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People are reading fewer print newspapers now than they were fourteen years ago

People are reading fewer print newspapers now than they were fourteen years ago.

We know, hold the presses right?

But we didn’t come here to tell you what you already knew.

We’ve put together a graph plotting the circulations of five daily broadsheet papers over the past fourteen years. The overall shapes might be familiar, but below and on the graph we’ve highlighted some surprising things you might not have been aware of.

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Here’s the most important thing: as we tell our clients, always check the bathwater for babies. Of the papers we looked at, only one – the Financial Times – remains in steep decline in its print circulation (this could be explained by the FT’s present digital push, and its wealthy, tablet-owning audience).

Of the rest, two have been near-level since 2012 (The Telegraph and The Times) and one is actually reaching more people than it was this time last year (The Guardian).

So think twice next time you’re chatting away at a dinner party, happily accepting “the death of print” as a given. The old days are long gone, but this is a medium which still has a role to play in any communications strategy.

Major news events are still a driver of sales.

In 2001, established, trusted news sources The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent all saw a spike in circulation. The public were rushing to newstands to find out what had happened in New York on September 11.

In subsequent years, the major events that drove sales were those which individual papers could lay claim to.

When a paper leads the agenda on a major event, it benefits from a circulation boost. This suggests that readers keep returning to the source of the story for the most pertinent and trusted updates. You’ll notice this in our data for The Telegraph in November ’09, following their breaking of the expenses scandal. You’ll also see it at The Guardian after their publication, with Wikileaks, of the Afghan war logs in July 2010, and their recent use of the Snowden files.

The Times also enjoyed a spike when it launched its “cycle safe” campaign in 2006.

This suggests that the public still recognises distinct brands within the print media. Even as online habits dilute readerships, people will return to the source of an original story.

We should point out that these stories don’t boost the brand in the long term: just look at The Telegraph, whose expenses scandal boost was followed by its most dramatic decline.

The benefits of switching to new formats are now, in all cases, negated.

The Times, The Guardian and The Independent all benefitted from launching smaller print formats during the last decade.

The circulations of all three have now dropped below where they were before switching to the new formats.

This shows that public resistance to print runs deeper than a feeling that it is inconvenient. It’s unlikely that minor improvements to a print format will ever reverse the general decline – reading habits have changed too much.

Digital success and print success are unrelated.

Of the papers we looked at, arguably The Telegraph, the Financial Times and The Guardian have been most ambitious in their digital strategies. The Guardian has long been lauded for embracing the internet early on, pioneering an online comment format now copied by its rivals, and leading the pack in data visualisation. Both The Telegraph and the Financial Times have drawn attention for shifting to “digital first” business models.

A look at our graph shows no relationship between the successes of these three papers. The Guardian has enjoyed some of the least dramatic losses of any paper we looked at, the Financial Times was strong for much of last decade but is now in a steep decline, and The Telegraph looks to be levelling out following a huge drop in circulation.

It’s difficult to say why this might be, but it’s likely because online and print readerships tend to be different. The average age of a reader of Telegraph.co.uk in Q1 2013, for example, was just over half that of the print editions’ readers.

Most UK broadsheet titles’ circulations are leveling out.

With the exception of the Financial Times, which competes in a slightly different market to our other examples, the decline of the papers we looked at appears to be slowing or stopping altogether.

It’s important not to be so forward thinking you forget what still works in the present. This is an important lesson to bear in mind when considering UK daily papers. A good story in The Times’s print edition is still spread across about 400,000 papers, and has been for two years. A story in today’s Guardian will actually reach more people than it would have this time last year.

We’ll be watching with interest to see if this is a plateau or a more long-running trend.

The Art of the Publicity (or a nasty case of ‘Hirstism’)

This week saw the birth of a great stuntster. Clayton Pettet, the student who exploded across the internet last October when he announced plans to lose his virginity for an artwork  has finally made good on his promise.

Well, sort of. According to the Telegraph  the actual event involved no hanky panky, little nudity and nothing more erotic than a bit of fiddling about with a banana. The media had been spoofed. Pettet said he had been playing on assumptions critics had made about the work. In so doing, he led 10,000 people to apply for tickets to the show.

As he dreams up his next ruse, Pettet could take some advice from a great media operator, and an old friend of mine, Joey Skaggs . Joey has had the media jumping through hoops since the 60’s, from persuading reporters to scream out their inner pain live on camera to persuading the music press he was selling rockstar sperm by the bottle. What Pettet is doing has a proud history – and the potential for huge success. I remember working with Damien Hirst and seeing from the off his instinct for a media frenzy.

The way Pettet made his point was a little heavy handed, perhaps – apparently part of the show included a video montage of talk show hosts discussing Pettet’s work – but I applaud his moxy. It’s no small thing to cut through the omnipresent popculture noise and grab the media in today’s multi-channel world. Pettet has proved what I’d half-convinced myself was impossible – the media are still shockable. The old-fashioned moral panics some of my heroes relied on are still achievable. Publicists across the land owe him a debt.

A Call for Calm

Whisper it. The real truth is, that the majority of the industry doesn’t give a damn about the text book-peddling, muttering commentariat.

Anyway, you’ll never remove splinters from my rear end. I’m not a fence sitter. Moreover, I don’t consider my contemporary offering as pure PR. Instead, let me praise someone working at the epicentre of a global news story. On Monday afternoon a superlative PR hoved into view, reminding the world what is great about British public relations. A precise man; direct, adroit, authoritative, elegant and effective. A safe pair of hands delivering leading communications in real time for his company.

Indulge my wish for a moment, whilst I contextualise Chris McLaughlin, the spokesman for the London-based satellite provider, Inmarsat.

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Readability or reality – the uncomfortable lessons of the MH370 news narrative


It’s a good job wreckage has been found off the coast of Australia, because if the search for missing flight MH370 goes on much longer the world won’t actually have any journalists left. Malaysia has acted like a kind of media black hole, sucking more and more of the world’s journalists away from their home countries and into its gaping maw. Our screens fill more and more with shots of wailing families, repeated footage of bemused politicians and, well, not very much else.

This is the biggest breaking story of the year so far, and in some ways it’s easy to see why. Since the plane went missing almost two weeks ago on a journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing there has been the perfect combination of lack of hard fact and availability of rumour to drive 24 hour media into a frenzy. There have been false leads, different potential villains (the first officer! A shadowy passenger! The pilot! The co-pilot!), confusion as to when the plane’s communications system were disabled (and, lest we forget, the moment we discovered “deliberate action” had been taken with them, whatever that is). Did the plane turn back? If so where did it turn to? All of the intrigue is extremely addictive, especially when coupled with the human angle. Outraged families of those on board are stranded, desperate for information, willing to vent their rage to any nearby camera.

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The Diminishing Political Personality

Last week, the British Left mourned as it bid farewell to two of its leading lights – old Labour icon Tony Benn and legendary union leader Bob Crow. Both men will be sorely missed, too, by headline writers and casual observers of political theatre. Each was a stunning PR operator who made the weather and livened up the political news agenda.

Benn had an instinctive understanding of humanity – how to stir the heart and speak to the soul of all who encountered him. In the days following his passing, stories have emerged of his warmth and compassion and the power of his oratory. Among the political classes, even his opponents have fallen over themselves to praise him. Tory MPs from Zac Goldsmith to Peter Bone speak of a good-hearted, principled man. Even David Cameron said “there was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him”. Perhaps more important, though are the stories which have emerged on comment threads from ordinary people – the man who shared an unforgettable conversation with him on a train three days after Benn lost his seat. Endless people who name Benn as an inspiration, who say he was the man who got them interested in politics.

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The Samsung Sugar Rush Selfie.

If you were a conspiracy theorist the “selfie” would be starting to look like a pretty blatant illuminati signal. Last year we had three world leaders taking one, and now Ellen DeGeneres has pulled stars of the silver screen into the world’s most retweeted tweet. What purpose do these smartphone shots serve?

One thing’s for sure – PR orthodoxy is now seriously in favour of them. Want to look cheeky and relatable? Snap a selfie. It’s not totally flawed, either. Ellen’s effort on Sunday night earned her 1.7m retweets in less than an hour – a new world record. Ever since astronaut Luca Parmitano snapped himself drifting in deep space last year, selfies have become a shorthand for a sort of ironic normality. They are a way, for those pinned up among the literal or metaphorical stars, to show the rest of us their ordinary side. “Look!” says the photo, hastily beamed out via Instagram or Twitter. “I’m as goofy as you!”

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David Blaine: A lesson in purpose and passion

It took the urban dictionary to sum up the true definition of passion. It says:

“Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialised into action to put as much heart, mind, body and soul into something as is possible.”

Quite.

Passion was the theme of last week. I spent most of mine with David Blaine. There are many adjectives that sum up David and passion is certainly one of them. This is a man who is wholly dedicated to his craft. There have been many impostors along the way, and yet Blaine does not let any of them derail his vision. Ultimately he knows others will not venture beyond his extremes.

David Blaine was only four years old when a magician on the New York subway sparked his passion. His lifetime since has been spent honing his craft. That he is an innovator is undisputed. His magic operates on an uncommonly personal level. He took an age old skill and turned it into something unique. He started on the street which meant understanding enchantment and personalisation was vital above all. He leaves everyone in his wake in awe. Above all it is impossible not to be infected by his passion, the way he talks, his knowledge and unprecedented commitment.

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Journalist bites PR. Never explain, never complain.

Last Wednesday, the cuddly, credit card provider Mastercard ran into an alleged ‘PR fail’ storm when their PR agency mishandled and misjudged a bevy of journalists they were inviting to the Brit awards. Scribblers claim that, in exchange for entry to the event, they were asked by email to guarantee coverage, and were requested to keep to social media guidelines including using brand hashtags. Why the inane babble was thought important, is another discussion.

The first thing to say is that this is but a irritating itch, not a full blown brand ebola. Journalists may have ‘taken to Twitter’ to gloat over the misstep, but I can’t see anyone getting fired over a few tantrums. House PR, who sent the offending emails, have only ‘become the story’ for a tiny circle of media old wives. The man and woman from Kettering hasn’t the faintest idea that any of this has happened. Mastercard’s logo still proudly enveloped the event like an amorphous boil.

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Journalist bites PR. Never explain, never complain.

Last Wednesday, the cuddly, credit card provider Mastercard ran into an alleged PR fail storm when their PR agency mishandled and misjudged a bevy of journalists they were inviting to the Brit awards. Scribblers claim that, in exchange for entry to the event, they were asked by email to guarantee coverage, and were requested to keep to social media guidelines including using brand hashtags. Why the inane babble was thought important, is another discussion.

The first thing to say is that this is but a irritating itch, not a full blown brand ebola. Journalists may have ‘taken to Twitter’ to gloat over the misstep, but I can¹t see anyone getting fired over a few tantrums. House PR, who sent the offending emails, have only ‘become the story’ for a tiny circle of media old wives. The man and woman from Kettering hasn’t the faintest idea that any of this has happened. Mastercard’s logo still proudly enveloped the event like an amorphous boil.

That said, there are warning signs of deeper problems here.

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Flappy Birds – a PR Cul-du-sac ?

It’s now been a week since Flappy Birds, the infuriating iOS game, was taken down from the app store, and I’m still waiting to find out what it was a stunt for.

For those unfamiliar, the game requires users to navigate a yellow, beaked blob with an insipid expression past a series of Super Mario World-esque green pipes. Keep going until you snuff it, then either stop or have a shot at beating your score. So far, so derivative.

Flappy Birds is different because of its maddening difficulty level. A generation of gamers used to being spoonfed their points, coins or lives have been driven insane by the bird’s insistence on flying to its doom. As a result, the game’s creator, Vietnamese designer Dong Nguyen, took the game off sale, saying he could not handle the impact it was having on users.

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Borkowski