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The Maharashtra Herald gets aggressive in Pune

The newspaper, which was acquired by the Sakal group in November last year, has kicked off the second phase of its revamp process


The Maharashtra Herald, the oldest English-language newspaper in Pune, which was acquired and subsequently relaunched by the Sakal group in April this year, has kicked off the second phase of its revamp process spanning editorial, sales and marketing.

The process was flagged-off on December 9 with an "upgraded product” that included more number of pages, namely 20 from the regular 16, as well as changes in the design, layout and masthead of the newspaper.

Maharashtra Herald has also tied-up with Knight Rider, an international content syndication service (from Tribune Media Services International), for international news, features and photographs.

The effort, says Pradyuman Maheshwari, editor, The Maharashtra Herald, has been to give the paper an international feel even as it maintains its local flavour with city-centric news and content.

"The people in Pune are exposed to media across the country and the world,” he says, "So they demand both national and international news apart from city-centric developments.”

The revamped Herald has four city pages, four sports pages, five feature pages and two national and international news pages respectively. Its cover price has been hiked from Re 1 to Rs 2 on weekdays, while on Saturdays and Sundays the paper hawks at a price of Rs 2.50 and Rs 3 respectively.

From a sales and marketing point of view, the thrust for the Herald is to corner a bigger share of the retail advertising pie in the city, which stands at about Rs 25-30-crore. National advertisers, says Shailesh Amonkar, head of marketing, Sakal Group of Newspapers, have been responding well to the Herald, and the challenge for the group is to make the paper attractive to retail advertisers.

Per cc black and white and colour ad rates in the Herald are Rs 250 and Rs 375 respectively, while a package deal with the Herald and Sakal put together costs Rs 1,250 (for per cc b&w ad) and Rs 2,500 (for per cc colour ad) respectively.

Amonkar says that the real estate and auto sectors – two of the biggest retail segments in Pune – have been advertising in the paper, and the challenge really is to ensure repeat advertising. "These sectors tend to be very response-oriented,” he says. "The point is to ensure enough conversions so that they keep coming back.”

To build awareness among readers and advertisers, the paper has also launched an ad campaign across print and outdoor in the city, apart from displaying banners and posters at retail outlets and indulging in door-to-door campaigning as well.

The subscription drive includes a consumer gift scheme in association with Westside and an attractive offer of a month's quota of the Herald for Rs 29 for all Marathi-language readers. However, the latter is available when the reader opts for a minimum three-month subscription, says Amonkar, and the response so far has been good, he adds.

The print-run of the Herald at this point is 40,000 copies, and the circulation target is about 60,000 copies by March 2005. "We are pretty hopeful of achieving this target,” says Amonkar. And one reason for this optimism stems not only from the response the paper has been getting for all its efforts, but also on account of the weakness of competition, in this case The Indian Express, Pune, which has been out of the ABC for some time, and trails behind the leader, The Times of India, which circulates at 1.09-lakh copies in the city.

Herald hopes to grab marketshare from the Express, which according to industry sources, has a print run of about 50,000-60,000 copies. The former is leaving no stone unturned to attract the attention of both English-language and Marathi-language readers, and to this end has a page of the Herald printed in the Sakal every day.

The paper has also invited local celebrities to endorse the paper beginning with the principal of the popular Bishop School in Pune (Frank Freeze), who is part of the print campaign running in the Sakal and the Herald.

Plans are to beef up the product in the months to come with additional pages on Sunday and a third tabloid on a weekday, apart from the existing eight-page IT Herald and Junior Herald tabloids on Fridays and Saturdays respectively.

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