Gazette looks to multilinguals

After years of decline, the Gazette, Montreal's only English-language daily, has announced a new vision for the paper with a $5- to $6-million year-long ad campaign.

After years of decline, the Gazette, Montreal’s only English-language daily, has announced a new vision for the paper with a $5- to $6-million year-long ad campaign.

The Gazette has identified 350,000 potential new readers in Montreal’s changing demographic, most of whom belong to Montreal’s allophone and French-speaking bilingual communities. This target audience is reflected in a new ad campaign that includes TV in French and English and out-of-home ads in seven languages, including Chinese and Hindi.

‘It’s long overdue that the Gazette went after this audience,’ says Daniel Sanger, senior editor at Saturday Night and a former Gazette employee. ‘If there was a cat up a tree in [English] Westmount, they would cover that over a gas explosion in the [French] East End,’ he says, describing how out of touch the Gazette became over the years.

The campaign, created by Montreal’s Armada, includes TV, billboard, transit, elevator media and wrapped buses.

Each of the OOH executions features a personality from a part of Montreal’s culture, with a newspaper that says ‘My Gazette’ in his or her mother tongue. The outdoor is being placed throughout Montreal via a wide scope micro-marketing plan, meaning that the Chinese ad will appear in Chinatown, but not only there.

The two TV ads each humourously depict someone making up excuses to read the Gazette over someone’s shoulder. Those ads appear in English on Global, CH and CFCF-12 and in French on Radio-Canada and RDI.

‘Historically, the paper was positioned to be the English daily for English matters,’ says Larry Smith, president and publisher since February 2002, who was bought in to turn things around. ‘We will continue to provide vital news in English – keeping our core readers – but we are also targeting people who aren’t English by birth. It’s an opportunity to expand.’

The Gazette needed to do something: According to NADbank, it has seen its read-yesterday readerships steadily decline from 15.6% of the total Montreal CMA in 1998 to 12.2% in 2001, while read-yesterday readership in Montreal’s English/other community has dropped from 41.2% to 34.4% over the same period. The 2002 supplementary NADbank numbers do show things looking up a bit however, with total CMA read-yesterday numbers rebounding slightly to 13.8% and English/other readership up to 39.2%.

Offset printing at the Gazette’s new $75-million presses will also try to draw in new advertisers with more vibrant colours and a cleaner and crisper looking paper. The size of the page has increased by 30% and there will be more colour pages in each issue.

‘Any paper that revamps should automatically attract more readers. The act of the makeover itself makes it more attractive – as long as it’s real,’ says Carol Ann Kairns, EVP/ media director at BCP in Montreal. ‘But for it to last, it has to improve content as well.’

Whether content will change sufficiently is still in question. ‘They tried this a few years ago with a community page and a special West Island edition,’ says Sanger. ‘It was bake sale type news – then they pulled the plug on it.’ For the strategy to work, Sanger feels that hiring new staff should be a component.

‘We will build bridges with each community, our credibility will grow and it will also help our journalists in the coverage of these communities,’ says Smith. But the Gazette has no immediate plans to hire more journalists, and Smith feels that the quality of the current staff coupled with the editorial changes will be sufficient to hold new readers.

While Smith admits he has no technical knowledge of the newspaper business, it is likely that his experience with the media over the last 10 years will help. A native Montrealer, Smith has an improbable C.V.: professional football player, lawyer, executive with beer, health and food concerns, commissioner of the CFL and now newspaper publisher. Smith is also credited with saving the Montreal Alouettes from sporting oblivion.

Perhaps the most ambitious part of the new vision for the Gazette is the attempt to attract more francophone readers. Smith responds that 14% of Gazette readers are already French, so ‘ratcheting that to 20%’ is not an unreasonable goal.

‘It’s the first time they are pursuing the [French/English] bilingual person,’ says Kairns. ‘In the past they advertised only in English.’ She adds that while the new campaign is ‘aggressive,’ numbers showing how successful it is at attracting new readers won’t be available for some time.

Smith, in turn, says the Gazette has done some of its own research, and early indications are ‘positive,’ but would not release exact numbers.

Others are more doubtful regarding the potential of increased Francophone readership. ‘They’re more likely to read the Globe or the Post,’ says Sanger. ‘With the Gazette, they aren’t getting into a world that the francophone press doesn’t already have sewn up. I don’t know why French speakers would ever read it unless they wanted to improve their English.’