CAMPAIGNS: Sun-Times pushes Red Streak out to Windy City's youth

PR Team: PR21 (Chicago) and the Chicago Sun-Times (Chicago) Campaign: Red Streak launch Time Frame: October-December 2002 Budget: $12,000

PR Team: PR21 (Chicago) and the Chicago Sun-Times (Chicago) Campaign: Red Streak launch Time Frame: October-December 2002 Budget: $12,000

Chicago is one of the few cities in America that still has two daily newspapers competing head-to-head. The Chicago Tribune is the larger, grayer, and more establishment-oriented of the two. It's also the paper of choice in the more well-to-do and Republican suburbs of the Windy City. The rival Chicago Sun-Times is a scrappy tabloid that's gone through a variety of owners in the past three decades, including Rupert Murdoch at one point, and is still thought of as the working-class paper. In recent years, though, its city-centric focus has been attracting more young, urban readers. That demographic breakdown helps explain why - when the Sun-Times learned the Tribune was planning a new daily aimed at young-adult readers - it decided to launch a new paper of its own, Red Streak, or risk losing its most demographically desirable audience. While the Tribune spent months and millions researching its new paper, Red Eye, the Sun-Times quickly compiled a staff of reporters from suburban papers its parent company owns. It called on PR21 to craft a campaign to grab media attention away from the Tribune. The Sun-Times has an unusual relationship with PR21. Two PR21 staffers write for the paper - one in sports, one in the entertainment area. Susanna Homan, a PR21 group supervisor, is also the nightlife columnist for the paper, writing Susanna's Night Out. She oversaw PR efforts for Red Streak. Strategy PR21 decided to frame the battle of the two papers as a new chapter in Chicago's fabled newspaper wars. It positioned the Sun-Times as David to the Tribune's Goliath. "Usually we work with clients who don't want to take a stand on the competition," says Homan. But in this case, "the Sun-Times in general is a very scrappy newspaper. They took such a strong stand that it made our job easier. We took a stand, we put a stick in the ground - the gloves were off." Tactics Homan and other PR21 staffers called The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, CNN, and local media, touting Red Streak. Homan, who often gets interviewed on local radio stations about Chicago nightlife, worked her radio-station contacts to get interviews about Red Streak on stations aimed at the paper's 18- to 34-year-old target audience. A team was assembled from the Sun-Times staff and PR21 to hand out papers on Red Streak's debut date of October 30. Agency staffers wearing Red Streak T-shirts stood outside their office on Chicago's busy Michigan Avenue, within a stone's throw of the Tribune building, handing out copies and making themselves available for media interviews. "It was staged to get the attention of the press, and it worked," says Homan. Red Streaks were delivered to Chicago radio and TV stations at 5am that first day. "I did every radio show I could," Homan says. Other samples were given out at busy El stops. Results Red Streak garnered 50 million media impressions over the course of the campaign, Homan says. CNN, Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal all wrote about the new newspaper battle in Chicago. The media writer for Chicago magazine, ironically owned by the Tribune, reviewed both new papers, and said Red Streak was the better product. Red Streak has "basically become a legitimate property of the Sun-Times," Homan says. "We won hearts and minds because we were scrappy." After six months, Red Streak is selling enough advertising to cover its costs, notes Homan. Future Homan expects media interest in Red Streak to perk up as its six-month anniversary nears. She plans to continue positioning it as a winning publication that beat back the challenge from a larger competitor.

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