How newspapers can convince advertisers to return to print

Can print reverse a long-term decline in ad revenues or have marketers moved on?

Perhaps you could blame the dozens of devices consumers now carry in their pockets. Or maybe paper is just too outdated for the delicate hands of a millennial. One thing Is for certain: marketers are not getting as excited by newspapers as they used to.

Last year, print ad spend fell 11% to £1.22bn for the UK’s national newspaper industry, according to the latest expenditure report by Ad Association/WARC. A sharp contrast to the 2.5% growth the nationals secured from digital ad revenues and internet ad spend’s 17.3% rise to £8.6bn.

The UK’s most prolific print advertiser in 2015 was BSkyB, which invested £47.7m, according to Nielsen. However, this was a 15.9% fall compared with 2014 and a 22.4% slump from the £61.5m it pumped into print advertising in 2013.

Sky is not the only major brand moving away from print. Since 2008, the country’s biggest supermarket Tesco has gone from highs of £61.6m (in 2010) to investing just £25.1m in print advertising last year. And traditionally newspaper-heavy sectors such as cars and B2B – with the latter often relying on recruitment ads – also both appear to be abandoning ship.

For the period 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, automotive brands dropped their ad spend in UK newspapers by 24.2% year-on-year to £104.8m, with only government and politics (-32.2%), office equipment and stationery (-35.7%) and business and industrial (-31%) recording steeper falls.

In fact, at the halfway point of 2016, the UK’s top 10 print advertisers had invested just £127.2m in the channel. And while Brexit was good news for newspapers in terms of readership numbers, it has raised concerns over marketers’ spending habits. Subsequently, it would probably take a minor miracle for newspaper ad revenues to match the £457.9m highs seen back in 2010.

“We’re in a hugely volatile moment and it has felt at times like print is just about hanging on,” admits Richard Furness, director of publishing at The Guardian. “But things are moving to a good place and I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t see a long-term future.”

Read more: Keeping marketers tuned into radio

Confidence in print

Furness’s encouragement is partly because the decline in ad revenues for national newspapers is projected to almost halve (to a 5.9% decline) in 2016 and  slow even further to only a 3.4% decline by 2017, according to Ad Association/WARC.

The Guardian now has, on average, 160,000 readers during the week, 300,000 for its Saturday edition and 200,000 for its Sunday edition. Up to 1.5 million people, meanwhile, still “actively consider” buying The Guardian on the weekend.

“These are the numbers I am confident about,” he says. “All of our research shows that this core audience is turning to print for a long-term escape away from the never-ending madness of digital and 140 characters. People are returning to print much like the vinyl effect – they know we can provide something more authentic and well-rounded when it comes to big news such as Bowie passing or Brexit – and brands are waking up to that reality too.”

The Guardian is confident its current circulation can be profitable while Archant’s The New European is pushing a new pop-up model

Chris Duncan, chief customer officer at News UK, is very much in agreement with his rival. “A news story on Facebook typically peaks at around 60,000 readers,” he adds. “But 4.5 million people picked up The Sun to read about Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister so you would be a fool to write us off just yet.”

Duncan could have a point, with recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the independent body that verifies newspaper sales data, showing a much-needed surge.

The Times posted a 15% rise in print sales in June – boosted by the EU referendum result – compared with the same period last year. The Guardian, meanwhile, increased its average daily sales by 3.6% in June compared with May, while the FT improved its average daily sales by 0.49% over the same period.

At the other end of the market, The Sun was up 2.6% month-on-month, with The Daily Mirror the only daily national title to post a decline as its sales dropped 1.02% in June compared with May. “When there’s a big story, people are still turning to a newspaper for the definitive coverage,” explains Duncan.

“Digital delirium” hitting newspapers

Rufus Olins, CEO at Newsworks, says marketers are suffering from what Marketing Week’s columnist Mark Ritson has described as “digital delirium”. Subsequently, he claims marketers are returning to print in big numbers.

A recent study by Newsworks claimed that adding print newspapers to a multichannel marketing campaign can boost return on investment threefold. According to the study, which was conducted by Benchmarketing and looked into 500 econometric marketing models built over the past five years, newspapers make TV campaigns twice as effective and online display four times more effective.

“There is growing evidence that the pendulum has swung too far,” adds Olins.“There is an increasing amount of scepticism – at both client and agency level – about the investments that they have made and a recognition they are not delivering ROI. This island has a richer newspaper habit than just about anywhere else in the world, with 47 million people reading them in one form or another.

“You’re going to see the ad revenue decline stabilise over the coming years and brands start to realise how powerful newspapers can still be.”

Rufus Olins, CEO, Newsworks

In particular, Olins singles out Lidl as one of the brands that has benefitted most from backing print over recent years and one that can create a “ripple effect”.

Newspapers have certainly played a major role in the German discounter’s journey huge increases in market share over the past few years, admits Lidl’s head of media Sam Gaunt. “Print media allows us to reach large groups of shoppers at key points in time, with formats that deliver standout and which communicate our messages effectively,” he says. “It also allows us to be culturally relevant to what’s going on in our customers’ lives, nationally and regionally, across the year.”

Print can also, at times, provide more value and less distractions than digital. Gaunt explains: “Digital advertising has unique strengths and is an important part of our media mix but these strengths can come at a premium and it needs to be used judiciously. Digital needs to be interrogated just like any other medium and, for certain communications tasks, print still holds it’s own: for communicating a simple message to a broad, mass audience print can reach a lot of people with effective formats at comparatively low cost.

He clarifies: “People may spend more time with other media but time spent with print is quality time, where people are less likely to be distracted, and that offers powerful communication opportunities.”

Experimenting with new models

One of the main ways newspapers are winning back advertisers is by experimenting with new ad formats.

At The Guardian, Furness says its new ‘barndoor format’ – essentially a gatefold on the front page – has created a real buzz and has already been adopted by brands such as Heineken, which have been vocal about prioritising digital ad spend over traditional in recent years.

At News UK, meanwhile, Duncan recently debuted a bluntly titled new format for The Sun and The Times. “We recently debuted the biggest fucking print ad ever, a format that allows you to expand the format of The Sun to be a six-sheet poster. It will be huge for us and allows brands to be incredibly impactful around huge events like Andy Murray winning Wimbledon.”

One of the formats the print edition of The Sun offers to advertisers

Newspapers are also taking some queues from digital – taking on risk by launching new products that are allowed to fail fast. In the case of Trinity Mirror’s The New Day and CN Group’s “newspaper for the north” 24 the bets did not pay off and the new publications were closed down.

But Archant’s The New European, a new national newspaper for the 48% of Britons who voted to remain in the EU, has just had its planned 4-week print run extended for the ‘foreseeable future’.

Archant has pledged to continue printing The New European after the pop-up paper “exceeded” sales targets. Will Hattam, chief marketing officer at Archant, says the new model can “revolutionise” the newspaper business.

“We see it as an opportunity to launch a publication that exists for a set period of time where there’s an extraordinary mood in the country and a real interest in the topic that crosses political lines. If you can exist while that mood exists, you have a hugely tuned in audience that will also be more tuned into brand messages.”

The bridge between paid and digital

In March, Waitrose raised a few eyebrows when it said print remained its “most effective” advertising channel.

However, four months on and it isn’t changing its stance. Waitrose’ ad manager Joanna Massey explains: “We do generally see a good NPROI for print advertising, which is why we continue to advertise in this medium.

“There is a role for print titles in this digital age but we like to think of news brands as a whole entity rather than just print when planning media, as readers access news brands in a number of different formats and on different devices.”

But for brands such as Waitrose to continue backing print, Alex Steer, head of technology, effectiveness and data at media agency Maxus, believes newspapers must become better at selling themselves.

At a recent Newsworks event, he urged delegates: “If you look at the big digital brands like Facebook, they are all investing millions in econometrics to prove their marketing effectiveness.

“The newspaper industry now needs to make an equal commitment to telling advertisers why it’s still one of their most important channels.”

Alex Steer, head of technology, effectiveness and data, Maxus

Since January 2016, research firm Lumen has used laptop-mounted eye tracking cameras on 300 consumers’ laptops to collect visual data on what they notice when they are online. And over this period the study, which was run in partnership with Nectar-owner Aimia, recorded 30,000 minutes of data, with evidence relating to around 15,000 digital ads.

It found that only 44% of digital display ads received any views at all. And, of those, only 9% of ads received more than a second’s worth of attention. Only 4% of ads, meanwhile, received more than two seconds of engagement.

In comparison, almost half (40%) of press ads were viewed for more than one second and a quarter of print were viewed for more than two seconds, nearly six times the rate of digital.

But even if the Lumen study proves consumers are still interested in print ads, The Guardian’s Furness says print brands must not get carried away. Digital advertising remains the UK’s single biggest advertising channel and is set to grow beyond £10bn by 2020, according to the IAB, and Furness says print must facilitate this shift.

He concludes: “Print newspapers are a bridge to our future. If in a couple of years that bridge has stronger foundations, then that’s job done but print is no longer the winning destination and never will be again. Where we have got it wrong as an industry in the past is we’ve continued competing with digital. We now have to accept that while print can still be healthy, it must work as a bridge to a very different future.”

Brand viewpoint

Andrew Mortimer, director of media, Sky

While Sky has grown advertising spend in online media, it certainly doesn’t signal the death of traditional media like television, outdoor and print. In fact, advances in data and technology have significantly enhanced the opportunities available in traditional media, as well as giving us a better understanding of true effectiveness of online advertising.

The data-led approach that has driven the success of Sky’s enhanced TV targeting on Sky AdSmart is being increasingly replicated by the news brands, particularly those with access to good customer data.  We are having an increasing number of conversations with publishers who can bring together editorial expertise, creativity, access to talent and an opportunity to personalise communication with our different consumer segments.


For the marketing team at Sky, there is no doubt that print remains a valuable advertising channel. To kick-off our recent campaign for Sky Cinema, we partnered with The Sun’s new film magazine launch Popcorn. We created an integrated editorial section called ‘Microwave Popcorn’ with features on upcoming movies, front cover branding, ads in the magazine and a takeover of The Sun Online’s dedicated film channel, all working together to communicate the benefits of Sky Cinema as the market-leading movie subscription service.

The contextual environment that print offers means that tactical advertising can deliver huge impact. To celebrate Team Sky winning the Tour de France for the fourth time, adverts this week appeared in relevant content in both print and iPad editions across a number of news brands. Magazines played a core part in the recent launch of Sky Q, allowing us to reach tech opinion formers with a range of messages to demonstrate the superiority of the new Sky Q service.

Print advertising remains a key channel to drive both long-term brand metrics and short-term sales effectiveness, consistently delivering a positive return on the significant investment Sky makes.


Print publications

Why print brands need to start selling the medium

Leonie Roderick

In an environment that is plagued by falling print sales and a move towards digital, it’s undoubtedly a tough time to be a publisher. News UK’s sales director Karin Seymour explains why print brands need to start shouting about the medium to survive.


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