Baiting the market
Mark Hollinshead shares his views on why print media will last
Not too long ago, you pretty much knew where you stood with the Daily Record. The straight talking tabloid did exactly what it said on the tin, and its recipe of colourful people-based news and no nonsense sport and politics saw it hold its place as the leading daily tabloid in Scotland, with a loyal readership that the London Evening Standard, and the tartanised national dailies would give their print rollers for.
The shape and feel of the Record has evolved though. Glasgow and Edinburgh free PM editions suddenly appeared, elbowing their way into the turf of the Edinburgh Evening News and Glasgow’s Evening Times. The Record’s website recently began running news and showbiz video bulletins, and last year the publishers, Trinity-Mirror, launched the weekly Business 7 freesheet, a specialist business news title aimed at filling the gap left by the defunct Business AM. The move echoes the launch of Crain’s Manchester Business, and exemplifies the seemingly scattergun expansion of the Record group’s output.
The Business 7 website can now be read as a fully interactive e-zine with zoom-in page turning technology, and its website boasts a perpetual virtual newsreader providing rolling updates using voice software and animation that has more charm, and a degree of spookiness, that won’t be found on any news ticker.
All of this could be seen as a dilution of the Record’s core product, but managing director Mark Hollinshead claims the opposite, and that by expanding the reach and delivery options, the Record is simply finding new ways to give their readers what they want. But is all this innovation working where it needs to, in the bottom line? Not yet, says Hollinshead. But he thinks it is the way forward.
“We’re looking at experimenting with Business 7. It is now our first lean, multi-platform publication,” he says.
“If you are a traditional newspaper reader, who likes the portability, intimacy and the ability to cross-refer and check back on a newspaper, we can deliver that. If you are a grazer, who has no particular loyalty online to any particular brand, the business7.co.uk website is there for you to dig into. You can have deeper, richer content, high level interactivity, we’ve got the business TV channel on there, we’ve now got the virtual newsreader.
“For those halfway between who like the newspaper format, and like it delivered on time, we can deliver the digital e-zine direct to your laptop or PC. It’s multi-platform, catering for all consumer needs, and the different types of audiences it creates.
“As we reach a larger audience we will be able to generate more significant ad revenue. Online gives us the ability to use flash media more creatively, so we are exploring new ways of delivering audience to advertisers, from that point of view it is a great new development.”
Hollinshead says that the strategy is already showing signs of paying off, following a period of market testing which showed the online product to the agencies and advertisers for their feedback, which he says has been tremendous.
“We already have our Daily Record advertising supplement in exactly the same e-zine format which you can access through the Daily Record website. It already has video content, feedback through the forums and is a lot more developed. The Business 7 opportunity gives us greater leeway in the short term to experiment with a less risky model. We can test on a smaller scale and very quickly transport what works into the Daily Record or Sunday Mail arena.”
“We have a clear, well developed long-term strategy, which is to develop content online which we can market effectively to generate an audience, which will appeal to a certain category of advertisers. The publishing strategy online is pretty similar to what we have in print, and they will work together in a complimentary manner.”
The Daily Record as an online proposition does not at first seem to be a natural fit for the paper’s core readership, and The Drum put it to Hollinshead that, in a period where newspaper circulation is in long term decline, the Record and its Sunday sister should perhaps be focusing on its core print offering, rather than diversifying into evening, business and online splinters.
Intensity of planning
“The absolute focus is on protecting the future health of our print product. We are very optimistic about the future there. The intensity of planning and the creativity that goes into our digital development plan is certainly – in equal measure – applied to our core business,” he says.
“The digital world is still pretty much the wild west; no one can predict what the future is going to be like. Hence, with a multitude of different technologies coming into play daily, you have to develop, test and experiment to find out how far this is going to impact your business moving forward, which is what we are doing with the Business 7.
“We are in a rapidly changing media landscape and have to constantly evaluate new ideas and new ways of layering and segmenting our marketplace. The PM’s objective was to extend the geographic and audience reach of the Daily Record, using the free publishing phenomenon prevalent in Europe but which is still immature in the UK. We aren’t spreading ourselves thinly, we are evaluating complimentary, parallel media propositions, that will hopefully enhance the core brand. With PM we are starting to achieve that.”
Hollinshead’s approach exemplifies his views on the inevitability of media convergence, and the necessary multi-platforming that he believes is required to sustain and grow his audience. Maintaining the core proposition is something he believes he is achieving by diversifying.
“You cannot be blinkered and look at a single product proposition for the audience you have traditionally held. The media landscape has dramatically changed,” he says.
“The free newspaper proposition has been billed as a transitional medium to bring the Metro-type reader back into paid for newspapers, and that is what we are planning to do, rather than ignore them forever and treating them as the lost readership in Newspaperland.
“If you have that view, you are on the road to oblivion. You have to identify who you want to reach, and how you want to reach them. Use the brand that you have got to bring them to your paper.
“In media, innovation has to be at the heart of what we do. You have to stick your neck out now and again and take a risk. If you haven’t failed a few times, you are not really prepared for what the future is going to confront you with.
“We take measured risk, trial and experiment, and the good ideas that work on a small scale, we can elevate to our bigger brands.”
The strategy may be a measured risk. It requires investment to trial and experiment ideas that work on a small scale with the aim of elevating them to bigger brands. Hollinshead says ideas are the lifeblood of the industry, and publishers with only a single product proposition and platform, who have all their eggs in one basket may find that by applying the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, that their product goes rusty anyway.