Newspapers have to adopt multi-media, multi-channel and multi-platform strategies for providing consumer-centric communication, Reiner Mittelbach, Chief Executive Officer of WAN-IFRA, a global organisation of newspapers and news publishers, said on Wednesday.

Identifying four elements of consumer-centric communication, Mr. Mittelbach said the concept of “Newsroom 4.0” wherein media integration and target group orientation were combined in newsroom, segmentation of customer markets, a strong and visible brand and the concept of regarding advertisers as partners, not as cash cows, constituted the features.

Mr. Mittelbach was addressing the inauguration of Publish Asia Conference and IFRA Expo India at the Chennai Trade Centre in Nandambakkam.

Noting that consumer habits were changing, the CEO, who quoted examples mainly from the European newspaper industry, said the consumer was the driver of all changes in the newspaper industry. Each newspaper should be the “best of bread” and it should ensure that customers do not go to any other brand as far as seeking information was concerned.

The newspapers should adopt the “full service” concept wherein they performed roles such as news agencies, events agencies, and PR agencies. “The advertiser’s success is also the success of the publishing house because you keep the customer happy and the customer with you,” he said.

Mr. Mittelbach also called for a change in the organisational structure of newspapers so that it was in tune with customer segmentation.

Heavily ad-dependent

In his welcome address, N. Murali, Managing Director of The Hindu, pointed out how the newspaper industry in the country, particularly mainstream large English newspapers, was excessively reliant on advertising revenue. While the share of advertising revenue was around 60 per cent in respect of the overall industry, it was “unsustainably and staggeringly 84 to 85 per cent” in the case of the English newspapers.

Noting that the advertising growth was expected to remain flat or taper off in the foreseeable future, Mr. Murali wanted the industry to view the present economic downturn as an opportunity to restructure and reform itself and embrace sound fundamentals. The industry should move to a strategy of profitable growth as opposed to pursuing high-growth, artificial high-growth at any cost.

Pointing out that online media was still growing at an exponential rate in the country, he said the newspaper industry would have to develop its online and digital businesses though a search for a profitable model was still elusive the world over.

Thomas Jacob, Deputy CEO, WAN-IFRA and Managing Director-Greater Asia Pacific, said Asian media had become world leaders not only in print but also online. India and China together accounted for 45 of the world’s 100 largest newspapers. Asia boasted the highest number of broadband users at 158 million, exceeding the 123 million in Europe and 97.5 million in the United States. Asia was also emerging a leading user of mobile phones.

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