Knight Ridder, the No. 3 newspaper group in the nation, was sold earlier this year. Now Tribune Co., the No. 2 group, reportedly is up for sale. But it’s no time for despair — it’s time to prepare a counter-attack!
Here’s a 10-point plan that you can use or modify however your circumstances dictate.
1. Be optimistic. The war is far from lost. Newspapers have great assets, brand and market position. Don’t let your staff or your competitors see fear in your eyes. Sure, times are changing, but you have the tools, brand, assets and brains to win the war!
2. Have a plan. Bring your key executives together to review your circumstances, including hard looks at your competition. Every department — news, advertising, circulation, finance, production, etc. — should be involved. Demand a commitment that everyone works together for the common cause.
3. Celebrate your strengths. If your circulation is bucking national trends, make sure your employees, advertisers and community know it. Smaller-market newspapers have seen some immunity from the trends, but your community may only hear the national media stories about the death of newspapers. Tell them otherwise.
4. Your online newspaper has almost certainly seen huge growth over the years. Make sure you understand this growth, and promote the heck out of it. You might publish a news story and ads showing that your online newspaper is by far the No. 1 local Internet Web site. Always remember, you “own the Internet” in your trade area!
5. Analyze your advertising rates. If you can’t justify rate hikes with print circulation increases, you can with Web circulation increases. Many papers have assigned just a small percentage of ad rates to Internet circulation. The public perception has changed, and your Web circulation has grown. Consider a rate structure, especially for classifieds, that moves toward a 50-50 ratio between print and Internet. Make sure you use a cost-per-thousand rate plan.
6. If you’re not already doing so, put all your ads — classifieds, display, and special sections — on the Web. This is all content that brings eyeballs to your site, more exposure for your advertisers and helps block competitors. Also, it’s a good source of revenue.
7. Make sure you enable your customers to buy ads via the Internet. Your classified lineage will increase almost immediately.
8. Remember, the tools that the online-only companies are using are available to you, too. Examples: you can do real estate slide shows and virtual tours; you can aggregate auto dealers’ inventories and photos online; you can take resumes online for job seekers; you can publish the coolest online entertainment sections. Anything online competitors can do, you can do — better.
9. Join with other publishers for national distribution for online products, especially employment and auto. Internet companies offer reach — so can you!
10. Make space available on your online newspaper for national Internet advertising buys. Your print product probably attracts little national advertising, but your online newspaper can be part of an ever-growing trend toward national online advertising.
You can win the new media war in your market. It will take optimism, leadership, building-wide cooperation, energy, redeployment of resources and faith in your company’s core products. But you can win this war!