FRANCE, ITALY, SPAIN: The Newspaper Tradition

Spain and Italy's newspapers may have suffered in the economic downturn, but they have fought back by extending their brands. Stefania Medetti finds out how.

SPAIN

It's all there in the titles. El Pais means "the country"; El Mundo means "the world". A clearer statement of the ambitions of Spain's top news dailies would be hard to come by.

El Mundo stormed on to the Spanish media scene in 1989 amid a hail of protest at corruption in the ruling left-wing government. It quickly posed serious competition to the country's leading news title, El Pais, which itself had unseated the conservative ABC after being launched in the 70s.

Then, just as El Mundo had achieved a comfortable second place in the news daily rankings (the biggest-selling paper in Spain is actually a sports title, Marca), along comes an economic crisis.

The whole of the Spanish press has been badly hit by the market downturn, principally because TV and radio - which are "basically selling air" as El Mundo's marketing director, Pedro Iglesias, puts it - have been able to cut their margins in a way the papers cannot.

But while El Pais has been able to fortify its leadership position so it remains "the newspaper of reference in Spain", according to its marketing director, Miguel Pereira, El Mundo's growth has stalled. Last year's circulation was more than 12,000 copies a week below 2001.

One of the problems for the paper is that apart from its younger audience profile and regional strength in areas such as Madrid and the Basque country, there is not much for advertisers to choose from between the two titles.

Many simply opt for El Pais because it has the higher circulation.

El Mundo's response has been to launch a daily supplement, M2, for its Madrid readers and tempt advertisers with a range of rule-breaking ad formats and commercial deals.

The winners in this are the advertisers who, according to Jose Manuel Folgado, Media Planning Group's director of press buying, are generally unaffected by the difference between El Mundo's right-wing, sensationalist editorial and the more sober, left-wing El Pais.

Both papers claim to have increased the number of advertisers they carried in the last year, but won't give details.

Certainly, big brands - car makers, the department store El Corte Ingles, the national phone company Telefonica - have remained loyal to the medium.

So have alcoholic drinks companies, but they have no choice because the law largely bars them from advertising on TV.

In this difficult market, El Mundo has, for the time being, given up any plans for global domination. "We're the second newspaper in Spain and we're keen to consolidate that position," Iglesias says.

Nevertheless, he adds, there is at least one area in which his title can claim supremacy over its rival. A credit to its reputation as the country's youngest, most modern paper, El Mundo's website is the number one news portal in the whole of the Spanish-speaking world.

ITALY

Despite hard times, the Italian press is in constant evolution. Newspapers and magazines are widening their borders, geographically and in terms of the topics they cover. In the past year, to compete with a general economic weakness, a drastic reduction in adspend and the traditional laziness of Italian readers, newspapers have introduced new regional backs and offered a wide range of covermounts, from books to CDs, videos and comic strips.

Editors show great imagination in brand extensions, although rivals tend to cover the same areas. Both Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, for instance, launched a collection of books, and both increased their circulations.

In the latest survey in April, these two national newspapers saw their circulations grow: La Repubblica went up by 0.8 per cent to 619,873 copies and Corriere della Sera went up by 1.4 per cent to 671,000. Il Sole 24 Ore, which focuses on economic issues, went up 0.3 per cent to 376,963.

Turin-based La Stampa lost 1 per cent at 382,000, and the sport-focused newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport registered a circulation of 388,000, up 0.3 per cent.

Geographic differences in circulation are a peculiarity of the country, with 132 copies of newspapers going to every 1,000 inhabitants in the north, compared with just 60 in the south.

"Readers of newspapers are mainly men," Guido Surci, the strategic planning director at Mediaedge:cia, comments. "They are in the middle age range and of mid to high status. Newspapers are therefore the ideal medium for the automotive and finance sectors. Other sectors, such as distribution, use newspapers, but in this case, planning is local."

The latter is the only sector that, in 2002, recorded an increase in spending, from 94.3 million to 97 million euros. The automotive sector went down to 201 million euros, from 204.6 million in 2001.

The main spender was Fiat at almost 80 million, followed - distantly - by Ford with 21 million and Renault with 16.3 million. Telecom Italia, the top telecommunication spender, came in at 15.7 million, followed by Vodafone with 14.7 million. In past years, print advertising has been suffering against TV which, in order to maintain its share, has offered more tempting deals and has gathered 54 per cent of advertising spend.

Publishing companies are paying a great deal of attention to cost control and widening their range of operations. To boost profitability, Hdp, which owns Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport, is undergoing a strategic re-arrangement and becoming Rcs MediaGroup.

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