James Ellis sees himself as an adman, and if his latest assignment at Tribune Co. yields the anticipated results, the company's newspapers will attract younger readers and the advertisers that covet them.
Late last year, Mr. Ellis, a Tribune Co. veteran who spent 20 years on the broadcast side of the house, moved from VP-group operations at Tribune Broadcasting to VP-brand management for the parent. It's a new position within Tribune Co. and a lofty title that's not often used in the industry. Mr. Ellis didn't want to take a title like chief marketing officer because he sees his job as more than arranging newspaper promotions and commercials.
Mr. Ellis will work across the company, including broadcast, but 80% of his time will be spent with Tribune Co. newspapers.
The company's 12 dailies range from Long Island-based Newsday and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on one coast, to the Los Angeles Times on the other coast, to the Chicago Tribune in the heartland; Tribune Co. says it's the U.S.' No. 3 newspaper company by circulation. Mr. Ellis' goal will be to get occasional readers in the 18-34 age bracket to buy the paper more frequently and read it more thoroughly. If young adults find the paper more relevant, so will advertisers, the theory goes.
"The most important driver of our image in the advertising community is our ability to serve our local community," Mr. Ellis says. "The reason newspapers aren't maybe focused on this is they haven't had to be. In a lot of places, they were the only game in town, and for a lot of years, they weren't worried about what radio was doing, what television was doing. The Internet changed all that."
With a background on the broadcast side, Mr. Ellis says he brings a new sense of urgency to the mission of branding. Results from a 2002 industry study drove home the need to address readership issues. The study, by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University's Media Management Center, found that consumers under age 35 are reading their local daily newspapers for less than 15 minutes a day.
"Readership trends cannot be ignored," says Christa Sober, a publishing industry analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners, San Francisco. "If the majority of your readers are going to die in 20 years, you need to change your perception in the locality."
Industry experts say Mr. Ellis' appointment demonstrates that Tribune Co. has moved beyond the realization that brand matters and into creating a brand strategy.
"A lot of people think of brand as the logo, the motto," says John Lavine, director of the Readership Institute. "Classic brands like Coke and Pepsi are simple products. A newspaper is a very complicated product. In some ways, it is a wrap around many brands. If usage of the paper, time frequency and completeness of reading go up in a major way, advertisers win."
Among the projects on Mr. Ellis' plate: more in-paper promotions and more sections developed for younger readers.
He already has shepherded a new Sunday section in the Chicago Tribune titled "Q" (which stands for "Qualities of Life"); Red Eye, a 20-minute read in tabloid form that Mr. Ellis calls "Tribune Light"; and a new calendar section in the L.A. Times. The Orlando Sentinel has started a campaign called "Stay Posted," in which spot color ads that resemble Post-it notes refer readers to other articles within the same day's newspaper.
Tribune Co. also is readying a readership scoring system, resembling those at other newspapers, that would give advertisers better information on how often readers are buying the company's local papers and how completely they are reading them.
"I've had more conversations with our customers for research and the desire for better research in the last 18 months than in the past 10 years," says Scott Harding, CEO of Newspaper Services of America, an ad sales and placement agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos. "It's indicative of everyone on all sides of the desk becoming more sophisticated and the desire to be more efficient and effective."
similar road in atlanta
Others are catching onto the branding concept as well, particularly as they try to tie together their print and Internet activities. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of Cox Enterprises' 17 dailies, last week introduced a new Thursday entertainment section called "Access Atlanta." The tabloid format, which will replace a broadsheet entertainment section that ran on Fridays, is geared to younger readers and will tie in with a related Web site (accessatlanta.com).
"Advertisers are concerned about reaching younger readers," says Journal-Constitution Publisher Roger Kintzel. "They haven't found a vehicle that's a winner in attracting younger audiences, so when we go out to them with a product that does, they're excited."