I had lunch this week with a couple of former newspaper colleagues, one of which had recently been on holiday in India.
While he was there someone suggested that as he was a journalist he might be interested in a tour of the The Times of India. He thought about it and almost decided not to bother; after all, what could India possibly teach South Africa about news and newspapers?
To say that he was awestruck at what he saw would be an understatement.
Not only is the The Times of India the world’s biggest English language newspaper with round about seven million readers a day but it is among the global top three biggest newspapers as well, according to both the ABC in India and the World Association of Newspapers.
The reason for its success is undoubtedly the fact that it is able to provide precisely the content its readership wants in the myriad culturally diverse centres in which it is published.
And the people who publish it put an enormous store in making absolutely sure that the editors are kept appraised of what it is that readers want as well as changes in consumer habits, preferences and trends.
What impressed my colleague no end was that at the highest level the The Times of India employed a CMO. (An acronym that is still foreign to the majority of newspaper publishers in the world and stands for Chief Marketing Officer.)
There is no doubt that success of the The Times of India is testament to the fact that newspaper publishing today can no longer rely on the gut feel of an editor with regard to what readers want.
Newspapers are like any other product nowadays and have to be marketed as such.
But, that is not to say that a lot of other products are being developed by gut feel. Far too many are and that is the reason why roughly R50 billion a year in South Africa alone is completed wasted due to the lack of marketing.
There is light at the end of the tunnel however, because increased competition and escalating input costs are prompting boards of directors of manufacturing and service companies to insist on a regimen of cost but even more importantly, risk reduction. And the essential part of risk and cost reduction is to apply all those checks and balances that make up the marketing process.
The problem, however, is that most newspaper owners today don’t actually understand what marketing is.
They think they are involved in marketing but they aren’t. What they are doing is appointing someone from their internal ranks as their marketing manager but all that is happening is that person is just involved in promotion and pretty much nothing else. What they are doing is probably not more than 10-20% of the total marketing job.
One cannot just haul somebody out of the ad sales department or newsroom and give him or her a marketing function.
That’s a bit like asking a dental hygienist to project manage the building of a skyscraper.
I would not be in the least bit surprised if one was able to do some extensive media research among successful and struggling newspapers, to find that a fully qualified CMO was sitting at the highest levels of the successful ones. Or, at least influencing them.
I cannot help but remember all the muttering that was going on recently among newspapers that were in competition with The New Age with regard to the latter’s business breakfasts.
As I said at the time, I don’t have a problem with what The New Age is doing because newspapers are businesses and they are all forced by circumstances to think beyond just flogging advertising to survive or make profits.
The New Age has done just that and I would not be at all surprised given its close ties with the The Times of India that somewhere among the line that CMO I was talking about, gave the New Age people a lesson in revenue generation. It does all seem to add up.