Newspapers Suffer from Marketing Myopia Online

    by G. Patton Hughes
    May 11, 2008

    I’ve attended a few conferences and it appears to me that most folks in journalism hate advertising. Maybe that comes from seeing the last eight inches of their story end up on the composing room floor to make room for another two column by four-inch ad or just distrust of business. I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

    Regardless, it would seem some journalistic purists are using the current situation to seek wholly different business forms to fund journalism in general. While the national practice of the craft has been benefited by foundations, the idea that anything approaching hyperlocal can be funded by charitable donation alone is a pipe dream.

    To me this is not a battle of nefarious forces of good and evil but rather a clear cut business reality. It is clear to me that the current crisis in journalism is based on an expanding supply of advertising opportunities that are proving both intriguing and competitive to business. As advertisers seek out those alternatives, they’ve withdrawn support from traditional newspapers.


    The specific reasons businesses are abandoning newspapers and print are myriad but I do think those in the newspaper business … and other traditional geo-based media … are in a real way forgetting they are in a service business. The core of that business is communication to consumers and the means of that communication – Internet, print, broadcast, cable, point of purchase or outdoor is secondary. Advertisers pay, not for space in a newspaper or spots on a TV station, but for timely and efficient communication to the public. Advertisers are motivated in large part by reach and frequency.

    The reason newspapers and other news media have traditionally had the support of advertisers is because news media provide reach.

    To me it is unthinkable that those in the forth estate would even consider abandoning advertising as key source of revenue. The social and political life of every community is so closely intertwined with commerce that it is silly to consider eliminating paid placement of commercial comment.


    When I walk into a local grocer, the Atlanta Journal Constitution display of Sunday newspapers advertises the aggregate dollar value of the grocery store coupons contained in that edition. Commercial comment is news.

    What is at issue is competitiveness and what it takes to compete on what promises to be the premier communication utility – the Internet.

    One of the advantages I’ve had in establishing my effort in Paulding Georgia is the fact that the local media were universally complacent of my efforts. In addition, because of my timing, the community has come to identify Paulding.com as their place on the Internet.

    I’ve been hyped by computers and media since the days of MS-DOS but when I look around I see that newspapers in general (with many specific exceptions) are either clueless, complacent or even negative in their attitude toward the Net.

    What is the source of this institutional complacency? Is it an endemic bureaucratic mindset established over decades of institutional arrogance or is it something else?

    As I suspect most reading this come from the editorial side so I’ll be generous and suggest there just isn’t much spare time available for thinking out of the box as those in the business struggle with the next daily deadline. Is it that focus on the product actually a box that traps the industry in to failing to grasp the net or is it marketing myopia?

    The mindset that the business is the product pretty much exists in every business and is legend in the business school education.

    While it is almost trite to say the Internet is a game-changer; the fact is it offers a digital sister to ever analog medium from radio to direct mail. This makes the Internet the medium of mediums (and my favorite). That belief (opinion, understanding) is what informs my perspective of my little hyperlocal mediums’ place in the scheme of things.

    Adding an Online Video Show

    So, when I saw studies that show folks trust local TV news more than they do print journalism, I chose to create a weekly news video program modeled after a typical local market TV news show. The belief is that this production will benefit the site by increasing its credibility with the viewers more than if I were to make it more ‘newspaper like’ in appearance.

    The choice to produce news on the TV news model was a conscious decision based in part on fending off potential competitors but the main strategic reason was to better serve the county’s largest advertisers who already produce video commercials for CATV distribution. This “TV” news program is a reach vehicle for these advertisers as the AT&T’s package deal bundling phone, DSL and the dish leaves a substantial gap in the cable system’s reach.

    This new ‘product’ … video commercials inserted into locally produced programming distributed via the Internet … is actually a service paulding.com provides to give large advertisers a compelling reason to spend money with pcom.

    I am also creating are other products including a new business directory and neighborhood forums designed to enhance the service of the site to its commercial supporters. Their success is my success.

    These new products are all proving synergistic and remunerative as we are increasing the number of business members on the site at the rate of at four or five per week buying in out of the blue. At least half of those purchasing business memberships also purchase banner advertisements.

    Adding to this is that the site is cataloged on the search engines. This means that our competitiveness extends to Internet competitors like adwords. Search the string – west metro meat market – on Google and then read the topic that comes up (probably first) on pcom. Ask yourself if that word of mouth advertising is not absolutely priceless.

    We are competing in this medium and business has never been better. Had I perceived my effort as just a ‘message board’ or even an online news outlet with ancillary social network; I’d not have been looking at the Net as the communication tool it is and missed these opportunities to better serve our local advertisers.

    Let me close with that classic question posed in Harvard Business Review observation in their article about Marketing Myopia.

    What business are you really in? A seemingly obvious question—but one we should all ask before demand for our companies’ products or services dwindles.

    The railroads failed to ask this same question—and stopped growing. Why? Not because people no longer needed transportation. And not because other innovations (cars, airplanes) filled transportation needs. Rather, railroads stopped growing because railroads didn’t move to fill those needs. Their executives incorrectly thought that they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business. They viewed themselves as providing a product instead of serving customers. Too many other industries make the same mistake—putting themselves at risk of obsolescence.

    I would suggest that in aggregate, newspapers are suffering from marketing myopia … They see the Internet as something separate from their core business when in fact, it just another new tool like the typewriter or digital camera … except better. Making it even better by enhancing the economic, and by extension the political and social life of your local community is the business and the Internet is the tool of choice.

    Tagged: best practices internet marketing myopia newspapers

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