Feature | Social initiatives by newspapers, is it a masked marketing initiative?

The advent of television compelled many to predict the demise of the print media; however it survived against all norms. Then with the dot com boom, the new media flourished and once again, the doomsayers were out, smiling that condescending smile which seems to say "how much longer?' to print media, which was ancient in terms of years by now. Surprisingly the print media managed to endure in such a way that the doomsayers had to finally find other preys.

Forget extinction of print media, the reverse has transpired now. Today the space for print media has become very cluttered and competitive. And yet everyday new publications are mushrooming, wrestling for every inch of market space that is available. So it is a scenario where newspapers are struggling to float above water to beat competition. Hence what do they do to get that edge over others? Apart from marketing techniques, almost all of them indulge in social initiatives.

This is something which almost all newspapers do, so once again even in terms of social good, there is competition. How much edge do they manage to gain in such initiatives? What are the kinds of social initiatives undertaken by these publications? What is the essential message a publication tries to give its readers by these initiatives? These are some of the key questions that Adgully tries to discern.

The need to reach out to the readers at an emotional and personal level has become the focus points for publications today. When there are so many players in the market, it is only natural that publications do what they can to ensure that their readers have them on their mind.

According to Dhruba Mukherjee, General Manager, The Telegraph, "Social initiatives have helped in reaching out to our audiences and creating a stronger bond and thus differentiation"

While Saurabh Bhandari, AGM (Marketing), Rajasthan Patrika is of the opinion that social initiative is a part of his company's routine operations as its economic profit serves the long term goal of contributing to a social welfare. Although he says that CSR activities are undertaken not only for branding themselves but primarily for connecting with readers and becoming the voice of the common man.

He further adds, "One should expect organizations to achieve a social impact disproportionate to their spending. The only way companies can gain respect is by doing something, which no one else can do. In today's world, it takes more than great products to make a great company. Hence, companies should realize value creating-potential of social initiatives, which should be proactively integrated into over-arching business competitive strategies."

"We believe that the success lies in touching hearts of the people and bringing in some positive change in their lives. And we are glad that in all our social initiatives, the involvement of people has been overwhelming and the outcome has always been positive. I think what makes the difference is not the idea alone, but how serious we are about it and how well it is executed", opines Vineet Sethia, Director- NaiDunia Media.

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman India & CEO South East Asia, Aegis Group plc does believe that print have a very bright future. As the literacy levels are escalating rapidly and also the disposable incomes are increasing in the country, there will be more consumption of print. Today there is a need for more local news; hence regionalization and language press penetration will continue to happen according to him.

"I think social initiatives depend upon what is the specific event and whatever activity that you are doing and how does that relate to you target audience. What is right for one publication might not be right for the other. But the more proactive publications become they better it will be for them in the long run. What has to be differentiated is that every gimmick is not an innovation, so once where the USP of the brand and the USP of the activity they are doing are in sync will be successful. And the one where they are not in sync will just end being a gimmick." He also cautions.

What are the kinds of activities that come under this umbrella of social initiatives? It could vary from a public drive against a social evil like drinking and driving or it could be something as elaborate as conservation of water and rain water harvesting or maybe simple awareness drives. The basic idea is to let the common man know that publications apart from disseminating news are also concerned about their day to day lives. The publications try to connect with their readers at a very personal level. Most of these initiatives require participation from the public, which further increases the interaction between a publication and its readers. Publications need to carve a niche for themselves with such competition existing in the market.

Amit Chopra, Business Head, Hindustan throws light on the kind of initiatives that were undertaken at Hindustan, she said, "As a brand we stand strongly for empowering our readers and as a result all our brand activities are geared towards achieving the same. We recently concluded one of our biggest activations "Hindustan Pratibha Samman 2010:An initiative to inspire the youth of the Hindi Heartland". The objective of this program is to identify and felicitate the toppers of class 10 & 12 board exams, so that they are inspired to go ahead and achieve greater glory even as they become role models for the younger students in their city. This year Pratibha Samman was held across 15 cities in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi and witnessed participation of more than 5000 students from over 2000 schools."

Mukherjee further adds, "We also introduced the "Hindustan Pratibha Samman Scholarships" this year, through which we awarded scholarships worth Rs. 1 Lakh each to 25 deserving students from financially weaker backgrounds. The objective of this scholarship program is to ensure that talented students do not fail to achieve their dreams due to lack of resources. As a responsible newspaper we also devote a lot of our energy on reader education and engagement during occasions of national importance, such as elections "

A journalist of DNA YA! believes these initiatives are taken not only to connect with their readers but also because most publications are established media houses and have the resources to undertake such initiatives. It is also an opportunity to give back to the society. In DNA YA!, which is a supplement that appears every Sunday catering to young adults, they have a programme called Junior Journalists (JJ), were students are chosen from schools and taken to places like Dharavi and made to write reports on what they observe. Also they have eco friendly Ganpati being displayed in Oberoi mall as Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner. This is to create awareness about the environment one lives in and serve their audiences.

Bhandari of Rajasthan Patrika believes that Patrika acknowledges the fact that the reader is supreme. This is why they have undertaken various initiatives in order to reach out to their readers. "Rajasthan Patrika has assumed a larger role by undertaking a wide gamut of social activities in the field of education, health, social welfare, arts and crafts, culture, sports and research work. Rajasthan Patrika has also been providing financial support to symposia, dramas, festivals, music conferences, sports events, blood donation camps etc. An important work in this regard is the establishment of "Jan Mangal Charitable Trust" which extends various kinds of social services. The help given by the "Jan Mangal Charitable Trust" includes Kargil Fund and Gujarat Fund, which was collected by Rajasthan Patrika from the general public. Other major initiative taken up by Patrika in various parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh includes Amritum Jalam, a water harvesting campaign, for cleaning and desilting water reservoir, vote for vote campaign, to encourage people to use their voting right, Haryalo Rajasthan, a tree plantation campaign, a fist full of grain, an initiative for famine relief etc."

At NaiDunia, there have been a number of initiatives like NaiDunia Aapke Saath, Muskan, Tham Lo Paani, Tham lo Hariyali, Sookhi Holi campaign which have made their mark in Indore and other edition places. Other than these, several other social initiatives like Bihar Badh Rahat Kosh, NaiDunia Alert, Mission Indore, Kahaan Gaya Chhatra Netratva, Talk Show series on various issues under Aao Baat Karein etc. have been highly appreciated by readers and general public alike according to Vineet Sethia, Director, NaiDunia Media

Though some of these initiatives are monetized over a period of time because of its reach to advertisers and brands like to see themselves associated with such initiatives, at the end of the day, how much of an edge is created when compared to other players in the market?

According to Chopra, at Hindustan, it is an inappropriate way of looking at things. The publications undertake such initiatives purely to reach out to their readers and to connect with them at a personal level. "Hindustan stands for progress, so we try to do initiatives that would contribute to the society in a progressive manner and also to associate with our readers at an individual level", he further adds on.

As more young educated individuals are earning a higher income, with more than enough disposable money at hand, publications must take the Indian market very seriously. Today the space for Indian market is extremely dynamic and volatile. Publication houses must understand that their initiatives are being scrutinized by an intelligent audience.

Gone are those days, where readers hung on to every printed word, today they are more opinionated and smarter than ever before. So newspapers must devise equally intelligent formats of these social initiatives that match up to their intellectual audience base. Many already understand this scenario and are taking consequent actions, while others are still daydreaming in their blissful bubbles. | By Janees Antoo [janees(at)adgully.com]

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