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Guest Column: For newspapers, are the Lok Sabha polls lost? Jwalant Swaroop

03-April-2014
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Guest Column: For newspapers, are the Lok Sabha polls lost? Jwalant Swaroop

With just nine days to go for the voting for India’s 16th Lok Sabha, it seems that the print medium has lost the battle of advertising share to other media even before the verdict is sealed for several political parties.

This year, while news television channels, social media, outdoor, and radio have milked the holy cow of elections well enough, it’s a bunch of sour grapes for the newspapers per se. We hardly see any election advertising in newspapers, while all other media are running full inventories.

Why has it happened this time to print? Most advertisement heads of newspaper organisations are keenly waiting for the leftover budget to be spent in newspapers and are hoping to get one or two ads before polling. Surprisingly, a medium, which has been a favourite of the political parties, has been dropped like a hot potato with no remorse or worry of it getting hostile in a critical time of Elections. Actually all political parties kept the carrot hanging of big deals but continued to postpone it day after day. Now that polling is a few days left it is clear that the newspaper usage will be very limited, may be on the polling day a full page ad will appear in the largest daily.

So, is it time to finally conclude the build-up of campaigns like “Har Haath Shakti Har Haath Tarraki” and “Abki Baar Modi Sarkar” or “Dil se hain Mulayam….”of Congress, BJP and SP, respectively, is being achieved in an unique media planning experiment – “minus newspapers”. This being the costliest election of all times the media budget runs anything in excess of Rs 400 crore- Rs 500 crore, newspapers are deeply hurt.

To reason this out I see a 4R syndrome, which is creation of none other than Print itself.

Syndrome 1 –

Rate -Media buyers and negotiators felt that the print rates have actually hit the ceiling. They have questioned the political premium applied on the rates.  Though the print sales stalwarts oblivious of the changing environment did not budge from offering higher rates. Arrogance is a big issue. The attitude of newspaper is that “ They need us more than we need them, so why should we lower our rates.” Greed is another factor election being once in 5 years big ticket event newspapers want to encash all favors to the political class in one go without being sensitive to the budget constraints facing negotiators and buyers. The newspaper loss is to the advantage for all other mediums. It has also exposed the credibility of newspaper impact over other mediums. It may be a late realization and in desperation the newspaper guys may offer rock bottom rates only catch a smallest piece of action in Election.
Syndrome 2

Reach – The Print reach is questioned for the first time. This time, It seems political parties studied the geo political influence of each media vehicle and have taken a conscious decision not to depend on the Print as much as it had done in past. So to say it has reset the weights for each medium completely. News Television channels have produced more political celebrities than print and it seems this has been the time to return the favor.  To catch the gen X the digital media is the most sought after. Reliable measurement tools and a 360-degree digital approach have delivered higher audiences and impact both.

Syndrome 3

Relevance – Today political story is breaking on twitter, FB, Google hangout and several other social media sites.  Earlier political class use to junior most sub editor on desk to get his press release published.  Where as now the news is being created on twitter, FB and Blogs. Print is only following it up. Each politician now understands that the voter is connected to these social mediums 24x7 and it is a huge cost to pay for a medium having a below 15 mins engagement once a day with rather huge uncertainty of its readership and circulation. It is a big challenge before publishers to make newspapers relevant for those who have always believed that an election is won only on the power of newspaper.  Interestingly the news as a genre is attracting more eye balls on television during the elections. It is reported that during this period some well known FMCG brands have committed big budgets for news channels anticipating increased viewership. This is making news a hot property during the elections

Syndrome 4

Respect – I feel that business of “Paid News”in newspapers during elections has actually tarnished the image of the medium as a whole. The reader is not a Moran and the same goes for the politician also.  A taken for granted attitude for its readers has actually demean the value of the newspaper itself both in the eyes of reader and political class.  It is fearful to imagine that the newspapers have been dumped in these elections. The restrictions and monitoring of paid news  by the Chief Election commissioner has compelled publishers to be cautious but have they stopped the practice one needs to investigate deeper.

It is definitely an alarming sign;ithas also taken many newspaper stalwarts by surprise. Yeah Election kuch Kahta hai Boss (This election is saying something) Listen to it Folks.  It is time to introspect these realties and re-invent the medium before it is dumped as any senior member in a political party.

Tags Jwalant Swaroop Oshoyana Consultants

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