What community newspapers can learn from the WSJ

July 6, 2016

By C. Dennis Schick
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

The June 22 issue of the Wall Street Journal included an eight-page special section it called “The Ad Revolution.” As I read the dozen or so stories and graphics, I kept thinking how the report might relate to community newspapers. Here is a summary of pertinent points:

The lead article—“Catch me if you can”—deals with the increasing problem of grabbing (and holding) consumer attention, “as they ditch traditional media and avoid ads.” Although the focus is primarily on TV and younger audiences, the message is clear—“people are avoiding print ads, skipping through TV ads, and cutting cable subscriptions.”

Advertisers (and media) at all levels are having to rethink their marketing strategy. Some are embracing so-called “native ads,” disguised advertising which blends ads with content (such as advertorials and even product placement). Others are focusing on data to pinpoint target markets. For instance, Johnson & Johnson research has discovered that most moms shop for baby toiletries during their 26th week of their pregnancy. Now that’s pinpointing the buying decision.

The second lead article was entirely on the exodus of audiences from traditional TV, and the rise of digital media. People are binge-watching shows on commercial-free Netflix; whole new media specialists have been created, like Vice Media, Vox, and BuzzFeed; emerging “virtual” cable providers are popping up, like Sling TV, Sony and Hulu. With tons of money to be made, new media, new providers, new everything are popping up at a dizzying pace. Each new whatever takes money and time away from traditional media.

“Snapchat: how brands reach millennials” was the name of the third article in the special report, taking a half page. I had heard the term, but didn’t understand it before, and am not sure I understand it now. But when I read that there are 100 million Snapchat active users daily, that two out of three Snapchat users create content every day, and 10 billion videos are viewed on Snapchat every day—that gets my attention. This is another one of those modern-day creations that some young genius thought up. It’s only been open a year and is already one of those hotshot social media apps we hear so much about.

 But we in the U.S. don’t know everything, of course. A fourth article tells us that: “In Asia, Line and WeChat strike advertising gold.” It seems that marketing on mobile messaging apps has been perfected in Japan (Line) and China (WeChat), and the rest of the world is way behind. This is another one of those messaging applications that is too good to be true. These apps enable marketers “to tap into platforms that provide hundreds of millions of users with a variety of customized services beyond messaging, including hailing taxis, streaming music, ordering food, and making payments.” Advertisers are flocking to the new applications, and away from other media.

So how has all this affected advertising agencies? Another article says that like all businesses, ad agencies must change with the times, too. New, specialized agencies are springing up, eager to take advantage of all the increasing interest in social media. An example is Vice Media, which controls its own content ecosystem, which includes a group of websites, social-media channels, and Viceland, a recently launched network. Such specialized agencies are expected to pop up wherever there is a demand and/or an opportunity, and some traditional ad agencies are retooling to fit that demand.

An article about a French ad-tech company that is bucking the industry’s gloomy trend, is another example of ad trends around the world. Again, this company—Criteo SA—has adapted to a changing advertising world, and is making 26 percent profits in a declining market. The company buys ad space on more than 16,000 websites—including Facebook and Google—and then resells it to retailers. Unlike most of its competitors, it only makes money when consumers actually click on it. In other words, only when there are results. Talk about pressure to make sure you know what you’re doing.

The last news-ed page of the section has two articles. One is about how creative ad agencies are having to shake up their old-school models. Example: the huge DDB Worldwide agency (Doyle Dane Bernbach) is reinventing itself to create more and better content faster and cheaper. What? That can’t be done, but they are trying to do it. That’s the pressure all companies are facing. DDB has created a “flex” approach or model to break down barriers between departments, collaborate with outside partners more effectively, and embed their clients earlier in the creative process. No more six-month creative planning; create a new campaign overnight.

The last article focuses on what the media call “The creative.” The author says too often these days everyone gets caught up in the data, the medium and the demographics and forgets about what we should be producing—stories about our products and how the consumer will benefit. She suggests that agencies tell the whole story using multiple media and methods. For instance, a fundamental story of Macy’s is its Thanksgiving Day Parade. But she doubts that it would be approved if it was proposed today. “Anywhere the brand shows up,” she says, “is an opportunity to tell the story.”

There are some terrific graphics, too, which the Wall Street Journal does so well. One asks: “Is digital advertising missing the mark?” The general answer is “Yes. People don’t want to be interrupted, and they think that most ads don’t apply to them. Another graphic shows that the number of people using AdBlock Plus is increasing dramatically. “The many faces of media consumers,” gives mini-profiles of six people, including one who reads two dailies and four community newspapers. Bless him.

Oh yes, because the section is about advertising, who advertised in it? In the eight broadsheet pages, there was one quarter-page ad (for “Simulmedia”); and three full-page ads: for “neustar” (Smart solutions for the connected world); for ”CMONewsletter” (a new Wall Street Journal product); and for “hulu” (come TV with us).

I am a bit disappointed (but not surprised) that the special section did not give more space to more traditional media. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn and act from what is included.

So what does all this mean for community newspapers? 1. Seek out and use market research data. It’s out there; you have to look for it. 2. Read widely, subscribe, attend conventions, network, be aware. 3. Keep up with social media and use them to your best advantage. Educate yourself. 4. Be aware of changes and demands of ad agencies you work with. Ask questions. 5. Pay closer attention to the content of all your ads. Make it relevant to daily lives. Tell benefits. Make people look forward to your ads as much as the news-editorial content. 6. Be prepared to reinvent yourself and restructure to stay relevant. 7. Consider reinventing your ad department. Become “Marketing Consultants” instead of “Ad Space Salesmen.” (Or, as I used to tell my lecture audiences, “Don’t have the title ‘Ad Picker-Upper.’”) Suggest buying a trade show space at the county fair, not just buying an ad in your county fair section. 8. BE ALERT! (We need more lerts.) © Dennis Schick 2016


Dennis Schick retired in 2004 after 25 years as executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. He is still an active journalist, writer and newspaper reader and observer. He lives in North Little Rock, AR.

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