Gazette serves vibrant English community

Don't overlook us. This phrase points up what seems to be the constant struggle of The Gazette, Montreal's English-language newspaper.Founded in 1778, The Gazette is one of the oldest newspapers in North America.Yet it must continually remind national advertisers that there...

Don’t overlook us. This phrase points up what seems to be the constant struggle of The Gazette, Montreal’s English-language newspaper.

Founded in 1778, The Gazette is one of the oldest newspapers in North America.

Yet it must continually remind national advertisers that there remains a vibrant English community in the Montreal area. Not all anglophones packed up and left the province after the Parti Quebecois was elected in Quebec in 1976.

Third-largest market

In fact, Montreal is the third-largest English market in Canada after Toronto and Vancouver.

But the results of a focus group study conducted last year of Toronto ad agencies and national advertisers revealed that Montreal’s English market is perceived to be between the fourth- and seventh-largest in Canada.

And The Gazette is only the third buy among Montreal newspapers after La Presse and Le Journal de Montreal.

The result is that many national advertisers and agencies feel that if they cover Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, they have pretty well covered English Canada.

But what about the English market in Quebec? Too small to worry about, they say.

The Montreal market is unique in Canada when you look at all the media available – four dailies, 15 tv stations, of which six are local and 18 are pay-tv. Kick in 22 radio stations and 37 weekly newspapers and you have got a pretty fragmented buy.

How does The Gazette compete? Through aggressive marketing in trade and business publications. In all its promotional material, it reminds advertisers that Montreal is indeed the third-largest English market in Canada and that The Gazette reaches more than 75% of English Montreal throughout the entire week.

Regular seminars

The newspaper also conducts regular slide presentation seminars at major clients and agencies in Montreal and Toronto.

Last fall, The Gazette visited car manufacturers in Ontario for the same purpose. And to promote its travel section, the newspaper conducted similar road shows in major u.s. cities.

Customer service has also been improved.

The Gazette supplies its sales force with the most up-to-date material and market studies available, so that they can close deals on the spot without having first to clear it with their managers or supervisors.

And although the recession has taken its toll on all newspapers, Montreal has been particularly hard hit, especially in real estate and car dealerships which continue to suffer.

And while The Gazette feels it has done better than most newspapers to weather the storm and remain profitable, it feels the recession has forced it to be that much more aggressive in terms of promoting itself and controlling costs in order to remain competitive.

But the face of Montreal is changing rapidly and any future growth in The Gazette’s average weekly circulation of about 155,000 and Saturday circulation of 233,000, will have to come from the city’s ethnic population.

20% francophone

Granted, about 20% of The Gazette’s readership is francophone, but that figure is stagnant.

In the last few years, the newspaper has also been emphasizing more local coverage in response to increased demand.

In addition to South Shore and West Island editions every Thursday, The Gazette last year added a West End edition – good for local news and local advertising.

A number of sections have either been launched or revised during the last two years as well.

These include This Week in Business, a tabloid business section every Monday, Woman News, published every Monday and Preview, Friday’s entertainment section which is heavy on listings and reviews.

Last fall, The Gazette conducted a survey to measure the impact and success of these new sections. The addition of the Woman News section appeared to have had the biggest impact among the paper’s readers, followed closely by the West End section and This Week in Business.

And because of Montreal’s growing ethnic population, the newspaper is trying to increase its coverage of ethnic news and events.

In the past, minorities were taken for granted because most of them would gravitate towards the English population.

French stream

But with the introduction of Bill 101, Quebec’s language legislation in the late 1970s, most ethnics are now being channelled towards the French stream.

The Gazette is working harder than ever to attract more ethnic readers by giving them more coverage and assigning minorities to influential editorial positions.

For example, a Vietnamese reporter covers the National Assembly in Quebec City for the newspaper, while the Page Two column once a week talks about the experiences of ethnic Canadians living in Montreal.

In February, The Gazette started something called Town Hall Meetings, whereby readers were invited to meet a panel of editors over coffee at a local restaurant to air their grievances and offer suggestions on how to improve the newspaper. Similar meetings are planned for other municipalities.

And like most newspapers, a major challenge facing The Gazette is attracting younger readers who are a product of the electronic age. To this end, the newspaper has added special youth features to its Sunday edition.

One is the Express page where younger readers are invited to review the latest movies and videos. There is also a teenager version of Ann Landers who prints replies to letters about teenage problems such as dating and makeup.

And for the finger-painting set, the Fridge Door page invites kids to send in their poems, letters and drawings which are published every Sunday.

All these efforts have a common goal – to increase readership, which, in turn, attracts advertising.

And with the mass fragmentation going on in other media, newspapers may possibly come full cycle and again be the medium of choice.

Brian Dunn writes a weekly marketing column for The Gazette.