Publishers: Don't let your brand be shaped by competitors and critics

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The newspaper industry has been phenomenally successful in adopting and adapting, embracing new technologies and becoming multi-media organizations, Bob Provost, executive-in-residence/consultant with The Marketing Provost, told attendees at the SNPA-Inland Annual Meeting.

But, he says the industry hasn't created the perception of success. Instead, he said our public image "has been shaped by default – not by design. And, that's criminal. Negative news such as circulation declines, layoffs or buyouts, will reach the public eye and awareness without any effort on your part. However, no one else is going to get out in the market and promote your award-winning news coverage, our success as a public watchdog, our efficacy for local advertisers, and our relevance to younger adults." 

He emphasized: "Please do not let your image be shaped by your competitors and your critics."

He was joined in this kickoff session at the Annual Meeting by Chris Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman Media Company, and Tom Silvestri, president and publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Joy Mayer, audience engagement strategist with Mayer Media Strategy and a consulting fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute (TrustingNews.org), also participated in the discussion through a video presentation.  Read about the Trusting News Project

Together, they shared advice on marketing the strength of our brand, shared strategies that journalists can employ to build trust, and talked about how branding – when practiced well – will deliver the ROI that newspapers need.

Provost told publishers that we have a "crisis of confidence" in our  industry caused by a negative brand perception in many communities.  He urged them to combat the negativity by focusing on the many wins that newspapers have to celebrate.

First and foremost, he says individual newspapers need unity of purpose.  "Does everyone in the organization know where you are going and what the goals and objectives are," he asked?  "Is your mission and purpose community- and customer-centric? Or, are you focused more on how you manage information, billings and complaints?"

Leadership is a critical aspect of branding, he added, and that falls on the shoulders of the CEO. 

Silvestri echoed the need for the publisher to take an active  role in branding, calling on publishers to redefine their job description and "bolt the chief marketing officer role" onto their role as publisher.  "I'm four or five months into this and it is reinvigorating my job," Silvestri said.

In setting a purpose statement, Provost urged publishers to be ambitious.  "Set audacious goals ... make them inspirational," he said. 

The Oklahoman's Purpose Statement outlines seven goals:

  1. Serving as the fabric of our communities and their various interests.
  2. Ensuring a voice for those who need one.
  3. Safeguarding our fellow citizens by exposing corruption and injustice.
  4. Providing valuable results for our advertisers.
  5. Fostering communities of well-informed citizens.
  6. Promoting opportunities for fun and interaction.
  7. Helping lead change when change is needed.

The statement is printed on Page 2 of the paper every day.  WEHCO Media papers also print a mission statement in their papers every day.

In addition, the Statement of Purpose fills a two-story wall at The Oklahoman, with the First Amendment right next to it. Reen said this is "a great way to remind our employees what our purpose is and to try to walk that talk every single day."

Several years ago, The Oklahoman made the decision to move back downtown.  That move was – in and of itself – a brand move, Reen said.  The facility is very modern, has an open floor plan and has a video studio on the ground floor that looks in on the paper's video studio. 

Provost also encouraged publishers to celebrate success with their teams regularly and enthusiastically. And, he told them to embrace your new multi-media identity.  "Recognize that you've never had as many options or solutions for yourself, for your advertisers and for your community."

Among the new options at The Oklahoman, Reen talked about three separate websites:

The paper also has gotten into the event business, as well.  This year's All-City Prep Sports Awards Banquet drew 1,200 attendees – making it the largest event in the city.  Major awards presented at the event were sold to corporate sponsors.

Fun marketing ads, plus special series produced by the newsroom, remind the community of the important content that the paper carries. "It's important to remind the community of the work you are doing," Reen said.

And, the mayor recently invited the paper to conduct a community poll to come up with a name for a new park, Oklahoma City's version of Central Park.  That drew some complaints from the newspaper's competitors, but the request demonstrated the important place that the newspaper holds in the community.

With all of the talk these days about fake news and whether the news media can be trusted, the Richmond Times-Dispatch used one of its regularly scheduled Public Squares to address the topic.  Silvestri said: "They gave us praise and they gave us criticism, but we gained their respect just by having the conversation."

These Public Squares are a regular occurance at the paper, with topics ranging from immigration to gun control to segregation.  "We demand only one thing," Silvestri said of people who take part in these events:  respect for each other.

Download PowerPoints from this session, plus additional conference sessions

Coverage of the Annual Meeting will continue next week in the eBulletin.

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