Times Media’s sales and marketing director Katie Vanneck is overhauling the company’s marketing division and switching its emphasis away from promotions to retaining loyal readers (MW last week). It is a strategy that has been met with a mixture of approval and scepticism by the newspaper industry.
Most media buyers approve because they have long-championed the move away from promotions or giveaways that only lift circulation in the short term. But critics have questioned the long-term viability of the move in a newspaper market where buying habits are heavily swayed by the latest DVD giveaway.
As Ian Richmond, head of press at Initiative, says/ “The key is to build brand loyalty which is very difficult because people are promiscuous.” Times Media will be quick to “revert to promotions”, he argues, if the change leads to a drop in circulation.
Leaving promotions behind
Vanneck, who took over the combined sales and marketing role in July this year after defecting from the Telegraph Media Group, moved away from promotions at the Telegraph but still managed to lift subscriptions levels and the retention rate of readers.
But despite her plans to move away from promotions, Vanneck has just launched an Ancient Egyptian DVD giveaway across the Times’ brands. She says: “Promotions are very effective at driving spikes in circulation and traffic and certainly have their place within the marketing mix.
“But there tends to be an over-reliance on these spikes which we would like to move away from so that we can concentrate on forging longer-term marketing partnerships that are much more successful for the brands, our customers and our commercial partners and advertisers.”
Investments paying off
The Times newspaper brands may be loss-making but media buyers believe they have performed well recently in a depressed market, bolstered by significant investment by parent company News Corporation.
Adrian Pike, press associate director at MediaCom, says: “The Times has moved on an awful lot in the last couple of years. It has made huge investments in its print facilities and the Times Online is getting better.”
Times Online is the third most popular UK newspaper website, with nearly 12.5 million unique visitors, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic (ABCe), although it suffered a slight drop in October.
Although more than 60% of its traffic comes from overseas, Times Online is growing fast, recording a 20% increase in traffic in September, following its £10m relaunch earlier this year.
It is also likely to attract further traffic following the expected launch of Times Archive, which dates back to 1785, next year.
Its newspapers, meanwhile – like rival quality titles – continue to lose readers, but observers say they represent a “great environment” for advertisers, particularly where The Sunday Times’ magazine portfolio is concerned.
The Times, which at 70p is cheaper than its three main rivals, had an average circulation of 642,895 in October – down 2% on the previous year – while The Sunday Times’ circulation fell 1% year on year to 1,274,400.
With the recently launched upmarket quarterly supplement Luxx – which has been well-received by media buyers – as well as further investment in Times Online and a new-look marketing department, Times Media looks better prepared than some in the ever-changing and highly competitive national newspaper market.