Promoting Scottish Press
Say the words ‘Scottish’ ‘Newspaper’ and ‘Industry’ and the term ‘bitter rivalry’ will usually leap to mind. However the last year, and the last few months in particular, have revealed a very different side to the Scottish newspaper community.
With newspapers under constant and increasing threat from other forms of media, from multi-channel television to digital radio and, of course, the internet, the seven publishing companies that form the council of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society (SDNS) thought it was time to put aside their squabbles and have a show of solidarity. Seven heads, after all, are considerably better than one.
“I think anytime was the right time for it, the difference on this occasion was the willingness of the folk around the table to take part and work together,” says Steven Walker, president of the SDNS and managing director of Scotsman Publications. “We’re all like-minded individuals who passionately believe in the value of newspapers, and the thought was that it would be better if we joined forces. Rather than getting caught up in ‘my paper’s better than yours’, we would be marketing newspapers in general. We wanted to argue our case as a united front.”
The decision to work together on a joint campaign was taken over a year ago, after which research company Progressive was recruited to carry out an in-depth piece of research into Scotland’s attitudes towards newspapers.
Colin McClatchie, managing director of News International (Scotland and Ireland), recalls: “Two things came out of the research: One was that there’s been a feeling that newspapers are a declining market but if you look at the trends you’ll see that the sales are declining, but readership is bearing up quite well. It’s not necessarily an aversion to buying newspapers, it’s more about convenience.
“The other thing was that there’s goodwill and positive feeling about newspapers.”
After the research was completed the SDNS set about recruiting an advertising agency to promote their message. Four Scottish agencies were invited to pitch for the account, with Glasgow agency The Bridge emerging as the victor.
Walker states: “I think there was a clarity to what The Bridge were saying. There was a simplicity to it. They understood that this is not a complicated issue – that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand what newspapers can bring to your life.”
The campaign was to be a general promotion of newspapers, rather than focusing on a particular social or economic group.
“One of the things about creating something that appeals to a lot of different people is to appeal to the highest common factor, instead of the lowest common denominator,” says Brian Crook, managing director of The Bridge. “Rather than what they have in common, it’s about what they can all get out of it.”
The creative campaign aimed to push the benefits of reading newspapers and broke last month on poster sites and in the Scottish press, planned by media independent Feather Brooksbank.
Newsquest (Herald and Times) managing director Tim Blott remarks: “Even we were surprised when the ad agency came back and said that the most effective way to advertise would be to do it in our own publications. But they explained that the main target market wasn’t people that don’t read newspapers at all, but rather people who read them occasionally.”
It was one of the first questions asked when the campaign broke. Why would a campaign aimed at attracting readers be promoted largely in the papers themselves? The Progressive research, however, stated that only 10% of the Scottish population doesn’t buy a newspaper at all. Amongst the other 90% are a number of groups who do buy papers, but infrequently. These were the people that the SDNS needed to speak to.
Walker explains: “There’s two points to this – one is to reassure our existing readers, as well as advertisers and agencies, about the value of newspapers. The other is reminding people that don’t read as much as we’d like them to about the difference a newspaper can make, as well as those advertisers who have perhaps lapsed, or have been trying other media.”
This first campaign will run until the end of the year, after which the SDNS will decide how to move onto the next stage. Although, with the campaign still in full sway, it’s still to early to remark on its success, Blott states that the feedback thus far has been very positive.
He comments: “Early results are that the campaign is bringing about the focus on daily newspaper sales that we were hoping for. It’s a very big marketplace and newspaper publishers are a very important part of that market.
“I think in a lot of discussions about media, television, radio and the internet these media are seen as more sexy than newspapers, yet we bring more to the marketplace than any other media.”
This seems to be borne out, at least, amongst Scottish media buyers. Graeme Milne, managing director of Spirit Media, remarks: “I think it’s something that is needed, if not now then soon. There’s no time like the present. There’s a feeling of threat to newspapers from emerging media and to have got the first stage of the campaign together is quite progressive.
“They’ve produced the first stage of the campaign quite quickly and it’s good to see the media owners working together for the benefit of all of them.”
Milne is also keen to point out that the campaign has been well timed in terms of reassuring clients about the medium. He explains: “We still spend the thick-end of our clients’ budgets in press.
“I think there’s an understanding amongst clients about how fragmentation is impacting on television audiences but I haven’t heard a client ask ‘and how is this affecting press?’ so from that point of view I think it’s pre-empted that problem.”
“From our point of view we applaud the SDNS efforts to promote the position of the Scottish press,” says Ewan Gillies, operations director of Media Vision. “It’s quite unusual to see the various publishers working together, and it should be welcomed. It’s a very grown-up thing to do.”
However Gillies also has a criticism of the campaign to add. He goes on to say: “This initial step forward is an important one but was diluted by the lack of editorial input, though perhaps that will be something that will be involved in further stages of the campaign.”
There’s a great deal of interest in how the campaign will move forward, and whether or not the next phase will move from the current general approach to a more targeted strategy.
Milne says: “I think this research has already given us some interesting insights, but I think it will be interesting to see how the individual publishers put this information into use in their own marketing moving forward.
“The design development in the next stage is going to be crucial and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Crook, at The Bridge, believes that the campaign’s next stage could well take it to more highly-targeted audiences. “We are talking about quite a diverse market, but I think over the course of the campaign it will become more targeted,” he says. “In the first stage it was essential that we get the message out there, to as broad an audience as possible, but following further research we’ll be able to target individual groups more closely.
“The SDNS is not seeing this as a short-term thing – it’s a long-term engagement. They’ve identified that the world has moved on and they need to engage with their audiences.”
Walker, also, is keen to point out that there will be more to follow this current campaign. Now that Scotland’s publishers are combining their efforts, the SDNS is keen to keep them focused. “The key thing here is the newspaper groups working together,” he says. “And now we’re together we’ll be taking part in a number of different initiatives in the future.
“We’re a famous bunch for scratching each other’s eyes out. The thought of the Scotsman and The Herald sitting down and working out a way to raise both our profiles would have been unheard of 15 years ago.
“But we’re a lot stronger as a combined force than as individuals.”