Vibrant personality helped Post beat the odds

The National Post was hardly launched in response to consumer demand. In fact most people thought there were too many papers in Canada - especially Toronto - before it launched. Yet somehow the paper has carved out a niche for itself, and it's done it largely by developing a rich, three-dimensional brand personality.

The National Post was hardly launched in response to consumer demand. In fact most people thought there were too many papers in Canada – especially Toronto – before it launched. Yet somehow the paper has carved out a niche for itself, and it’s done it largely by developing a rich, three-dimensional brand personality.

‘The National Post is exciting, intelligent and business savvy – so we created a marketing brand that entirely reflects the personality of the product,’ says the Post’s director of marketing, Alex Panousis, who has spent only a year in her position.

With the help of a dedicated team including agency partner Scott Thornley, president of Toronto’s Scott Thornley + Company, and man-about-town marketing consultant Garth Drabinsky, she has succeeded in building up a substantial brand image, which harks back to the old-style, hard-hitting, quality newspaper of the ’60s, while maintaining the youthful elegance of a modern publication.

It now stands as the fastest growing national in Canada. The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that the Post’s average Monday to Friday daily paid circulation was 332,168 for the six months ending March 31, up from 319,100 in the previous review (for the three months ending September 30, 2000) – a rise of 13,068 readers.

Overall, since March 2000, circulation has grown by 12.6% and home delivery circulation has risen by 9.3%, from 174,705 in March 2000 to 190,976 in March 2001. ‘Considering the tough economy we are in now,’ says associate publisher Gordon Fisher, ‘our circulation growth has been very positive.’

Commuters in Toronto can’t have failed to notice the ads dominating the subways and bus stations during the past year, and the whole country has been exposed to TV and movie-theatre advertising. Panousis says the aim of these campaigns is to ‘communicate the paper’s unique point of difference in the marketplace, as the one newspaper truly in love with the English language.’

‘Our goal was to make the advertising as exciting as the newspaper itself,’ she adds. ‘We used the product as a benchmark.’

Panousis is quick to attribute much of the success of this program to Thornley.

‘He really helped capture this for us because he gets the Post brand,’ she says. ‘Working with an agency that understands your brand helps lay the important foundation for everything that follows.’

Thornley sums up his vision for the Union Station campaign: ‘The idea was to create this living gallery that would have an ebb and flow, almost as a delightful, engaging game, using the word ‘Post’ and finding ways to play on that word. We used images, words and people from the paper itself, and linked them all together.’

Thornley says the campaign was designed to target commuters, because they make up a large segment of the newspaper-reading community. The ads were tailor-made for their location. ‘We realized that in a subway station, people are in a hurry. They are not there to look at your advertising, so it had better be in their faces.’

What started out as a subway poster campaign last summer was later extended to cover transit shelters, as well as TV and radio advertising. Toronto’s Union Station was even used as the setting for one of the Post’s commercials.

Garth Drabinsky also played a fundamental role in the development of the campaign over the past year. In an unprecedented move, the former theatre impresario, once head of Livent, was employed as a creative marketing consultant to the Post in February 2000.

Shortly after his appointment, Toronto-based ad agency Holmes & Lee resigned the Post account, claiming to be unable to work with Drabinsky. Peter Holmes, the agency’s co-founder and creative director, said of Drabinsky at the time: ‘The man’s ego knows no boundaries.’

Big ego or no, Drabinsky seems to have successfully boosted the newspaper’s appeal in cultural and entertainment circles, and his relationship with the paper is ongoing.

‘When I first joined the Post I felt that it had really started to float in terms of its marketing efforts,’ Drabinsky says. ‘We really needed to grab the bull by the horns with strong and aggressive branding.’

One of his first moves was to expand the campaign to a familiar venue: The theatre. ‘I believe in the power of movie theatre advertising,’ he says. ‘When you get a captive audience looking at a 60-by 30-foot picture, the impact is overwhelming, and they will never forget those images.’

He was also responsible for introducing the voice of the Post: actor Christopher Plummer. ‘I felt that the Post needed a voice of authority, reason and objectivity to bring consistency and immediate recognition by the consumer,’ says Drabinsky.

Thornley completed the experience with the powerful and turbulent music of American jazz legend Charles Mingus. This rapidly became known as the theme music of the Post, cementing its grand brand image.

Incentive programs, such as reduced-price newspaper sales, and a series of promotional movie-ticket offers, also boosted the campaign. Craig Barnard, the paper’s VP of circulation, was instrumental in the launch of subscription promotions such as the ‘Reel Deal,’ while Lynne Munro, VP of promotions, took the lead in consumer promos.

‘What we wanted to do was to target all newspaper readers, and that is such a diverse and broad demographic that it gave us a lot of scope to interpret the marketing challenge in different ways,’ says Panousis. ‘Marketing success requires the entire organization to back the initiatives.’