Marketing video shows the strength of Mississippi newspapers

May 6, 2014

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

The owners and publishers of Mississippi newspapers knew the value and strength of their publications. All the doom-and-gloom stories about failing newspapers and print slowly fading into extinction were just that—stories.

The truth about newspapers was something else entirely, and Mississippi newspapers set about getting the record straight. The board of directors for the Mississippi Press Association agreed to fund a readership survey, focused specifically on their state’s newspapers. The results were what they expected: Mississippians read their newspapers—more than 70 percent of adults are active newspaper readers. That translates to more than 1.5 million readers across the state. The association used American Opinion Research out of Princeton, NJ, to conduct the survey.

But newspapers couldn’t just let that information sit on their shelves, said Lane Bruce, MPA executive director. There had to be a way to get that information out to readers and advertisers.

“We always tell advertisers how to market their businesses,” Bruce said. “But we’re notoriously bad at promoting ourselves.”

MPA President James Prince III agreed with Bruce. “Newspapers are the worst at promoting themselves,” he added. “For years, newspapers have just muddled along. We needed a big change to break the perception that newspapers are dying.”

It was time for them to take their own advice. Last April, the MPA board met during a retreat and discussed the various avenues for marketing the valuable information from their readership survey.

At first there was some tension during the retreat, Prince said, but then the publishers got down to business and focused on what was needed.

“We wanted to be able to tell everyone about the good results and in the process improve the perception of newspapers,” Bruce said. To do this, the association decided to consult an advertising agency. “We received proposals from three agencies, and after interviews, decided to go with the GodwinGroup out of Jackson, MS.”

Not knowing what to expect, the MPA board met with the ad agency’s people and were provided an in-depth lesson on branding. What they learned, Bruce explained, showed them the most simple and direct way to reach out to advertisers with the survey’s results. The agency, which itself was surprised by the positive results, presented the concept and then the finished product—a 2½ minute video, which gives the highlights of the more than 60-page survey.

In a note to National Newspaper Association President Robert M. Williams Jr., Prince, wrote: “GodwinGroup, the state’s largest advertising agency, produced the animation. Before their engagement with us on the project, they’d ‘given up on print,’ they said. Our strong survey results combined with the board’s three-hour interaction convinced them that newspapers are not only surviving, they’re thriving.”

“All the folks involved in (creating the video) were newspaper readers,” said Prince, who is the publisher and editor of the Neshoba (MS) Democrat. “They liked their hometown papers, and that’s reflected in the video. During the three-hour meeting with us they heard the passion of our board.”

This January, the association began showing the video to the masses, Bruce said. Bruce, Prince and Randy Ponder, the publisher of the Sea Coast Echo, in Bay St. Louis, MS, traveled to Washington for the NNA We Believe in Newspapers Summit to show the video to the state’s senators and representatives in person.

“Response on it has been great,” Bruce added. It has been downloaded about 100 times, so far, and MPA has been able to customize the downloads by adding a newspaper’s flag to the end of the video. On YouTube, it has been viewed more than 5,000 times.

Bruce said he would be doing a follow-up with his members in June to see how the state’s newspapers have been utilizing the video and how well it has been working for them.

Prince said that after receiving a copy of the video he went out with other representatives of is company’s newspapers to meet with local retailers.

“The best way to do this,” he added, “was to let them know that we just wanted to show them something—that we weren’t there to sell them anything.” The strategy worked, he added. Businesses were impressed by what they learned from the video.

Prince said he believed that, “Many of them have signed up for more advertising because of it. I’ve certainly seen more ad revenue come in.”

It’s not like in the old days, Prince explained, where an ad rep would just show up at a local business and ask for that week’s ad. In today’s world, newspapers have be more aggressive in showing companies that print still holds value and that it is the best way to get their message out to customers.

Ad agencies, he added, are all about the numbers. Prince noted that a few years ago when Mississippi newspaper representatives approached the New York ad agency that had taken over representing a local phone provider about ads, they were laughed out of the room.

“This survey provides those numbers they want,” he said.

In addition to the video, the association also produced house ads and a four-page brochure that provides a colorful breakdown of some of the most important information from the survey.

Bruce said he sends the house ads to member papers as part of their ad schedules.

“It’s strictly voluntary for them to run it,” he noted, but so far more than $800,000 in ad space has been used to promote the video and Mississippi newspapers.

Prince said that number might be closer to $1 million.

“I’ve printed the ads far more times than what the press association scheduled,” he said.

To help people find the marketing video more easily, it was given it’s own URL. It can be found at