Edmonton Journal

A daily newspaper can be a great source of comfort to its faithful readers - a familiar fixture in their hectic lives. But familiarity can also breed contempt. These are the twin truths that confront any newspaper planning a redesign. 'It's...

A daily newspaper can be a great source of comfort to its faithful readers – a familiar fixture in their hectic lives. But familiarity can also breed contempt.

These are the twin truths that confront any newspaper planning a redesign.

‘It’s always risky to make changes to a paper,’ says Linda Hughes, publisher of The Edmonton Journal. ‘People don’t like change.’

Sometimes, however, change is necessary. Certainly that’s the conclusion Hughes and her colleagues reached when they began contemplating an overhaul last year.

The Journal’s previous face-lift had been a full decade earlier, in 1989. The need for a change then had been fairly obvious. ‘The paper was just unattractive,’ says Hughes, a Journal editor at the time.

The Southam-owned broadsheet had an outdated nameplate, old-fashioned fonts and not nearly enough art or local news, she recalls. ‘It was a mess.’

This time around, however, the need for change wasn’t so readily apparent. Reader polls, in fact, showed little dissatisfaction with the product.

There was, of course, the small matter of heightened competition. True, the Journal was successfully holding its own against The Edmonton Sun, a scrappy Sun Media-owned tabloid (NADbank figures show 335,000-plus weekday Journal readers, versus 191,000 Sun readers). But the National Post’s arrival had changed the whole newspaper playing field – just as it had in the country’s other major English-speaking markets.

Still, Hughes says the decision to revamp had far less to do with the launch of the Post than with timing. Simply put, 10 years is a long time to stick with the same design – probably too long. ‘We had a sense that it was time for renewal,’ she says. (There was promotional value, too, in the fact that the changes would come just prior to the dawn of a new century.)

‘Intuitively, we just knew it was time,’ affirms Pat Hutchison, the paper’s vice-president of marketing.

The Journal faced the same dilemma that confronts every other daily in the country: More and more people simply have no time to read. Somehow, the paper had to make itself more appealing to these individuals, without turning off the loyal readers who’d stuck with it for years.

The first step was assigning an in-house committee to develop ideas for improvement, Hutchison says.

These discussions pointed to the need for more modern and eye-catching graphics. Placement, size and colour of photographs and other graphics also emerged as important issues. ‘It’s a more graphics-oriented audience today,’ she says.

In addition to bumping up the use of colour, running larger photos and placing graphics more prominently, the Journal has adopted the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Page A2, for example, is now devoted almost exclusively to photos from around the world, each telling its own story.

Significant content improvements have also been made. For example, the various ‘lifestyle’ sections that used to run on specific days of the week – such as fashion, food, parenting and health – have now been folded into an overall ‘Living’ section, to allow for greater editorial flexibility.

While the front page of ‘Living’ is still generally devoted to a single topic, depending on the day of the week (Food on Wednesdays, for instance), no longer is the entire section given over to the subject. ‘This allows us more freedom,’ Hutchison says.

The Journal has also added a Sunday Reader section, with more magazine-style feature articles and heavy use of graphics and photographs. And it has renewed its commitment to its major areas of strength – local news and entertainment – by expanding the City section and increasing its frequency to seven days a week. (That’s more or less the same strategy that The Toronto Star adopted in its own market just prior to the birth of the National Post.)

To promote its new, improved product, the Journal hired Edmonton-based agency Calder Bateman.

‘It was a big challenge, because we didn’t want to rock the boat with current readers,’ says Ernie Pasemko, a partner with Calder Bateman.

Advertising for the new-look Journal appeared in television, radio and outdoor, he says. The campaign tagline, ‘The new face of Edmonton,’ reinforced the paper’s status as the source for local content.

Pasemko says the agency also created several events on the launch day to raise awareness with key audiences, including advertisers.

The Journal’s makeover is a positive development, says Robyn Ferry, media manager with Edmonton-based Mediactive. There’s no sign, however, that it has prompted a sudden rush of new advertisers. ‘It hasn’t had an effect on rates or advertising in general,’ she says.

What it has done, according to Ferry, is generate some excitement around the paper – which, in turn, should help promote an increase in circulation numbers.

The Journal’s renewed emphasis on local news is also a smart move that should increase its appeal to regional advertisers, Ferry adds.

Still, she says, clients pay more attention in the end to things like NADbank figures than to newspaper redesigns. WC

Also in this report:

- Launch of Post good news for advertisers: Upstart daily has jump-started the industry, prompting offers of better rates, bonus ads and new loyalty programs p.NP3

- Stop the presses: Dailies are changing: No longer acting as simple order-takers p.NP4

- Picture perfect: It’s obvious that visually driven creative works well in newspaper. So why don’t more advertisers use it? NP5

- Telcos reward readers with a laugh: MTT and Bell Mobility employ unusual formats to nab attention p.NP6

- Savingumoney.com builds awareness offline: Coupon portal uses newspapers as linchpin of media strategy p.NP7

- Cadillac takes the long view: Used frequency of newspaper creatively by telling a different story every week p.NP10

- Whistler taps fast turnaround times: Newspaper lets ski resort react quickly to changing circumstances p.NP13

- Talvest co-brands funds with FP Index: Helped Montreal financial services provider to crack Ontario market p.NP14

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group