The paper that thinks it’s an agency

Newspapers aren't supposed to moonlight as advertising agencies. But no one seems to have told that to the Ottawa Citizen - just ask Today's Colonial Furniture, a local sofa seller in the nation's capital.

Newspapers aren’t supposed to moonlight as advertising agencies. But no one seems to have told that to the Ottawa Citizen – just ask Today’s Colonial Furniture, a local sofa seller in the nation’s capital.

Over the last five years, the relationship between client and paper has developed from the Citizen running Colonial’s ads, to co-developing the creative, to helping its client set up sponsorships, to developing in-store materials – even unifying the furniture store’s branding imagery. In effect, the paper is providing services normally only available from larger agencies and branding consultancies.

The year 1997 marked the turning point. Since then, the Citizen has helped develop point-of-sale materials and in-store posters, buttons, flyers – virtually anything Colonial needed. In the following years, the paper moved towards a ‘value-added’ relationship where it would seek out opportunities for Colonial to bolster its community image, such as setting up an event in partnership with the Ottawa Senators to increase the company’s visibility in the Ottawa area.

‘I wouldn’t go to an agency now. They call us all the time, but I get better value from the Citizen,’ says Colonial’s VP of marketing, Marc Comeau.

For Comeau, the Citizen has become indispensable. When he wants a flyer ready for the weekend, he calls up account executive Linda Galloway, they set up a meeting with his own designer, and together they can finish it within 24 hours.

But beyond simplicity and speed, the Citizen has helped ensure the 67-year-old furniture store’s community image is everywhere. Cross-promotions with local spas and casinos have helped over the past few years, and recently the Colonial name has been tacked onto both Bill Cosby and the Ottawa Senators.

Recently, the Senators were the hottest ticket in town. And with the help of the Citizen’s contacts, Colonial’s logo appeared among those of the big boys at the Corel Centre.

‘The logo recognition alone is incredible,’ Comeau says. ‘We were seen on Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC. It gives…the illusion [we're] a huge national, even though we’re a local retailer.’

The furniture store’s latest cross-promotion is the third annual ‘Colonial Furniture Ride For Dad,’ a charity event where citizens sponsor motorcycle riders to travel across Ottawa, with funds going towards prostate cancer research.

‘It’s community building at its best,’ Galloway says. ‘It places them not only as the number one furniture store but also as a supporter of their home town.’

But as the Citizen’s marketing services continue to expand, Galloway is disturbed that other local marketers haven’t followed Colonial’s lead.

‘For some strange reason, there’s a lot of skepticism,’ she explains. ‘Some people think there’s a hidden agenda. But that’s just small-time thinking. We think out-of-the-box. There’s much more beyond the Friday morning advertisement.’

And while clients may be nervous about the novelty of a newspaper that thinks it’s an agency, providing such services is far from a new idea.

‘What they’re doing is not encroaching on adverting agencies, rather, they’re just trying to reclaim their original territory,’ says Philippe Garneau at Garneau Würstlin Philp Brand Engineering in Toronto, adding that back at the turn of the century, a newspaper would approach local merchants, like tailors for example, and offer to produce the creative in exchange for them purchasing ad space in the paper.

‘So if anything, the Citizen is reclaiming an old model. They’re absolutely welcome to it. Obviously, if there’s a market for what they’re doing, it means there’s an unmet need out there,’ he says.

Garneau is not convinced, however, that a newspaper can be successful as a branding company as well. He says that even advertising agencies aren’t very good at branding, so he doubts that a newspaper would be better.

‘Can you build a sustainable brand through ads in the newspaper – especially if it’s done by that paper? I’m not sure,’ he adds. ‘It has to be a special brand that’ll work that way, because newspapers are for shopping. It’s the same reason why we don’t advertise ING Direct, for example, in the newspaper – because people don’t shop for investment savings accounts.’

But whatever you want to call it, the Citizen’s ad hoc agency services seem to be delivering where it counts: While Comeau is quick to acknowledge that the reps at CHUM Group in Ottawa who handle the radio and television buys have played an important role as well, there’s no arguing with sales that have steadily increased by 3 to 5% a year since 1997.