On 5 November a group of senior media executives from around South Africa holed up in a conclave with BDFM publisher, Peter Bruce. The topic on the table was a possible change in Business Day’s format from broadsheet to tabloid (a change in size rather than content!). Those present included media company managing directors and CEOs, planners, strategists, and a smattering of research people.
The bottom line is that the newspaper will be changing format from 54×10 to 39×8. But this change in format raises a very interesting question.
A full page ad in Business Day’s current broadsheet format costs about R126 000. Most of those present at the meeting suggested that if the newspaper goes to a smaller size they cannot charge the same money for a full page ad.
On the surface, this argument makes sense, especially if one only books and plans media based on the numbers. But advertising and marketing are not just about numbers. Heart and soul and magic also play their part in delivering results.
Some of those present at the meeting said their overseas parent companies are totally number-bound and that’s why they couldn’t justify paying the broadsheet rate for a tabloid size.
But I believe there is a case to made for doing just that.
Business Day provides a forum unlike any other in South Africa. From the outset it sought out and recruited business and financial journalists of the highest calibre. This, of course, was only natural for a paper that inherited the mantle of the renowned Rand Daily Mail. Because of the high standards set by the the paper’s editorial policy, it has always attracted high-calibre readers. Readers drawn from the upper eschalons of business in South Africa.
There are many business leaders, the movers and shakers in industry, banking, finance, mining, marketing or any other field you care to name, who would not contemplate starting their day before perusing their copy of Business Day.
It’s highly unlikely that the paper is going to lose any of those readers with a change in format. In fact, with higher quality printing and paper, it may even pick up a slew of new readers. The new size will make it much more aircraft-friendly, and many executive readers who do not enjoy the cumbersome broadsheet format may well make it their paper of choice when jetting to meetings in far-flung corners of the world.
According to Bruce, there are only six countries in the world with publications comparable to Business Day. If advertisiers insist on paying less for space in the publication, perhaps only half as much, there’s no way the paper can continue to attract the same high quality journalists it has done until now, and would like to do into the future.
Without this level of journalistic excellence, the quality of readership is also likely to decline, and, inevitably, advertisers will begin to desert the paper as it struggles to offer the premium reader-base it currently enjoys.
Is this loss worth it? I realise that as people charged with taking care of our clients’ marketing investment, we have to be responsible in our media choices, selecting those media that deliver maximum ROI for the least amount of money possible. But the watchword here is ROI. Would it be expedient to select “cheaper” media, that doesn’t deliver the audience Business Day does, just because the paper is now smaller in dimension and now appears too costly?
Think of it like this; if you booked an overseas flight on a commercial Airbus A340 for R10 000, and someone then offered you the same trip on a Lear Jet, with more leg room, greater comfort and superior catering, would the procurement department insist the Lear Charter Company lower its price pro-rata because, after all, it is a much smaller plane!
In my 33 years in this business there has always been a tendency to squeeze the media of every last drop of proverbial blood we could. Often we forget that they also have payrolls and targets to meet. Instead of viewing the media as enemies to be beaten down at all cost, would we not do better to think of them more as partners in the process of creating the magic that leads to success? Do we care about the role great journalism plays in society, about the sustainability of our cherished media assets, about getting our message in front of a valuable, receptive audience? Or are we totally beholden to the number crunchers, consultants and procurement departments that today pass for “experts”?
The point about paying the same amount of money for a full page ad in the tabloid size as one would for the broadsheet, is less about size of your ad and more about quality of eyeballs the ad attracts. In other words, we should expect to pay the same because we are reaching the same audience regardless of the size of the ad.
The people in that meeting room have the combined power and influence to keep a venerable newspaper like the Business Day alive and well. The question is, will they? Or will they cave in to the expedient option.
I believe we need to protect the world class content at all costs.
What do you believe?
Paul Middleton is owner of full service agency, Ebony + Ivory.