Do newspapers need to do more to market themselves generically? Would
that help to make inflation - forecast to reach double figures soon -
more palatable? And anyway, why isn’t the Newspaper Publishers
Association already on the case? Does the newspaper business need a new
The Radio Advertising Bureau is rapidly becoming the caped crusader of
the whole media business. Whenever a particular sector hits trouble,
someone, somewhere will invoke the RAB. It’s not that they actually
expect the RAB to fly to the rescue, of course - it’s just that they
wished they had their own version.
Last week, the sector in question was the national newspaper business -
and the fact that it is running into difficulties is becoming apparent.
Inflation in the newspaper market is set to reach 10 per cent year on
year and there have been problems in the availability of run-of-page
Advertisers and agencies are not best pleased. Last week, CIA
Medianetwork published a list of recommendations on action that
publishers can take to ease the inflation problem. CIA believes that
publishers should give preferential treatment to long-standing clients,
be more sophisticated when it comes to research and, of course, set up
their own version of the RAB.
There is a certain irony in this - the RAB’s effectiveness has helped
radio to take a steadily growing share of national advertising revenue.
And where has most of this share come from? Correct - national
But hang on. Doesn’t the newspaper industry already have its own RAB?
Isn’t it called the Newspaper Publishers Association?
Perhaps not. The last generic campaign organised by the NPA was, to say
the least, controversial. Back in 1991, it began running a series of
press ads attacking the merits of TV as an advertising medium - a
disingenuous strategy given that most newspapers are heavy users of TV.
But perhaps the NPA should at least take credit for getting the
publishers to agree to any sort of joint activity whatsoever.
Now there are signs that the newspaper groups are waking up to the need
for a fresh approach to generic marketing. What should they do, and will
that mean the creation of a new RAB-like organisation?
Richard Britton, the non-broadcast media director of CIA Medianetwork,
believes that they should try.
‘There have been many pressures on the newspaper market, principally the
paper cost issue and a long, general trend of falling circulations,’ he
states. ‘It’s obvious that newspapers have to sell themselves in a much
more competitive, concerted and constructive way. Advertisers have to be
kept informed in order to justify the prices they are being asked to
Britton concedes that the NPA has been making moves to address this. But
he argues that it’s too little too late. ‘Individual publishers have
done bits and pieces of research,’ he says. ‘But much of it has to be
treated with scepticism because it serves individual interests rather
than the market as a whole. The publishers should look at what is
happening in other sectors of the media industry. Magazines have done a
lot, the outdoor industry has been trying to get its act together and
there is, of course, the RAB. Whether or not it is the NPA that takes
the lead on this, something has to be done and it needs to happen
Stef Clarke, the manager of media and sponsorship at the Halifax
Building Society, points out that some individual publishers are good at
talking to advertisers - but some are dreadful at it.
‘There’s all sorts of research that publishers have - on readership of
sections and on readership on different days of the week,’ he states.
‘But they tend not to show that to clients. So yes - there’s a need for
an effective overall marketing body for advertisers.
‘My job is to spend media money in the most effective way possible.
Anything they can do in the way of research will be a help. If the
publishers can show how I can use my budget more effectively in
newspapers, they might be able to take revenue from other media.’
But Clarke says publishers should not make the mistake they made last
time - which was to knock other media. ‘And they would have to look at
all sorts of related issues,’ he argues. ‘For instance, the sales side
incentives are wrong. They chase share of press budget rather than
trying to increase share of a client’s total advertising budget.’
David Brook, the marketing director of Guardian Newspapers, says that
the issue isn’t as straightforward as some believe. ‘Of course, it is
essential that we do common work into how newspapers are read and
provide better help for advertisers in choosing where to place ads,’ he
‘But the NPA does a lot of that currently and all newspapers have signed
up for that and are committed to it. Anything that helps provide more
information has to be applauded - and I suppose that would be an NPA
task. But having said that, I think that this area is often viewed in
the wrong terms. It’s not a case of newspapers as a medium selling
against television as a medium. The Guardian, for instance, has more in
common with Channel 4 than it does with the Daily Express and I don’t
think there is any point in trying to convince advertisers otherwise.’
Andy Tilley, the joint managing director of Zenith Media, points out
that just about every major medium in the UK has envied the success of
the RAB at some time or another.
‘Its achievements have prompted many industry watchers to propose
copycat structures for other media,’ he says.
‘Like many in the business, I believe that national newspapers need to
give greater focus to marketing their medium more effectively - and it
has so much to commend it in its own right without resorting to the
rather naive and counter-productive knocking-copy approach prevalent in
‘National newspapers need to agree precisely what they wish to achieve
in any co-ordinated marketing effort. Only then can they decide on the
route they should take - when they have done that, it will be easier to
decide whether they want to create a separate RAB-type body or give more
systems and support to the NPA.’