Do Some Good: Create Newspaper Ads

Viewpoint: Mike Hughes, The Martin Agency

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Mike Hughes
Mike Hughes

It's time the advertising industry did something important.

For our own self-interest -- and for the common good -- we need to start paying attention to newspapers again.

To begin with, it would be good for our business. For our own selfish reasons, we need a medium that targets the well-informed. We need a medium that lets us tell our whole story -- and not just the 30-second version. With each passing month, we need more media that target people where they live. We need more media that let marketers build a brand and ask for the business. We need more media that let writers, art directors, photographers and illustrators practice their crafts.

We need a medium with the immediacy and importance of newspapers. Lee Clow says, "Newspaper is a special medium. It's urgent, not yesterday or tomorrow but today. Sitting with a newspaper and a cup of coffee in the morning will always be one of the most intimate media experiences there is."

Online or in print, we need newspapers. There are no substitutes. Magazines, TV channels and websites don't do the same things. Not even close.

Our industry needs newspapers -- but just as important, so does humankind. The world needs the kind of journalism practiced by newspapers when they're at their best. The local investigative pieces. The foreign correspondence. The war reporting. Without them, news goes unreported. Viewpoints are narrowed. Governments can run amok.

That kind of reporting is expensive, and right now no one knows how it will get paid for in the coming years. With newspapers cutting costs every day, who will pay to man a substantial bureau in Baghdad? Who will spend the money to report the atrocities in Africa? Who will find the resources to blow the whistle on the next Watergate?

Mike Hughes is president and creative director at the Martin Agency, which is also the agency of record for the Newspaper Association of America. Mr. Hughes began his career as a newspaper reporter and editor. He's a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University's Brandcenter. The Virginia General Assembly -- the oldest governing body in the Western Hemisphere -- named Mike and his partner, John Adams, Outstanding Industrialists of the Year in 2000. Mike's wife, Ginny, teases him a lot about that last title.

Even at their best, magazines, TV channels and websites don't come close to giving us that kind of reporting.

Of course, humankind's problem isn't necessarily the advertising industry's problem. If online and print newspapers weren't proven effective, no one would say our industry needs to address this important problem.

But decades worth of evidence -- including evidence gathered in 2009 -- points to the uncommon efficacy of newspaper advertising. You know how excited our industry gets about the Super Bowl? Well, every single day of the year, more American adults read a printed newspaper than watch the big game once a year. And in 22 of the top 25 markets, the local-newspaper site is the No. 1 local site in town. And the newspaper-website audience has grown 80% in the past five years.

So why aren't we creating more newspaper advertising? Part of the answer is undoubtedly fashion. Twenty-five years ago, an advertising campaign usually meant "TV and some print. Maybe radio." That was the fashion then. Say "campaign" to ad people today, and their minds leap to "TV and digital." We say we're media-agnostic, but our behavior often says something else entirely. How many agencies aren't selling newspaper advertising to their clients as hard as they should? How many advertisers are overlooking the medium that still has unsurpassed credibility with its audience? It's time for a wake-up call.

No less an authority than Jeff Goodby reminds us that far from being out-of-fashion, a good newspaper ad is actual art. "The art is the part that gets people to look. Show outrageous things that don't belong there. Shock people with a new logic," he says. "If we all do this, it will become very difficult to find which newspaper page we want to wrap the fish in.

"I will like that day."

Let me be clear here. I don't think the newspaper industry is going to die anytime soon. With some well-publicized exceptions, most papers are surviving the economy's near collapse. They might be holding on by their fingernails, but at least they're holding on.

But if the newspaper business is going to give us the content our industry feeds on -- and if it's going to give us the journalism the world needs -- newspapers need to be robust.

If we don't give them a fair shot at our budgets, they might never be healthy enough to do the job we want them to do.

And we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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