Postmedia Network bets big on mobile with revamped Ottawa Citizen

The “re-imagined” Ottawa Citizen unveiled Tuesday by Postmedia Network is just the first step in an ambitious overhaul of the Toronto-based media company’s entire brand portfolio that will roll out over the next 12 to 15 months.

The revamp includes a new logo that reflects each local market (in the Citizen’s case, an abstract of the Peace Tower) and brand design overseen by the London, U.K. creative studio of Tyler Brule’s agency, Winkcreative, as well as the introduction of four colour-coded sections (blue for news, orange for lifestyle/entertainment, green for context/analysis and red for sports) that will be common across all of its delivery platforms.

However, those are merely the cosmetic aspects of a more radical structural change introduced by Postmedia. The Citizen is no longer a print-centric entity complemented by digital, but a four-platform brand in which news and information is created and packaged for distinct audience segments across print, web, mobile and tablet.

The revamp is the result of extensive proprietary research into Canadians’ media consumption habits that IpsosReid conducted for Postmedia. The research involved more than 17,000 Canadians, and enabled Postmedia to create personas for each user on each platform in each of its local markets. It helps guide the newsroom in the creation of content by forcing staff to ask questions like, “Would [persona X] be interested in this?”

Postmedia has also adopted what it calls a “one newsroom” philosophy that hands control of national and international content to a centralized team, freeing up Citizen journalists—and ultimately those across the entire network—to focus on their local market.

“Ottawa will have more local content than it’s had in a long time—probably than it’s ever had,” said Postmedia’s chief operating officer, Wayne Parrish. “We came to believe that the two competitive advantages we had as a company were the number of reporters and journalists, and the number of sales representatives we had on the ground in each of our markets.”

As part of the revamp, the Citizen’s print product will cater to a morning audience (primarily adults 50-54) with a content strategy that is forward-looking and analytical, putting events into context with greater emphasis on local news.

The web will be a “digital hub,” a search-driven product, always on and up-to-date with breaking news, features, columnists, video and audio. It will also feature a video player and companion ad in the right rail of all pages, while the company is also testing homepage takeovers.

At the heart of the company’s new philosophy is a 100% local mobile app aimed at a core audience of 18-34 that will be updated with breaking news 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The product caters to what the company describes as skimming, sharing readers. “If you have three seconds to look at your phone, there’s something for you,” said Parrish.

The tablet edition, meanwhile, is designed to cater primarily to the 35-49 demographic. It will be updated Monday through Friday at 6 p.m., offering a blend of news and current affairs-type content that is feature-driven, animated and built around what the company describes as a “touch and explore” approach to storytelling.

The paid product is designed to be a 30-minute front-to-back read, but features an easy navigation system that also enables readers to engage with any specific content that interests them.

The revamp is an acknowledgment, confirmed by Postmedia’s own internal data, that reader migration towards mobile is accelerating. According to Postmedia, two-thirds of its audience now arrives via smartphone or tablet.

“We thought we had to place some real bets on this device,” said Parrish. “We had seen a real explosion in our mobile-optimized website, but we saw a real play in local on this device.”

Each newsroom in the Postmedia network will ultimately have a “champion” of each of the four platforms. It is completely adaptable, meaning if Google Glass emerges as a key device for the consumption of news and information, the company will immediately appoint a Google Glass champion tasked with determining how best to deliver information on that particular platform.

The revamp includes an explosion in the number of story forms with which Postmedia operates—from five or six to 38—each with a specific purpose and, in some cases, a specific platform. Some might not appear on a smartphone, for example, because they may not engage that specific audience.

“Our belief was that you need to tell the story differently based on the time of day, the person you’re telling it to, etcetera,” said Parrish. “It’s almost like the characteristics of this device are a different language.”

With losses accelerating—the company lost $25.4 million in the second quarter, compared with a loss of $15.8 million in the comparable year-earlier period—it was clear Postmedia needed to rethink its approach to news and information, said Parrish.

“This has been a very challenging period for traditional media companies, and for those whose roots lay in print, it’s probably been even more challenging,” he told Marketing in advance of Tuesday’s relaunch.

“Our competition is against a much broader base than we once faced. It used to be the [National] Post versus The Globe and Mail, but the world has changed and our battle is against all forms of media. From an advertising revenue perspective, it’s against Google and MSN and all those guys.”

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