Backend Key to Newspaper’s Future

In 1998-1999, I was privileged to work for the brilliant Darcia Joseph and head up New Products for the Globe and Mail.

Our top aim then was to add (conventional) content strategically, by Reader Segment (solid research courtesy of Luke Sklar’s team) and blunt the launch of Conrad Black’s highly touted National Post. The nation had pretty much written off the Globe, yet we won the day, via smart, self-fiunded content additions, and a superb Editorial/ AdSales/ Production/ Circulation team.

Regrettably, at that time I couldn’t muster the resources to fund some opportunities that one’s gut says are a fine-fit and will one day be huge. I wanted a much-enhanced Globe Auto section; we added one, but without the backend support I desired eg to support PreOwned Sales and direct-to-web content. Same challenge for the upscale RealEstate online section I wanted. We couldn’t even muster the real-time backend to support a text-based easy-up, easy-down, Classified section- dry as that was.

Despite knowing the market would go there, the Globe, lacking an adequate backend, willingly ceded that valuable territory to investors with more tech savvy and a longer term horizon, eg craiglist, kijiji, etc.

Fast forward 15 years: on Sept 19, 2013, the Toronto Star Star adopted  layar technology in a big way.

If you were unimpressed (as I was) by the QR code era- fussy scan capture, hesitant connection speed, brochureware content, weak navigation, fyi layar is a much-improved instant gateway to streaming web content (videos, etc). Scan it with your phone and view videos, catalogues, picture shows, real-time. Your phone then holds a ‘content library’; you can later re-view and, presumably, share it.

The Star dropped Free papers at youth-oriented destinations such as Seneca College, to reinvigorate the newspapers & restate their relevance. I’ve watched The Star leave free papers in Seneca’s Markham cafeteria for >3 years; this is the 1st time I saw all papers taken by 9am. A great sign that they achieved Trial as intended.

But was the backend there, to deliver the goods? Did the advertisers participate? Was the content worthy?

Somewhat- as one might suspect on a flagship launch, there were Hits & Misses.

The hits:

Nissan ran fun video links for all their models including their youth-oriented  Sentra, Juke & Leaf. In fact, Nissan looked like they floated the entire paper on Sept 19th, with at least a half dozen full page, full colour ads- all with layar links.

Harry Rosen linked to an exclusive video interview with Brit designer Pail Surridge. Well done.

The Shoe HQ, Hudson Bay’s new speciality shoe banner, featured a spritely potpourri promo video. More evidence of the influence of strategic dynamo, Bonnie Brooks (okay, I admit to a lil hero worship on that count)

Kudos to those 3 firms.

And the misses?

Ford, the most tech-driven of major auto firms, ran a 2/3 page Ford Employee Pricing ad that lacked layar  links. Was the price of Nissan’s ‘big buy a category exclusive? Or was Ford Canada not ready for layar, despite seeking tech-savvy buyers for their Sync-equipped cars?

Holts’ hr2 ran a full-page colour ad that lacked any links. Doesn’t that banner seek fashion-savvy, budget-conscious youth?


Of course, the Day One misses may have been growing pains. Perhaps these advertisers will ‘get there’, but it’s sad to see a youth-targeted brand miss out on a flagship effort.

Get the backend together or fall behind. It won’t pay off immediately. It will build learning, resources, reputation.

Just as was true 15 years ago.

Steven Litt