I was surprised to receive a Mangalam newspaper along with the balance amount when I had to stop at one of the petrol pumps in Kottayam city in Kerala, on an early morning a few days back. I thought it would be part of the newspaper campaigns now going on vigorously in the state. But I was mistaken when I got the denial from the marketing office of the newspaper. It was a new strategy adopted by the petrol-pump owner to satisfy his upper crest customers. A pretty good idea the newspaper could have adopted to reach upper class readers, who usually are subscribers to the market leaders.
There are a lot of ways to market a product but when it comes to media and particularly in a state that claims an excellent media literacy and saturation besides a strong brand addiction, innovative ideas seem to be the only way out. The Mangalam publication is now on an aggressive marketing drive, and has reduced its price to attract more advertisements. The Deepika daily is also on an ambitious market expansion plan; the paper has reduced its width to give an economical look and it is styled to international trends.
Price reduction or a new page design form part of contemporary newspaper marketing strategies to beat competition but the growth seems only marginal. This is the problem most of our medium and small newspapers are facing today. All of them except sister publications operate as bitter rivals, which is not advisable in a highly saturated media market guided by consumerist perceptions, where cooperation can fetch something than nothing. What they have to do is to pump in more business management and swallow new marketing lessons. The case with our newspapers in the Hindi-belt, on space marketing such as joint space selling could be a good lesson. English daily Hindustan Times (HT) and business newspaper Business Standard have recently struck a strategic alliance to promote jointly 'display' (all corporate and premium product advertising), appointments and financial category advertisements. Similar strategic combinations are already present in the market such as The Times Of India-The Economic Times; Indian Express-Financial Express; The Hindu-Business Line, etc, but the alliance between Hindustan Times and Business Standard assumes significance as they are from different stables.
But this newfound courtship is not new for HT. In March last year, the newspaper had tied up with Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Mid-Day and Indian Express to promote appointments advertising. Hindustan, the group's Hindi newspaper, had forged an alliance with Amar Ujala to jointly promote display advertising. The Business Standard had also strategic partnerships; last year it had entered into a content sharing and marketing arrangement with The Statesman. The new friendship with the HT will help BS to garner more appointment ads where it is weak, and BS will reciprocate with financial advertising and upper-crest readers for HT. And also the advertisers will get more value for their money and a good media mix.
Why go to the North, we have a good example of Hindu-Eenadu alliance for joint space selling in the South. Alliances are now common with the publishing houses to improve the base. Why·can't our middle-rung newspapers forge such alliances? Marketing experiments are not all about joint space selling. The classic strategy is still in vogue. Recently The Times of India slashed its prices in Delhi, and HT followed suit. Sify.com is planning more city-based sites to garner more users and it has also entered into partnership with Hindustantimes.com to "leverage each others resources for more visibility". But this is the first time that a print and online company comes together for partnership.
Media marketing has become so sophisticated these days that most of the media companies move away from simple incentives to a comprehensive package. The trend in the West is now to integrate the various media to form a total information platform. A simple example is that of the web services of the major television news channels CNN and BBC. Today the revolution in news services is more about who can produce the original thought. This includes strategic decisions to organise operations horizontally and vertically.
Horizontally, this is about unrelated businesses in one location, such as national and metropolitan dailies in Latin America distributing CDs, pamphlets, and consumer products through a bundled newspaper or through a newsstand network owned by the company. Vertically, it is about multiple information products and services linked in a chain that adds value at every link - a more common strategy among innovative newspapers in Europe and North America. The other strategy is to publish once and distribute in many ways. The financial newspapers in Europe and North America are leading the way, but so are general interest companies such as The New York Times and the Daily Telegraph.
Stories filed tomorrow will require a written summary, a written comprehensive report, photographs, audio reports, and video reports. Newspapers will become local versions of today's international wire services and 24-hour news operations. Another trend is to diversify the company portfolio by targeting niche markets with "multiple print products, multiple e-mail products or multiple web products". Above all, the market seems to revolve around choice and personalization as key factors to success. The growing popularity of the Internet' has contributed to this trend.
That is how the world is thinking. It is time to assess where' we have reached.