Postmedia’s Wayne Parrish: ‘We are not a newspaper company’

Toronto company continues to evolve from its print origins

Montreal Gazette adThere have been some minor issues (not surprisingly, they involved the puzzles page), but Postmedia’s ongoing re-launch of its publications as part of an ambitious new four-platform content strategy has produced both audience and revenue increases says its chief operating officer, Wayne Parrish.

Last month, the Montreal Gazette became the second of the media company’s newspapers to unveil a completely revamped print and digital product, following the Ottawa Citizen in May. The Calgary Herald is scheduled to follow on Nov. 25.

Speaking with Marketing recently, Parrish described the rollout as an evolutionary process, with the company learning from prior re-launches and re-calibrating subsequent products accordingly.

The May revamp of the Citizen’s print edition, for example, called for greater use of white space, larger photos and alternative story forms, all of which represented a significant departure from its previous incarnation.

“I think in the early days in Ottawa we probably went too far with those things, so we’ve calibrated them back,” said Parrish. “We still play photos large, but we do it sparingly.”

He also acknowledged that it took some time for Postmedia to hone the voice for its Citizen smartphone product, which is aimed at an 18-28 audience. It has applied those discoveries to the Gazette re-launch, leading to a voice that Parrish said is “sharper and clearer.”

“Once any product change goes to market in the media world, you have to be receptive and open to the reaction of your consumers, and we’ve tried to gather and quantify all of that feedback and build it into product development,” he said.

ComScore data produced in the wake of the Citizen re-launch showed a roughly 18% increase in unique visitors across its three digital platforms, to nearly 1.1 million.

Further validating the company’s multi-platform content approach – in which content is uniquely tailored for print, laptop, smartphone and tablet products – the data showed only 3% duplication between the desktop/laptop and mobile platforms, and just 2% between the tablet and smartphone.

Users are also viewing an average of 20 pages per day on their smartphone and more than 13 on the tablet, reinforcing the notion that Postmedia is hitting “some of the right notes” on its engagement strategy, said Parrish.

“Everything we’re doing is aimed at deepening that engagement even further, and we think there’s a real opportunity to do that on both of those platforms, as well as the web,” he said.

Though cautioning that it’s still early, Parrish said Postmedia has been able to successfully monetize the “reimagined” strategy. The Citizen re-launch generated incremental revenue of between $250,000 and $300,000 within the first few months, while The Gazette has achieved “that and more” in the launch period alone, said Parrish.

He said some advertising clients are already being waitlisted until November and December, particularly on the tablet product – which is designed as a long-read product for the evening and weekends.

“Whenever you launch a new product you’re happy to have that situation, but over time you’ve got to be able to deliver the numbers that support the launch packages and the attached revenue, and that’s the challenge for us now,” said Parrish.

Postmedia is taking a page out of its digital rivals’ playbook by selling against difference audience components for its individual platforms, a tactic he said is gaining traction among advertisers and media agencies.

As in Ottawa, the Montreal launch is being supported by a significant marketing campaign; however, where the Ottawa launch relied heavily on traditional media, Postmedia is devoting two thirds of its marketing budget to digital advertising for Montreal in order to try and drive adoption of the digital products.

“What that points to is the degree of education we have to undertake to explain to the public how different the product across each platform are.”

He said making people aware of the “fundamentally reinvented” tablet product has proven to be the company’s biggest marketing challenge.

In Ottawa, Postmedia launched the tablet product as a standalone for $12.99 per month (with a 99-cent trial offer). For Montreal, it launched the tablet product as a sponsored app, partnering with Videotron to make it free for the first three months. Parrish said he expects the tactic to better drive consumer adoption of the product.

Also factoring into Postmedia’s decision was the fact that Gesca’s La Presse+ product, a free ad-supported tablet app, has created a different expectation among Francophone readers.

Torstar announced this week that it is partnering with La Presse to develop a new tablet product for its flagship daily the Toronto Star, saying it had been encouraged by the company’s success with its tablet product. The company said it would remove the paywall at the country’s largest paper.

Postmedia has not yet determined if it will maintain the $12.99 price point once the three-month trial period expires, said Parrish.

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