper publication. Alan Roughbridge of the Guardian was cited as being an editor who is known and strongly associated with his paper. Similarly, Andrew Jaspin, previous editor of Scotland on Sunday, was described as commercial and someone who 'got out and about' and talked with people on the agency side. Given this perceived importance of the role of editor, it is perhaps of concern that the most recently appointed editor of the Scotsman has not been highly visible. Indeed, although there was mention that he is one of the youngest editors ever to be appointed, of these media buyers no-one knew his name!
Finally, the question was put to these media buyers - is the Scotsman an attractive proposition to advertisers? The answer - yes, at the right price.