Market Focus Newspaper PR: Read all about it! - With fierce competition in a crowded media space, newspapers have become more open to using PR. But as Claire Atkinson reports, it's the Web that is driving the PR push

If any business needs PR assistance, it's newspapers. Circulations have markedly declined: 30 years ago 77% of US adults bought newspapers daily; that was down to 56% last year.

If any business needs PR assistance, it's newspapers. Circulations have markedly declined: 30 years ago 77% of US adults bought newspapers daily; that was down to 56% last year.

If any business needs PR assistance, it's newspapers. Circulations have markedly declined: 30 years ago 77% of US adults bought newspapers daily; that was down to 56% last year.

And although Internet companies have been responsible for something of a rebound in newspaper ad revenues, hundreds of Web sites such as eBay and Hotjobs have eaten into classified revenues.

Quality has been an issue. In recent years the industry has been undermined by reports of fabricated quotes and plagiarized articles (and Monica Lewinsky didn't help). Consolidation has also affected the general landscape. The Tribune Company's purchase of Times Mirror, owner of The LA Times passed private papers into public ownership. While that was welcomed by Wall Street, changes in newspaper ownership rarely attract a positive reaction from the most important customers, the readers.

Hearst's purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle and subsequent sale of the Examiner in 1999 also resulted in acres of negative comment about the effect on the two newspapers' editorial product.

Meanwhile newspaper groups have invested millions of dollars in Web sites, that are unlikely to pay-off in the near term.

But what's driving newspaper companies to rely more heavily on their PR divisions is the vastly increased competition from alternative news outlets and a greater desire to brand their non-print products.

Heidi Henderson is PR manager for Gannett-owned USA Today. The newspaper has an in-house team of three and does not use an outside agency. Henderson confirms that their budget has risen year on year. She's no longer publicizing just a newspaper, but a TV show, the Web site and content available via hand held devices such as Palm Pilots. 'I have been here for four years, and when the newspaper first started it didn't even have a PR team. It was handled by Gannett PR,' says Henderson. Now the newspaper has an in-house team of three.

Multitasking and hiring out

In February, USA Today launched a TV program called USA Live, which airs on 22 Gannett stations. The show features items that have been covered in the national newspaper and also includes reporters as guests. Director of communications, Steve Anderson, is currently in Sydney promoting the paper's Olympic coverage while Henderson has been releasing details of a USA Today expose on work related poisoning.

Newspapers have been slow to spend on marketing. Mori Research estimates that publishers spend around 0.2% of revenues on marketing, compared with consumer goods firms, which spend between 10% and 15%. However, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Times Digital Company have all hired new PR firms within the last few months.

In June, British interloper FT swapped Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery, which represents AOL, for rival Porter Novelli. The agency will provide the PR component of a dollars 15 million marketing spend while ad agency Avrett, Free & Ginsberg handles the dollars 1.7 million print and outdoor campaign.

Porter Novelli's EVP Peter Hirsch is tight lipped about the PR campaign, set to debut fourth quarter, but says: 'There is no question that newspapers are giving more thought to PR.'

Kathleen Sherman, director of corporate communications and PR for Investors Business Daily hired Burson-Marsteller for a branding campaign earlier this year. Asked if PR has gained more credibility in the newspaper world, she responds, 'Absolutely ... PR is a very recognized method and respected way of generating interest and awareness.'

Just two weeks after the FT made its announcement, The Wall Street Journal confirmed its first agency of record: Fleishman-Hillard. The selection of a PR agency is no longer a task for the PR chief or marketing director.

WSJ managing editor Paul Steiger was personally involved in the appointment for the dollars 500,000 account. Fleishman also took over duties for from Miller Shandwick.

Dick Tofel, VP corporate communications at parent company Dow Jones says it became necessary to hire a PR agency because of the volume of work the internal operations were dealing with. 'The brief was more about changing perceptions about the breadth of work we do,' he says, adding that the public is unaware of the wide range of material carried in the paper and online.

The WSJ has eight people dedicated to internal and external communications around the globe. 'Fleishman-Hillard had a very sophisticated approach,' says Tofel who refused to give details of its PR plans.

Times Digital Company, which is preparing for a separate listing this year, brought on board GCI to help promote, among its other key Web properties.

Newspaper Association of America (NAA) president John Sturm sees the change as a reflection of the trend toward integrated marketing. 'There has been a greater emphasis at newspapers in finding every avenue to move the paper and brand forward. PR activities are just part of what I think of as a more integrated approach.'

Of course public relations activity at newspapers is nothing new. Sturm points toward the strong traditions of both community relations and promotional activity undertaken by marketing and PR executives.

The International Newspaper Marketing Association collates the best examples of such work in a booklet called The Best in Newspaper PR. To give one example of positive community relations, The Denver Post printed vouchers for volunteers willing to house survivors' families traveling to the Oklahoma City bomb trial.

Burson helped reach out to young readers with an event at a school in LA. It had LL Cool J show up, unannounced, to speak about the importance of reading newspapers, on behalf of the NAA.

The NAA represents 2,000 newspapers and worked with Burson to invent a new measurement system called the Competitive Media Index aimed at moving measurement comparisons away from circulation. A PR source, who wished to remain anonymous, said newspaper measurement is years behind the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which measures magazine circulation and readership.

The Index was created to help even the playing field between newspapers and rival media such as TV, where advertisers look to ratings for individual shows. The Index brought readership, rather than circulation figures to the fore to demonstrate their success.

The first research was released in 1998 and demonstrated that in the top 50 markets, newspapers gained 700,000 new readers compared with radio audiences, which were unchanged, primetime TV viewership, which fell 3%, and cable, which fell by 0.6%.

However, even the industry's main lobby group opted for an advertising campaign rather than hiring a full time PR agency to help the cause, although the NAA has its own in-house PR team.

Relating the media to the media

Traditional media relations programs for newspapers are often a challenge for PR executives. 'Who wants to cover another outlet?' says Shandwick's New York managing director Paul Costello, who has tried to overcome the problem in various ways. 'Try to present the story in an overall context.

News is always news if you bring a story down to its most noteworthy or something that explains its differentiation.'

Obvious ways of promoting a newspaper are getting its star journalists or columnists spots on talk shows. A less traditional PR method has been to capitalize on scoops by promoting them to sister publications and media.

Costello says that there is much debate about the danger of this method, with few journalists willing to appear to be assisting the business side of their organizations.

USA Today's Henderson says there's an increased number of requests to use journalists as talking heads on TV. But she tells reporters only to discuss the facts of their stories and not give opinions that demonstrate bias unless writers are columnists. 'We do a lot of media training for executives, who often call us and ask what to say.'

Newspapers are at the center of crises more often than other companies because of the tremendous weight they carry with the public. However, it's still common place for newspaper executives to bypass their PR divisions during such times, feeling they have better instincts for what plays well.

Costello says: 'They understand their own institutions, not the media as a whole.' What journalists often miss is the impact their comments are likely to have on the wider media stage.

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