Report From the NAA Conference


Publishers Chided for Failure to Embrace Database Marketing

By Published on .

WASHINGTON ( -- Newspaper publishers got a dose of down news this morning at the Newspaper Association of America's annual conference here. Two
speakers spoke frankly about changes in the retail industry, which remains newspapers' single-largest source of ad dollars.

Database marketing
The first slammed newspaper publishers for their failure to adequately embrace database marketing concepts; the second knocked them for not making their publications as attractive or brand-enhancing for advertisers as magazines are.

Gordon R. Cooke, president-CEO of fashion retailer J. Jill, told attendees there have been "very dramatic shifts" in the retail industry. Should newspapers fail to respond, he said, the $21 billion retail brings in for the medium could be "in jeopardy."

Wal-Mart impact
Mr. Cooke's comments followed a presentation by Carl Steidtmann, chief economist of Deloitte Research, who pointed out that traditional grocery stores -- a newspaper advertising mainstay -- had lost 10 points of that category's market share since 1992. And as retail observers would concede, the expansion of Wal-Mart -- never known for its lavish newspaper ad budgets -- into the grocery segment is far from finished.

Mr. Cooke said J. Jill does "virtually no newspaper advertising" for its 122 stores, which are spread across 32 states. (As recently as 1999, J. Jill only sold through its print catalogs.) And Mr. Cooke took pains to point out that in his previous stints at other companies he had been an enthusiastic proponent of newspaper advertising.

Suburban demographics
But he's not pushing newspapers at J. Jill, despite an audience that matches up reasonably well with the medium's demographics: well-off women ages 35 to 55 who work non-corporate white collar jobs and live in suburban settings close to major metropolitan areas.

Mr. Cooke chided newspapers for lagging in offering opportunities to do database marketing with its readership. He also touted J. Jill's preference for print vehicles such as Time Inc. magazines In Style and Real Simple, which he termed "rich, brand-enhancing environments." He made clear the demographic targeting of such magazines -- a medium that typically provides an audience themed around a sort of self-selected demographic attribute -- was preferable to local newspapers' geographic sell.

He characterized his remarks as a "wake-up call" to the industry.

Following Mr. Cooke's presentation, Jason Klein, president-CEO of the NAA's Newspaper National Network, touted some initiatives to package and partner newspapers in ways to make the medium more attractive to new-school retailers such as J. Jill, but he conceded there was still work to be done.

"Newspapers have been slower than magazine publishers to target different" groups of readers, he said.

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