Nigeria: The PUNCH newspaper seeks to knock out the competition

The PUNCH newspaper in Nigeria is the countrys number one publication with an average daily circulation of 80,000 – almost double that countrys second largest publication, a tabloid called The Sun. Despite its dominance in circulation figures, however, PUNCH has only in recent years started to become a more prominent player in the countrys advertising market. The PUNCH consists of three titles. The daily The PUNCH, Saturday PUNCH, and Sunday PUNCH.

RAP 21 spoke to Azubuike Ishiekwene, editor of the daily The PUNCH, about the unique structure of the newspapers two advertising departments, The PUNCHs strategy to crack the existing advertising market, and ongoing challenges of adapting to Nigerias changing media landscape.

The advert department is under my supervision. We have a staff strength of about 70 for the daily title. This is out of a total of 110 non-editorial staff, Ishiekwene says.

The weekend editions have separate editors and their own ad department. Staff strength for the weekend titles is about half the size of the daily.

Having separate editors gives each title a greater chance to respond faster and more accurately to the market and to develop a product that customers will find more useful. This is also the rationale for separating the advert units. In a way it fosters competition, in-house, Ishiekwene says.

The Saturday and Sunday papers are the same format as the daily, however the layout and design of the weekend editions differ. Those editions focus more on crime, entertainment and family features, and place less emphasis on hard news.

The newspapers revenue ratio of advertising to sales is about 50:50. It has changed gradually over the past five years in favour of adverts, partly because of increasing distribution costs, says Ishiekwene. Infrastructure in Nigeria is not as it should be. We have to rely on airplanes to distribute outside of the main cities. And of course, the cost of oil has also increased in recent years, he says.

There is a deliberate management policy to increase the newspapers revenue from advertising.

In recent months we have intensified a sectoral approach, we target sectors that are doing well. For example, for the past two years, each Monday we have a Homes and Property section, as the real estate industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. And 18 months ago, we started focusing on IT and telecoms stories, as this is another growing sector.

Today, the newspapers advertising comes from industries such as telecoms, banks, education, energy & petroleum, foods, motoring and public notices, such as congratulatory and obituary announcements. Much of The PUNCHs clients are repeat advertisers.

Our main competitor for advertisers is The Guardian newspaper, despite the fact that The Sun is our main competitor for circulation. To date, The Guardian has fared better than us with advertisers it is a business oriented publication, whereas historically The PUNCH has appealed to the working classes. In the past four years, however, we have been repositioning ourselves to appeal to a more up-market audience, and in turn, this has begun to attract more commercial advertisers, says Ishiekwene.

About 60 per cent of public notice adverts, i.e. tenders, congratulatory messages, public service announcements, obituaries, etc published by The PUNCH comes from the state and the federal governments. The rest of the public notice adverts come from individuals and corporate organisations.

Product advertising, the area the newspaper wants to break into, currently makes up about 35 per cent of The PUNCHs revenue from advertising. This number is a significant increase from previous years. When the paper first appeared as a daily in the mid 1970s, this type of advertising accounted for less than 10 per cent of the publications revenue from advertising.

Although The Guardian continues to lead in product advertising, in three years, we want to be the leaders in the market. We would like to increase our percentage of product advertising by 35 to 40 per cent, says Ishiekwene.

Historical factors have also contributed to the newspapers shift in advertising strategy.

An expansion in the general business community due to democratisation and liberalisation in the past few years has led to an increase in product advertising, says the editor.

With 32 of the newspapers 64 pages printed in colour, one of The PUNCHs key strategies to attract advertisers is its high quality graphics: In terms of colour quality, we are ahead of our competitors. The technology we can offer advertisers is also superior. This is part of a specific corporate strategy to give us the advantage, he says.

This process allows a number of cumbersome and time consuming steps to be avoided, sharply reducing the time spent in pre-press. Advertisers can bring us their adverts on zip disks and we can effectively transfer the image straight to the plates.

Training is also an important aspect of The PUNCHs strategy for success.

We arrange quarterly in-house training for the ad department and our advert department also attends courses organised by the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, of which many of them are professional members, says Ishiekwene.

Keeping costs low in the face of rising advert costs, and rapid proliferation of the broadcast media, continue to be the biggest challenge for The PUNCHs advertising department.

Due to the low levels of literacy, radio is very popular in Nigeria. The cost is low, and reach is better. We must find a way to address this challenge by repositioning the newspaper and convincing advertisers that newspapers are still relevant and a durable medium.

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