A1 as a marketing tool

We all know the front page is for good journalism.

Is it also the best way to market your paper?

This notion might be tough to swallow at first. “Marketing? No way. I am a journalist.”

But if you market your stories better, that journalism will reach more people. You might even find that you are already marketing your paper more than you think.

After months of research at The Roanoke (Va.) Times, we came up with a few ideas for better marketing on A1:

  • Make it consumer-oriented. Coupons are a good example (especially in this economy). Show people they can save money if they buy the paper. If you have a huge real estate section in classified, market it in the skybox.
  • Think about what people can see from a distance. Focus on a dominant story with a headline that you can read from a few feet away. Build in recognizable faces above the fold or an image that is easily identifiable to readers.
  • Engage readers with informative headlines. Avoid label headlines: they just aren’t effective. And watch where your headlines break: make sure the entire headline is visible in the box.
  • In skyboxes, keep promotional words to a minimum. Make sure to use an image with real pop. That is prime space. Use it well.
  • Look for different uses for the skyboxes, beyond sports and features. Tease to news, or coupons, or elsewhere.
  • Try something new each day. If your page has the same structure each day, you lose impulse-buy appeal. Don’t get stuck in a basic composition rut. Crop photos dynamically, try new configurations to keep it fresh.
  • Personal pronouns are not taboo. Connect to readers by speaking directly to them.

These ideas may seem basic, but it is a challenge to create something new every day and really think about selling papers with A1.

Others are doing similar research, with similar results. Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Consulting emphasized many of these same principles in recent Webinars.

We tend to get stuck in comfort zones. Breaking out of it might just help us produce a better A1 and entice more readers.

A look at some examples (in no particular order):

  • The Virginian-Pilot: This is a paper that is built  for the rack. The headlines are large and easy to read. They match the lede images and connect you to a story that may be otherwise very difficult to illustrate. Michael Vick’s face is large and instantly identifiable. 
  • The Denver Post: Another strong image. Tiger Woods is someone people will recognize. The lede headline is sharp and readable from a distance.
  • San Antonio Express-News: Take a look at the skybox. One item, the image has impact from a distance. Especially for women.

  • St. Petersburg Times: A question headline that meshes perfectly with the image. “Why is he on the streets?” It makes me study this picture and look for answers but I can’t get them without reading. Great for impulse buyers.
  • The Kansas City Star: Strong image with another big,  bold headline that breaks right along the fold.
  • The Roanoke Times: Simple strong image that puts together local information on a national story. Single focus skybox.

Carrie Cousins is the News Design Team Leader at The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va. She can be reached at Carrie.Cousins@roanoke.com