How newspapers can convince advertisers to return to print


By Thomas Hobbs

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 Or maybe paper is just too outdated for the delicate hands of a millennial.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.”

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.”

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.”

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.
Credit: MarketingWeek

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