Raushni Bhagia and Devesh Gupta

News Brands: The Power of Promotion

Self-promotion is a part of a media brand's arsenal. Why then do news channels and newspapers, both occupying the same space, have an entirely different take when it comes to marketing campaigns?

The contrast is stark. If a foreigner landed in India, he'd find - going by the marketing campaigns - that dailies are concerned about the country's future leadership ('Lead India', The Times of India), congestion ('Unclog Mumbai', Hindustan Times), regional problems ('Maharashtra's Expectation', Sakal) the nature of politics ('Behave Yourself', The Hindu), and the power of saying 'Naa' (Dainik Bhaskar), among other concerns.

News Brands: The Power of Promotion
News Brands: The Power of Promotion
Instead, if the visitor turned to news channels to figure what was happening, he'd find that the wide variety of concerns is missing. There would be a certain sameness on the small screen: Be it
(Zee News), Aapko Rakhe Aage (ABP News), For A Better Society (TV9 Telugu) or Unmai Udannukudan ('Quick news without falsehood', Puthia Thalaimurai, Tamil). In each case the centre of the campaign is either the channel or the viewer.

News channels have a laser-like focus on their viewer. A media expert wryly notes that the promotional campaign for a news channel will "either make the viewer out as the hero or claim that the channel represents the nation's/the viewer's voice. It will talk about being first, being truthful, offering perspective or, if the look has been revamped, it will emphasise newness."

There are exceptions. Newspapers do thump their chest about their readership figures but this is generally fleeting in comparison to their long-running social-oriented campaigns.

While both media are in the news business, why do they promote themselves so differently from each other?

Scrambling for attention

Some would contend that channels too are associated with social campaigns and hold up examples such as NDTV's Greenathon and Aaj Tak's Care Awards (about corporate social responsibility). However, most of these campaigns are either sponsored or advertiser-funded, for Greenathon is funded by Toyota, along with another NDTV initiative, 'Save India's Coasts'. In print, the advertiser support is mostly negligible.

While one could quibble about this campaign or that, one fact is certain: self-promotion in print overwhelmingly takes a social-cause route while that on TV is more blatantly self-promotion.

Executives in the TV business protest that this comparison is unfair. To begin with, newspapers and channels are in different stages of their lifecycle. Secondly, the nature of the competition is different, too. Most of the newspapers are at least 50 years old while the channels have been around for just a decade or so: they are still in the process of market creation.

Also, one could add that newspapers as a business is comfortably profitable whereas news channels are mired in losses.

Explains Pradeep Khatri, head, marketing, India TV, "News channels are still relatively new. The news genre may be important to people but individual channels are less so." So they need to plug themselves. Since viewers can move at the press of a button, news channels are also in competition with options in other genres: if the news is dull, viewers could move out of news altogether.

Associating with a social cause has become the norm in print. That is why even a title like the Mumbai-headquartered DNA which was launched only in 2005 nevertheless created a campaign, DNA - Do Good. Its latest one is Be Polite. Thousands of people have registered for it.

Or consider the Telugu daily, Sakshi. Merely five years old, Sakshi has been conducting a women's empowerment activation for the last three years in Andhra Pradesh under which it teaches women and helps them acquire vocational skills. For 2013, the programme received more than one lakh entries.

Neeraj Sanan, marketing head, ABP News, points out that dailies are more secure about their readership because it is hard for a rival to snitch their customers. It would take months of bombarding a reader before he or she switched newspapers - a far cry from the situation in news channels. Argues Sanan, "So, for channels, marketing plays a vital role, while for newspapers, distribution is more important." He goes on to add that "The TV news channels need to be aggressive in marketing themselves, otherwise they will constantly lose viewership."

India TV's Khatri explains why the marketing approach in the two media is so different: "One can subscribe to one, two or at most four newspapers but when it comes to TV channels, all of them are present right in your house so it's simply a matter of clicking and changing channels." That is why the campaigns for news channels are forever trying to tempt visitors to taste the content.

TV channels are apt to slice and dice their viewership figures to emphasise how they are getting more popular. Better to quickly advertise the growth before the inevitable decline comes in a few weeks, is the general belief.

Vivek Malhotra, head of marketing and research, TV Today (Aaj Tak, Headlines Today) says that dailies can't use readership figures because these are available only once a quarter. In comparison, "Reliance on recall is negligible for TV measurement," says Malhotra.

Long-term game

With more time on their hands and a penchant for analysis, dailies are better placed to run long-running campaigns in which editorial write-ups - and follow ups - on civic issues supplement the advertising in print. Nitin Chaudhary, business development head, HT Media, Mumbai, says that television fails on delivering on the problems it highlights because it is unable to mobilise on the ground." When newspapers get associated with causes, it evokes reader interest, and helps in recalling the newspaper brand when readership surveys are conducted later.

Benjamin, deputy regional manager at the Tamil daily Dinamalar, says that these campaigns tend to voice the problems of the middle class and the underprivileged. "When such campaigns take off, a mass voice is formed and the authorities are compelled to sort the issues. Over a period of time, people realise that a certain newspaper that has taken up the campaign has a strong voice and has strong values."

The divergent routes taken by newspapers and TV channels are unlikely to converge anytime soon.