Teen mag brings in new generation

In this special report, representatives of five daily newspapers explain what they are doing to target niche markets within their readership.Examples range from a weekly reader-driven teen tabloid to a glossy magazine for Apple/Macintosh computer users.As well, editor Mark Smyka writes...

In this special report, representatives of five daily newspapers explain what they are doing to target niche markets within their readership.

Examples range from a weekly reader-driven teen tabloid to a glossy magazine for Apple/Macintosh computer users.

As well, editor Mark Smyka writes about the redesign of The Kingston Whig-Standard, while McCann-Erickson executive creative director Michael Fromowitz laments the relative paucity of great creative in Canadian newspaper advertising. The report continues to page B17.

It’s the embodiment of the Generation Gap.

Kids get their information from tv, adults get it from newspapers.

Newspaper publishers do not have to become demographers to identify the disturbing pattern – readers are getting older, much older, and there is no new crop of newspaper hounds.

The next generation prefers channel-surfing to ink rub-off.

The StarPhoenix (circulation: 75,000) in Saskatoon attacked the problem head on when it introduced P.S. Teen Magazine last spring.

A weekly tabloid, it is inserted into the daily’s Monday edition with a small overrun being distributed at local high schools.

More than Kids Page

The paper’s editor, Bill Peterson (now the daily’s publisher), wanted more than a Kids Page.

Peterson envisioned a full-blown publication and seconded one of his most senior people, City Editor Cam Hutchinson, to head the project.

p.s. became home to a major comics package to attract the younger readers in the 13-to-19 age group.

Older ones were treated to reviews of video games, local music groups and news from their schools written by a team of high school students hired as paid freelancers who work with teachers in each high school.

Editorially, the publication became a front page story in the daily when one student had a piece on a failed school function censored by a school administrator.

‘We know we have readers based on the calls and letters we get,’ Hutchinson says.

‘We also know that we’re reaching more than young people – I get calls from a lot of parents who are reading this publication that has caught their kid’s eye.’

Like most good ideas, p.s. did not come together in time for annual budget preparations so its promotional launch was a piecemeal affair with money borrowed from other departments and projects.

Promo vehicle

It relied heavily on its parent, The StarPhoenix, as its primary promotional vehicle, with the editor announcing its creation in his weekly column.

The daily also coughed up a couple of tickets to a Guns ‘N Roses concert which coincided with the publication’s first cover story featuring an exclusive interview with Axel Rose.

External promotion included interior transit bus panels, spots on a top 40 rock fm station and posters in all high schools, but the majority of the promotion for p.s.was restricted to the pages of the newspaper.

Obviously, that helped keep costs down, but it also served as a way of determining the reach being achieved by the publication – if the kids knew about p.s., it meant they were reading it.

Geek of the Week

And we quickly realized just how strong the readership was when an editorial piece called ‘Geek of the Week,’ featuring the attributes of a geek, brought howls, not only from parents but from young people who threatened to picket the p.s. offices if the feature continued. So, we were under way with a flash.

The publication, 20 tabloid pages through the school year and 16 during the summer months, is a vehicle designed for young people to talk to young people.

Sex, aids, finding a job, fashion, music, movies and comics dominate the editorial pages. Adults do not get space in p.s. unless they are part of the story. There is no preaching to youths about how they should or should not run their lives.

p.s. marked the beginning of the school year with a major promotional campaign highlighted by the introduction of the P.S. Student Card.

Individually numbered cards, distributed free to young people through a voice mail system, are honored by participating retailers and merchants who buy a minimum 12-ad campaign through the course of the year.

The numbered cards make it possible to run campaigns, promotions or contests in which individual winners can be selected at random.

The mailing list of cardholders will be offered to advertisers as a direct mail supplement to their p.s. ads.

After six months, advertising has not reached the breakeven point, however, the introduction of the P.S. Student Card has helped attract new advertisers, primarily clothing stores offering discounts to student cardholders, but also a riding stable, food outlets and p.s. itself, which offers a two-for-one special for student cardholders placing a classified ad in the publication.

So far, one-quarter of the circulation area’s 15,000 high school students have ordered the student cards. At this point, five weeks after launching the card, we do not know if it is successful. But it has bolstered advertising with two dozen clients now honoring the card.

At the time of this writing, we have not decided if the cardmember list will be offered to major advertisers as a value-added product, or if it will be available only on a rental basis.

One thing is certain, though. We plan to use the list to launch a merchandise division, offering P.S. Student Card holders exclusive access to p.s. hats, bandannas, mouse pads, T-shirts and anything else we can dream up.

The next major step is a readership study to supplement the basic name, address, age and school information obtained through the student card promotion.

Current plans call for the survey to be included in the editorial pages of the publication.

The teen market, viewed by some as the demographic group with the highest relative disposable income, not only gives advertisers a targetted audience, but also provides a long-term survival guide for publishers looking to attract the next generation of newspaper readers.

Get them reading the newspaper early, and keep them reading for life.

Paul Martin is new product development manager of The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon.