Newspapers seek to regain film ads

Dailies help stimulate word of mouth

As the beleaguered newspaper biz struggles to sustain market share, some of its new, cross-platform approaches to movie-section advertising are being embraced by studios and readers alike.

“At one point, newspapers got this business — we didn’t think much about how we were going to get it. Now, have to think what we can do that’s different,” says Jack Brady, director of marketing and advertising for the Newspaper Assn. of America.

The push for innovation has not been a matter of choice. Though studio ad spending in newspapers has stabilized recently, it’s still way lower than it was just two years ago. According to the Newspaper National Network, studios spent $880 million on newspaper ads last year, down from $1.5 billion in 2005. While that huge drop has hit some papers hard, the fact that the bleeding has slowed of late is encouraging, says NNN president and CEO Jason E. Klein.

“It’s a sign that newspapers do a terrific job at stimulating word of mouth,” he asserts, and that’s not going unnoticed by media planners and buyers.

Still, Brady notes, as vehicles for movie ads, papers must continue to become more nimble. That means offering synergistic, cross-media campaigns, designed to reach broader demographics than the daily entertainment section alone.

At the Chicago Tribune, the order of the day is “to push studios and agencies to treat us less as a newspaper company and more as a content company,” says the publication’s entertainment division sales manager, Tom Schager. To engage studios and readers, the Trib has added new products to its movie-ad slate, Schager says, such as a free print publication called RedEye, distributed daily and geared toward an audience younger than the typical Tribune reader.

The paper has also focused on creating packaged ad deals for studios that span across its product offerings, including RedEye, Hispanic daily Hoy and special sections.

These arrangements offer unrivaled utility, but the process has been challenging, Schager acknowledges. “Where we used to have one ad, we now have five or six — sometimes even more — to work with.”

Still, efforts to call readers to action often take more than cross-publication placement. To that end, the Tribune is also experimenting with nontraditional layouts, such as partnering standard movie advertisements with ads in unconventional sizes, shapes, colors and locations — “ways and places people never expect to see a movie ad,” Schager explains.

The Tribune is hardly alone in breaking with tradition. According to Brady, for example, on several major moviegoing days, Focus Features worked with newspapers to pair conventional print ads for “Atonement” with island ads in theater directories.

And last fall, Fox Walden even appealed to moviegoers’ sense of smell, creating a frosted cake-scented ad to tout “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”

Amid the digital revolution, adapting to new platforms also helps. More papers are allowing users to access movie information on their mobile devices. Though many entertainment sites “look like garbage on mobile,” newspapers in general have been good about adjusting content, says Pete Snyder, CEO at online intelligence company New Media Strategies. “That’s smart, ahead-of-the-curve thinking.”

But movie-section innovation isn’t limited to advertising: With ongoing reports of film-critic layoffs and reassignments, newspapers have more than ever been required to adapt their entertainment-section editorial coverage as well.

The Chicago Tribune has capitalized on what Schager calls “untapped inventory,” packaging its film critics and columnists in video shorts that are then posted on YouTube and other Web-based channels. Other papers are pushing their critics to update movie content more frequently.

But even traditional-length film reviews have attempted new tactics for the Web, Snyder notes, taking more speculative angles to encourage readers to weigh in with their own opinions.

While these measures may feel daunting to some movie-section traditionalists, the concepts definitely seem to be making an impact, according to Schager.

“I think the fact that the majority of studios even two years ago weren’t spending money in local online and now are is a good overall story,” he says.