Newspapers finally living up to digital first aspirations

Almost all newspaper brands have been bullish in the last couple of years that they really are “digital first” as their reporters break news online and work less around the daily print cycle. But until recently, the way most publishers worked with brands was far from 21st century.

Lara O'Reilly

Despite the death knell having been tolled for some years over print – just this week it emerged that Google’s advertising revenue alone surpassed the whole US newspaper and magazine industry in the first six months of 2012 – newspaper ad sales have still been geared around quarter, half and full pages or replications of this on websites.

All the journalistic expertise and the reader love towards newspaper brands appears to have been cast aside as the industry forces ads in the square-shaped slots – which are arguably rarely appreciated by the reader.

Fortunately newspaper brands, under the cosh of job cuts and under threat from new digital media owners, are now fine-tuning their resources to make the most of their in-house talent to boost their ad revenues – particularly online and on mobile.

The Guardian is now shaping its sales organisation to sell ad packages across media, rather than having different siloed teams to sell separate placements for print, desktop, mobile and tablet.
For brand’s most engaged readers – its “progressives” – the new ad model could soon mean that rather than seeing the same advert replicated as they read the paper in the morning and their tablet in the evening, different creative from the same brand will be served that is relevant to their device or time of day.

And rather than simply selling placements on its mobile app or page 7 in the newspaper (although for the time-being it will still offer this), media agencies and advertisers can buy their space across audience segments such as age or socio-economic groups. They can also set the Guardian briefs beyond “stick me in the lifestyle section” and task the paper to make them more relevant to a certain segment of an audience using the best of its journalistic understanding and expertise (obviously at a higher cost than your standard display ad).

Elsewhere, free urban newspaper brand Metro revealed this week it is experimenting with new ad formats such as mobile payments and full-page interstitials between swipes on its new website as it looks to boost the utility of the ads it presents its readers.

The choice not to adopt this kind of model sooner may have been what was and still is holding back newspaper publishers from serving their brand partners better.

Newspaper brands are starting to realise that being digital first doesn’t just mean tweeting from a riot or running a live video stream of Obama’s inauguration speech – the mantra should also apply to the way they work with brands.

And when it comes to assessing the success of these new campaigns, they are wising up to the idea that media value with newspaper brands shouldn’t be defined by column inches. The language of ROI should be the same as on other platforms rather than attempting to fly a lone flag for bygone era.

At a time when consumers aren’t prepared to pay for content, it is more necessary than ever that newspaper brands ensure they are best serving the needs of what could soon be their only source of revenue: digital advertisers.

Being digital first means being nimble, quick to adapt and ready to experiment to offer brands the best possible value to engage with their desired audience. Newspaper brands are better placed than most other media owners to truly live up to this mantra with their dedicated audiences, years of archives and teams of experts. It’s a shame some publishers are still too stuck in their old ways to come around to realising this quite yet.


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