I was talking to Steve Nicely, a friend and former KC Star colleague, today, and he called my attention to a two-page spread — what we call a “double truck” — in Sunday’s paper, which bore the photos of every person (or nearly every person) involved in The Star’s editorial operation.
The layout — revolving around a rectangular block with the words “Kansas City’s largest news force” — contained 164 photos.
My first reaction, upon looking at some of those photos was, “How did these people get so old-looking while I have managed to stay so youthful?”
Actually, it was pretty scary because I realize that facial lines and lack of hair expose me, too.
My second thought was that this could be a baby step toward a much-needed promotional and marketing campaign.
Like many other major metropolitan papers, The Star has been on the decline for more than a decade. Profits are much lower, circulation is way down and the editorial staff has been sliced significantly. It appears to me, from the lack of energetic promotion of any kind, that the attitude among top managers is one of resignation to the new reality that The Star has dropped a couple of rungs from its once-vaunted position as the most comprehensive news operation in the region.
I think it’s time, though, for The Star to step forward with a new, more aggressive attitude. Even in its enervated state, The Star remains, by far, the deepest and broadest news-gathering operation in the region. It is still head and shoulders above TV, radio and the Internet in terms of local news gathering and presentation.
It’s been nearly 20 years, I believe, since The Star has conducted a professional marketing campaign. I remember that one clearly, mainly because the goal — enunciated by then-Publisher Art Brisbane — was to increase daily circulation to 300,000 by the year 2000.
“300,000 by 2000” went the internal slogan.
The campaign had several thrusts and themes — which was a mistake — and one of them was something like, “Call today and subscribe and…Bam! Your daily!” I liked that “Bam! Your Daily!” but it was never featured prominently, and the campaign was a flop.
With its brand having ebbed and inertia having taken over, I think that now would be an excellent time for a new marketing push. I would like to see publisher Mi-Ai Parrish ask her McClatchy supervisors in Sacramento to allocate $2 million for an all-out, professional marketing campaign that would blanket TV, radio and Internet.
At one time, The Star didn’t need to advertise because it was a powerhouse. But now that the media is more diffused and competition is keener, The Star should do what other companies in competitive situations do, and that is promote the hell out of itself.
You’ve got to keep the brand prominent in people’s minds. That doesn’t happen by just relying on The Kansas City Star “flag” at the top of the paper every day, and it isn’t going to happen by publishing the photos of the 164 people involved in editorial operations.
Most of the people who saw that spread are those who already are subscribing to the paper or buying it on Sunday. I doubt that the spread will result in a circulation spike.
The Star needs to get its message to residents far and wide, from Grain Valley to Olathe. That means advertising on a big scale.
There are a couple of significant obstacles to my plan, however.
First, McClatchy paid way too much for The Star and the other Knight Ridder papers in 2006 and is so deeply in debt that its leaders probably wouldn’t give two seconds’ thought to a costly marketing campaign. In fact, McClatchy might never get its head above water. It might end up selling off the parts, as some other chains have done, which could end up with The Star being bought by a company like Cerner. (That wouldn’t necessarily be bad, but it could pave the way for a company or individual with no publishing experience to convert the paper into a vehicle to promote its own interests, instead of providing a balanced news report.)
Second, during her two and a half years in Kansas City, Parrish has shown little interest, as far as I can tell, in raising the paper’s profile.
You don’t see The Star sponsoring big arts and cultural events like it used to and Parrish has shown no interest — again, as far as I can tell — in establishing herself as a civic leader. Frankly, she just doesn’t present a good, strong face for The Star the way former publishers like Brisbane and the late Jim Hale did.
I have seen her make one speech since she’s been in town. It was in January 2012 to a group of about 35 members of the “Forty Years Ago Column Club” at the Plaza III. Parrish read the speech, and at times, either during the speech or during questions afterward, leaned against a wall.
…The more I write and the more I think about this situation, the more I realize that a marketing campaign not only is unlikely to happen, it also wouldn’t work — not with this ownership and this publisher.
So, I guess The Star ought to just stick to publishing those 164 photos.
…Man, do those former colleagues of mine look old!