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Monday, October 20, 2008

Names, names, names

The Daily Record in Dunn, NC, has the highest market "penetration rate" in the country -- more than the population of the community it serves? How is it so successful: "Names, names, names". Should we follow the lead in our own construction publications serving North Carolina and Canada?

We are considering a major change in the editorial content and style in our publications. "Names, names, names" is the mantra -- and, added to that, pictures of people to go with the names. Pages and pages of this stuff -- not hard news, not serious controversy, just names and pictures, names and pictures?

Why?

There's increasing and mounting evidence that publications which focus on names and images succeed when publications that focus on 'important news' fail. Why is this? Basic marketing, I think. By publishing names and pictures, you become the centre of the publication, not the publisher or distant celebrities. You become the celebrity. With your moment of fame and recognition, you tend to want to read the newspaper, and if you have a business, to advertise in it.

The leading proponent of the "names, names, names" is the Daily Record in Dunn, NC.
This excerpt from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, explains why:
Dunn, North Carolina, is a small town about 40 miles south of Raleigh. It has 14,000 residents and its workforce is primarily blue-collar. The local diner is packed in the morning with people eating big breakfasts and drinking coffee. Waitresses call you "hon." All in all, Dunn is a pretty normal place, except for one fact: Almost everyone in Dunn reads the local paper, the Daily Record. As a matter of fact, more than everyone in Dunn reads the paper. The Daily Record's penetration in the Dunn community is 112 percent, which is the highest penetration of any newspaper in the country. What explains this remarkable success?

The Dunn Daily Record was founded in 1950 by Hoover Adams. Throughout his tenure as publisher, Adams has believed newspapers need to be relentlessly local in their coverage. In fact, asked why the Daily Record has been so successful, Adams replies: "It's because of three things: Names, names, and names." In 1978, frustrated by what he felt was an insufficient focus on local issues in the paper, he wrote a memo to his staff, explaining his views. "A local newspaper can never get enough local names. I'd happily hire two more typesetters and add two more pages in every edition if we had the names to fill them up."

Look at how Adams communicates his core message. He says he'd hire more typesetters if the reporters could generate enough names. This is forced prioritization: Local focus is more important than minimizing costs! He also speaks in clear, tangible language. Is there a staffer who won't understand what Adams means by "names"? Adams can't possibly be involved in the vast majority of decisions at the paper. But his employees don't suffer from decision paralysis, because Adams is clear: "names, names, and names." Do we run the inspiring human interest story from the wire service, or the boring city council meeting with public testimony on the roadway bond issue? The boring city council story. It has more names, so it wins.

Two other examples of this type of publishing organization come to mind, one the SNAP Newspaper Group franchise, and the second, a group of excellent and well-established newspapers in Texas. In the SNAP concept, local franchisees contact with photographers to take pictures at community activities and events. These are run, page after page, without any significant 'news' content. Doesn't matter. People want to see themselves in print.

In Texas, meanwhile, Buddy Doebbler has built a vibrant and successful business publishing local construction publications in San Antonio (home base), Austin, Houston and Dallas. If you are looking for controversial or contentious issues, you will have to go elsewhere, if you want to see lots of local business profiles and pictures of construction company employees, you'll surely be satisfied. Doebbler has appreciated that indeed names, names, names, are effective and meaningful in publishing.

So, how will these insights change the way we do business? I'm tangling with this issue -- I've always believed that real journalism has a place in our specialized publications; thoughtful, independently written stories on issues of debate and controversy -- and I can't imagine publishing nothing but pages and pages of pictures of smiling people staring at the camera. Yet, we cannot deny the evidence that "names, names, names" is effective.

Should we seek a change -- publishing perhaps one really solid and well researched story, a news brief page, a sports page, and then, several pages with pictures and names? And if so, how and when do we implement the change? This is a topic for our upcoming planning meeting, but if you have thoughts or opinions on this topic, please feel free to comment -- or email me.

"Names, names, names" -- maybe this is the way to go. And if it is the way to go for us as publishers, how can this influence your approach to promoting and marketing your own business?

2 comments:

Kerry said...

Mark,

Is seems as if they really have mastered the idea of "creating a community" with no gimmicks or fancy techniques, they just focused on their community. Seems simple enough. What are your initial thoughts for implementing this for your publications?

Mark Buckshon said...

Kerry, we'll initially cut down on the press release/boring stuff, and allocate more space to names; stories can be assigned that way as well.
It seems strange to me that running effectively a 'phone book' (of names) works better than real news, but that is the way it is.