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Business Strategy: All Wars Are Local June 16, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in Uncategorized.
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I’m not sure who said this or if I’ve just made it up from something I heard years ago but it goes like this:  All wars are local.  Which to me, means that whether global military war or business war, the war seems pretty localized from where you happen to be in the battlefield.  It’s all-local.  Now it seems that the print media war, which is on a national scale is really a local war after all.

I have a very good example for you too.  I was on the E train in Manhattan when I noticed the ad campaign splashed above me.  It was for the New York Times and one of the captions caught my eye: “Not just Wall Street.  Every Street.”  Then I noticed the other ad posters on the subway wall.  They all had different captions but emphasized the same thing:  we cover New York LOCALLY.  Here was a major paper that not long ago focused on marketing itself as a national paper in addition to covering NY and the tri-state area.  Now the focus was convincing readers and potential readers that IT was the best for NYC coverage.

Now enter the Wall Street Journal.  It’s clearly a national paper in terms of its coverage.  However, it recently launched an entirely new section of the paper that focuses exclusively on local NYC news.  How about that.  All media wars are local.  It represents, at least here in NY, a fundamental shift in business strategy for print media.

Let me summarize what I think it means in terms of business strategy from the NYT and WSJ perspective.  What they are saying is, ‘We need to OWN our local market.  We need to completely obliterate all other competition.”  All media wars are local.  That’s it.  Somebody woke up and realized that in order to survive, print media needs to own the local space lock, stock, and barrel.

This is especially true in major metropolitan markets like NY represents but it also has implications for local and regional papers too.  While how local newsprint gets delivered will surely change (via electronic devices like the iPad or others like it), what really matters is who captures the most ‘eyes’.  Advertisers of any kind only want to invest in media devices where their customers are spending their time.  Whether that’s a printed version or electronic version matters not.  The more splintered a market is in the context of how many sources people have for local information, the worse it is for local media.  Own the space then.

The paper in which I author several columns, The Times Herald-Record, was way ahead of the ‘own the local market’ curve years ago.  I don’t recall the year but they introduced and marketed the mantra ‘Because we live here too’.  Their emphasis was squarely on localized coverage and more of it.  The feel of the paper changed as they put more investment into deeper local coverage of a broad range of events.  It was notable at the time that less print space was devoted to deeper national and global coverage and more shelf space devoted to local & regional issues.  All wars are local, including the media ones.

This all very understandable given that a reader can get national and global news from many other sources including TV or the web.  What’s really funny to me about the whole thing is that nothing has really changed here.  Marketing strategy has always depended on meeting the customer where they spend most of their time.  Advertising has always been based on subscriber counts of one kind or another.

In fact, I’d say that what’s happening from a business strategy perspective is that print media is going back to its roots.  There was a time when almost all your local newspapers were 90% or more focused on local events.  Like who’s barn burned down last month, who was the first to get plumbing or electricity in their homes or who’s cows ran away for a week.  National and global news wasn’t instantaneous like it is today.

So, we’re back to number of eyeballs again.  To survive, not only does local print media have to figure out how to revise how it delivers and sells its journalism, it first has to own the local media market.  Local media needs to own the local ‘eyeballs’ in that market.

All wars are local.

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