Financial Times

Newspapers must change with the times, need to attract young readers
Trends: West aping the East
It has always been the general tendency for Asia to follow the West in every new development – be it technology, medical discoveries, marketing, etc. However with Asia being the biggest economic growth centre and having the largest population as per region in the world, sectors like advertising and marketing in the West are now aping the Asia in innovation and creativity. “The US and Europe are now looking to Asia for innovation. There are a lot people in Asia, willing to try new things. If earlier Asia followed the West, now we see Asia leading much more. We are looking to Asia to provide more inspiration and creativity. This is a mental shift that we are going through,” noted Michelle-Kristula Green, President of Leo Burnet, Asia Pacific.
Newspapers need to change with the times and seriously re-consider their content; as to whether it meets current needs particularly at a time when information can be accessed at any time and faster than the print media, a regional advertising industry executive said.

“The definition of news is beginning to change around the world. For young people whom you need to engage in – sports is news, fashion is news, music is news, movies is news. If you look at newspapers in many parts of the world, and that’s true in India, the content is changing to accommodate younger readers, their needs and concerns. They (Indian newspapers) are beginning to be far more interactive in advertising,” noted Arvind Sharma, Chairman - Leo Burnett South Asia.

Responding to a question on how newspapers should compete with speedier forms of information and news communication, Sharma, during a discussion with senior editors and journalists in Colombo last week, said newspapers need to involve young readers. “There is a moralistic judgement that newspaper editors tend to make on what is news and what is not news. They tend to say politics is news, they say economics is news, they tend to say social issues are news,” he said.
The newspaper industry in Sri Lanka like in many parts of the world is struggling to compete against a plethora of faster and more proactive media which has led to cuts in media spending by business. In the Sri Lankan context, while the advertising budgets have been pruned due to economic reasons and rising costs, companies have more options in using a pruned budget instead of relying on newspapers alone.

Mr Sharma said the problem faced by newspapers in meeting these new challenges is a worry faced across the world by the print industry. “The whole phenomena of … I must get up in the morning and catch the newspaper before another family member gets it … is beginning to change,” he said. But he believes that there are lots of strategies newspapers and magazines could use to stay alive and active. He cites the Indian example of newspapers having district editions where readers can access information on local issues in these regional newspapers. Indian newspapers are expanding dramatically and reducing their cover prices because they find when circulation increases, advertisers are willing to pay higher rates.

Michelle-Kristula Green, President of Leo Burnett, Asia Pacific – who along with Mr Sharma were attending a regional workshop here, said newspapers haven’t really thought about how to change content and reach out to a different audience. “Newspapers still look like a standalone product, and ‘I am going to tell you what happened yesterday’ product.

There is no re-definition on what kind of information should be carried in the print media.” Mr Sharma said every big media group in India is becoming a multi-media group as it derives a lot of interactive possibilities from getting the same news and putting it on television, radio or newspapers.
On the issue of Sunday papers being in a better position to meet the technological challenge, Leo Burnett’s South Asia chief said Sunday papers do better and have larger audiences.

“One thing is clear – newspapers should not for example tell me what happened yesterday. Tell me what happened in the last eight hours I was asleep. When you stop television at 11 pm, repeating anything that you have seen before that means you are wasting my time.”

On the flip side, newspapers are far more flexible because it takes very little to write a story but a lot more to produce a television programme.
Ms Kristula-Green believes newspapers need to ask what is the reason for their existence in a person’s life. “What is the reason for existing? Once you come up with an answer, that would lead to the re-definition of content,” she said.

She said the biggest challenge the ad industry faces globally is how technology is changing the way to communicate in meeting people, communicate messages. “Now you can shoot a message on video, load it on U-tube and the whole world knows it. Earlier if there was a bad product, you pass the message word of mouth. Now you put it on U-tube and everyone knows about it. These are the challenges.”

Mr Sharma says in this region, the web will come to people on cellphones. “We have a unique opportunity on mobile marketing.

It’s not about pushing millions of SMS as people will complain about the overload. How do we create that pull? The region already has 500 million cellphones,” he said.
In a separate interview, the Leo Burnett Asia Pacific head said while advertising budgets are cut across the world there is growth taking place in the advertising industry. “Year-on-year we are growing at eight percent. We don’t see any major cuts from our clients. In some cases clients would like to use this (depressed) environment as an opportunity to go after market share if the competition is cutting back.”

She said ad agencies are more and more into fee-based work. “Clients may be cutting the media spending but on a fee-based basis, the work is still there (for us).”

On consumer spending falling in the world, she said there appears to be some ‘softness’ but when that happens companies start to cut production costs, develop smaller products and resort to competitive pricing.

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