Beyond the printed page: As newspapers move deeper into the mobile and online space, strategy checked in with Canada’s national newspaper warriors to find out what’s working

Newspaper brands are in the throes of a major evolution, as they move content and advertising onto mobile and online platforms and launch new services and niche products to connect with more consumers. Strategy checked in with Canada's national newspaper warriors - CTVglobemedia's Globe and Mail and Canwest's National Post - to find out what's working.

Newspaper brands are in the throes of a major evolution, as they move content and advertising onto mobile and online platforms and launch new services and niche products to connect with more consumers. Strategy checked in with Canada’s national newspaper warriors – CTVglobemedia’s Globe and Mail and Canwest’s National Post – to find out what’s working.

You don’t have to look far to find an obsession with death in the mediascape – or an argument about what’s dying, anyway. We’ve heard that TV is dead countless times, ditto radio. And print – well, ‘print is dead’ comes to mind with every new study on declining circulation or how the Internet killed the classified pages. And yet they all soldier on, with varying degrees of reinvention along the way. For the original media platform – newspapers – that currently means less paper-centric thinking and a wider definition of news content.

Both of Canada’s national newspapers are deploying strategies that surround audiences with unique content of a quality far beyond the commoditized updates that span the web. Beyond the initial challenge of creating online products that can compete globally in the digital information game, they are shifting into a different kind of storytelling, as technology changes the nature of journalism for its practitioners, readers and advertisers.

The Globe and Mail and the National Post both redesigned their print products last year (the Globe in April and the Post in September), launched new sections designed for reader and advertiser appeal and forged ahead with new online initiatives – including high-quality video content and new plans for making content available on the go.

The Post went live with a soft launch of its newly redesigned NationalPost.com website on Nov. 24, and a hard launch, accompanied by ad creative and full-on promotion and aggressive marketing, followed on Dec. 5.

‘This has been a huge year of transition for us,’ says National Post editor-in-chief Doug Kelly of the last 12 months. ‘Our newsroom from top to bottom has bought into the idea that we are delivering information across as many platforms as fast and deep as possible.’

The paper opted for a fresh look online, more akin to NYTimes.com than its previous uniformity with CanWest’s Canada.com network. In print, the paper also redesigned its Arts & Life section last April and added a Small Business Mondays section in September.

‘I think you’ll find newspapers becoming more analytical,’ says Kelly. ‘The commoditized news will tend to be pushed to the web and other sources. It’ll be presented differently in the newspaper, and probably be more graphic-driven. Certainly at this paper, commentary is a big part of what we do, and that will be front and centre.’

Following its full-on print redesign, which debuted last April, the Globe and Mail built ReportonBusiness.com to back up its existing magazine brand, introduced three new niche-targeted mags – Report on Small Business, Technology Quarterly (or TQ) and Globe Investor – and launched its Life section. Globe and Mail publisher/CEO Phillip Crawley says Life has attracted about 80 new advertisers to the Globe, and accomplished the paper’s goal of attracting more women readers.

‘It’s been successful at helping us drive growth in our advertising sales,’ says Crawley. ‘As you look around at the North American market, you’ll see that most newspapers are suffering a decline in their newspaper ad sales. We’ve actually recorded an increase of something like 6% in our ad sales in the course of that fiscal year [up to the end of August].’

Reasons for that growth, aside from the Life launch, include new premium positions such as the OBC on the news section and the ‘smart agate’ content placements in the business section, as well as new print/web bundling opps and cross-platform packages that leverage multiple touchpoints for advertisers.

And while the situation of declining circulation revenues seems to be more grim in the U.S. than in Canada, print publishers on both sides of the border are getting in early on the production of motion pics for the public – even as the mediascape continues to debate the best way to monetize what everybody says is the wave of the future.

With the official reboot of NationalPost.com, the Post marked its commitment to serving up more video content by integrating a new video player into its web presence. In addition to the established video series that accompanies Financial Post writer Jonathan Chevreau’s Wealthy Boomer columns and blog posts, the paper emphasized the relaunch with video segments such as The Abaya Monologues, a clip that also tied in with the written word.

Prior to the reboot, the video content on NationalPost.com ‘wasn’t very appealing,’ says Jonathan Harris, executive editor and director of online for the Post. ‘Now we have a new player, and it’s a much better experience for users. We’re starting to get very aggressive in that space. We’re looking at pushing out a lot of new video from the newsroom, and making it a priority this year.’

The Post‘s VP advertising sales, Mark Spencer, says video is part of the package when it comes to serving advertisers in the online delivery of content. ‘From an advertising perspective, there’s a tremendous amount of growth opportunity in online,’ he says. ‘We’ll continue to look at complementing our print product with online innovations as well.’

For example, RBC sponsored The Wealthy Boomer with video pre-rolls produced by Canwest, as well as standard online ads, sponsor logos and print integration. And Bell is sponsoring 12 Weeks to Start Up, a video series about starting a new business which began rolling out in January.

The National Post‘s whole newsroom is now involved in the multimedia-content line of thinking. ‘On the video front, there’s the daily stuff, which will come out of the FP, and larger, project-driven initiatives,’ says Kelly. ‘We try to constantly have something coming out through the newspaper and the website – sort of the big idea in terms of a series. We will be backing that up with video. Across as many platforms as possible, the bottom line is that we are competing with all sorts of media.’

In January, the Post began an ambitious series on native issues in Canada. Originally planned as a five-day series, Kelly says the strategy was changed to run it over five weeks to drive online participation and discussion and, ultimately, a viral spike in interest and traffic. And the weekend before Valentine’s Day, the Post will publish the Love & Sex Issue, which Kelly expects will perform even better than the Woman Issue – a whole issue focused on women – did in September.

The Globe launched its video content in early 2007, and the paper has since branded several video features as Globe Docs. The point was driven home to advertisers at a client appreciation event in November, when the paper put Afghanistan correspondent Graeme Smith on stage to share experiences (and video) from the field with a 700-strong crowd at the Carlu in Toronto. The paper also showed Boy in the Moon, a Globe Doc about features writer Ian Brown’s son that accompanied a 16,000-word Saturday series of articles.

‘Video has been quite a fascinating experience for us,’ says Crawley. ‘We really didn’t have an idea of how well this would play out, but we’ve exceeded our expectations in terms of the number of plays. Very quickly we were hitting a million plays a month – much more than we expected, and more than what some other newspapers which have been doing it longer have achieved.

‘There’s a developing strength here for us. Obviously, we have to establish response rates and traffic levels, and then we can go out and sell on the back of that information.’

The Globe already included video vignettes in the media plan for the Infiniti Excellence by Design initiative. The series profiled subjects such as Cirque du Soleil makeup designer Nathalie Gagne and Shim-Sutcliffe Architects in ROB magazine from May to December, and tied it all together with a 15-second sponsor tag, microsites, online ad placements with various Globe properties and on-air exposure on CTVglobemedia’s Business News Network (BNN).

The Globe sells pre-roll ads for some video content to marketers such as Ford, but it’s currently marked as a growth opportunity rather than a stand-alone revenue-getter.

‘It’s an area that’s slowly gaining traction,’ says Andrew Saunders, VP advertising sales for the Globe. ‘A number of advertisers have shown an interest, but the interest to date in online video as an industry is quite limited. But our expectation is that it will evolve over the next 12 to 18 months.’

Mobile is also pegged as one of the next big things. The Toronto Star announced that it was shutting down its downloadable afternoon daily, Star PM (which lasted only half a year), to focus instead on the paper’s mobile services. Heading into the new year, the Wall Street Journal made headlines for more than just its decision to scrap subscription fees and permit free online access – it also launched fully functional mobile offerings. And the Globe and Mail and National Post are also embracing the latest platform that’s caught the eyes of newspaper publishers around the world.

The Globe is preparing to launch its new mobile delivery service this month, marking a new arrangement with California-based AvantGo that will make it easier to access content on any BlackBerry or PDA. Advertiser presence on the Globe‘s mobile offerings will take the form of logo placement on the small screen – although Crawley is careful to emphasize that the Globe‘s mobile initiatives are ‘more of a service issue than a revenue issue.’ It’s about making the brand available to its advocates at any time or place.

The Post launched its mobile service with Toronto-based Viigo in June 2007, but the newspaper didn’t really put a promotional push behind it until December. The Post did not reveal user numbers for the mobile platform offerings. But Harris told strategy that the promotional push led to a five-fold increase in the number of people accessing Post content on the go in the week before Christmas, when ads on NationalPost.com and Canada.com rolled out, along with e-newsletter placements and ‘reefer’ promotional banners on page A1 of the print product.

The mobile ad content is embedded into each of the feeds that mobile users can find with the National Post and Financial Post. The paper has a number of channels accessible via handheld devices – from the Full Comment feed straight from the editorial board to theampersand, the paper’s Arts & Life feed, to PostIt Sports. In mid-January, American Express was advertising with the Post‘s Viigo content, and contracts with Cisco Systems and IBM were signed as well.

‘One of the great things about the partnership with Viigo is that it’s so versatile,’ says Spencer, the Post‘s VP of advertising. ‘Users get to select exactly what they want. It’s compatible with whatever their interests are.’

And whether you classify the Financial Post daily podcast as mobile content or just lump it in with ‘audio,’ you can’t ignore the success of the series. Launched in March 2007, the podcast quickly shot to number one in the iTunes business category with pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll sponsorship by Cisco. On a weekday before Christmas, it was ranked at a comfortable number three. And the Post is pushing forward with the Full Comment podcast and a Small Business vodcast – which had yet to find sponsors at press time.

On the Globe‘s side, there’s also good news to report when it comes to the success of the multiple-touchpoint plan.

‘As our emerging technology and platforms mature, it gives us greater leverage,’ says Saunders. ‘Our newspaper reach weekly is around 2.5 million, but our online reach is now over five million unique visitors and over 100 million page views – and that doesn’t even include the magazine reach.’ ROB magazine’s audience adds another 1.3 million in reach for advertisers looking for more exposure than the newspaper itself.

As the Globe‘s strategy for 2008 unfolds, don’t be surprised to see a lot of activity in terms of new online products rolling out as well as a continued focus on bundling print and web opps for advertisers. And the paper isn’t about to ditch its subscription models for quality offerings.

‘We’re looking at new subscription offerings for the next year,’ says Crawley. ‘Subscriptions online are a hot topic because of what’s been happening elsewhere in the industry, at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. We still believe there’s a value in premium content, particularly in specialist areas. We have a very strong franchise in business and finance, and it would be no surprise if you found us focusing on those areas.’

The paper is also pushing forward with online products designed just for advertisers and the marketing community. Last spring, coinciding with the print product’s redesign, the Globe launched GlobeLink.ca, a comprehensive online info source for details such as rates, section descriptions and the company’s other vertical products. The site includes Globe Dispatch, an e-newsletter for advertisers, and Media Central, a 24/7 news and insight resource aimed at helping communications pros create well-informed plans by highlighting industry trends and professional issues.

‘With GlobeLink, we’ve had thousands of participants engaging with the site,’ says Saunders, adding that registrations have grown by about 30%. ‘We’re seeing that the community is going to GlobeLink to engage with this type of content. So it’s obviously been a worthwhile investment. At this stage in the game, what we’re doing is refining our current strategy.’

The Post‘s 2008 strategy includes pushing out more multimedia offerings, like video and audio files embedded in the online content, as well as enhancing its Web 2.0-friendly tools for readers. In addition, the reboot of NationalPost.com involved introducing four widgets that make Post content moveable to MySpace or Facebook, or straight to users’ desktops. And Harris says the number of Post widgets will double this year.

As newspapers press on with the task of proving the value of their multimedia audiences, not all media reports are grim. There’s evidence from across the continent that revenue streams from digital platforms are growing as the content delivery channels themselves grow in significance. In November, the Newspaper Association of America reported that third-quarter online ad revenues were up 21% – lower than the 31.5% overall online revenue growth achieved in 2006, but still healthy. It was, after all, the 14th consecutive quarter of double digit growth for online newspaper ads since 2004.

That same month, a study by Toronto-based organization Kubas Consultants surveyed 508 newspaper executives and managers in the U.S. and Canada, and found that 71% of them anticipated large increases in online revenue in 2008.

Are newspapers competing more directly with TV and radio? You could argue that they are – and that the so-called newspaper wars have expanded beyond the printed page and become the media wars.