New team at The Hindu infuses attitude

The Hindu has seen a spate of changes in its brand positioning; plus organisational restructuring in its business and editorial policies. A report by Sriraam Selvam

21 Mar 2012 | By Sriraam Selvam

The empire which had strong involvement from the family (which owns the publication) in all aspects of the organisation, now has a professional leadership team in place. There is a chief executive officer for the first time, along with several vice presidents in charge of various business departments - production, marketing, circulation, finance etc. Add to that a newly appointed editor-in-chief Sidhart Vardarajan, who is not from the family. 

Staying ahead
“The need for a brand campaign has been on the anvil ever since the discussion of contemporisation happened and it started taking shape in May 2011 when we engaged Ogilvy,” says Suresh Srinivasan, vice president marketing at The Hindu.

The three TVCs and related OOH campaign have been a hit with the TVCs going viral on Youtube with a total greater than 700,000 hits (at the time this report was filed).

“The brief was simple and straight forward. We wanted to take a chance of asking the readers to reassess their media consumption and switch to a smarter choice,” Srinivasan adds.

The campaign pitch gained greater significance since “its arch rival” launched a campaign of its own in November 2011 targeting The Hindu as boring and sleepy.

“There was a constant refrain within the organisation that we had to respond in some way.  As one of the fortunate few in the country to hold high journalistic credibility and integrity, we found it worthwhile to create awareness of the worrying trend of journalism practised by our rivals and compel the viewers to switch to higher standards,” says Srinivasan.

The ‘vox pop’ format adopted in the advertisement poses current affairs questions to the general audience which no one can answer, and shows a contrast with the end-questions with Bollywood trivia which find prompt and correct replies

“No part of the campaign was simulated which is exactly why the TVCs have gone viral on the web. Furthermore, it has been well received by all quarters especially in major metros like Delhi, Mumbai etc.  We also want the media planners and client to look more at the reader connect that the newspaper can provide when they invest in our newspaper rather than mere numbers and cost per 1000 readers,” he adds. 

Brand consolidation
The circulation strategy to support the campaign is solid as P S Venkat, vice president (circulation), says, “The household segment remains the focus of our core drive to strengthen our circulation with a renewed effort to reach our end-consumers directly. Simultaneously, we will look at ways to explore alternate channels effectively.”

The daily aptly nicknamed “The Mahavishnu of Mount Road” had been monopolising control of Tamil Nadu until a few years ago when it had to face stiff competition in its home turf with the entry of The Times of India and Deccan Chronicle apart from the revamped New Indian Express.

“The good news in spite of what is being said is that our absolutes have never dropped and on the contrary have been growing consistently with our sustained effort to create a strong content-based value proposition to our customer,” says Venkat.

He adds, “The circulation in terms of volume might look slow but our value-based subscription model has as looking good” One reason is, The Hindu has stayed  away from the discounting model. Venkat adds, “The price delta between us and the immediate competition is almost 1:5.”

The IRS for Q4 2011 numbers has been encouraging for The Hindu. The newspaper has added 71,000 readers and registered more than 3% of growth in IRS Q4 2011. The paper had added 92,000 readers in IRS Q3 2011. Its current AIR stands at 22.4 lakh against 21.69 lakh in the previous quarter and 20.77 lakh in IRS Q2 2011. It had lost 18,000 readers in Q2 2011 and 20,000 readers in the first quarter of IRS 2011.

“We are looking at IRS numbers in correlation with ABC to align our circulation strategies and identify suitable markets for more investments, restructuring the organogram within the vertical with roles redefined and focus on getting more people on ground to keep in touch with the changing dynamics of our consumers,” says Venkat.

He adds, “The IRS numbers definitely show us that we further reinforced our leadership in our core markets.”

The next key battle for the publication is in its neighbouring strong hold of Kerala where it enjoys  65% control of the market among English publications.

Venkat says, “We are working on increasing the width and depth of our reach in Kerala to create an entry barrier to the competition. We’re doing this by investing to safeguard and broaden our boundaries in the market.”

Key infrastructure plans
The publication has 17 print centres with high-pedigree printing plants available at Chennai, Coimbatore and Hyderabad and key locations which include Bengaluru, Madurai, Noida, Visakhapatnam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Vijayawada, Mangalore, Tiruchirapalli, Kolkata, Hubli, Mohali, Allahabad, and  the recently started Kozhikode unit.

“Though we were delivering to Kozhikode from our modern facility at Coimbatore, the decision to start a print centre at Kozhikode is to have outreach in the northern Kerala market,” says K Krishnan, vice president production.

“We have a plan for infrastructure investment with efforts to modernise our Bengaluru unit and in due course equip all our current units to produce full 24 pages colour editions. The idea is to consolidate our position in the Karnataka market and soon become a strong number two,” he adds. 

Collaborative digital strategy
“The advent of social media along with the increase in internet users via computers and mobile platform has redefined how news is shared with the reader,” says Srinivasan.

The Hindu is also credited with pioneering the first web edition for a newspaper in India as early as 1995.

He adds, “The style of news delivery is now more conversational starting from a simple tweet or a status update in Facebook to the news website and portals passing on to the television channels..”

The publication also uses the trends and statistics from their website in editorial decision-making for a forthcoming issue.

“The interactivity that the website provides and the speed at which the delivered content is commented on or discussed provides valuable insights and helps us align with the changing needs of consumers,” says Srinivasan. 

Management restructure
“It is for more than three years that the subject of separating the roles of the board of directors from the operational areas of the organisation has been in discussion,” says Krishnan.

The latest in the line of changes is the appointment of Arun Anant as the CEO who will be responsible for the non-editorial operations.

Venkat says, “The team of vice presidents would be responsible for not only the day-to-day operations of the business under the CEO’s leadership but would also conceive strategic business growth plans and present it to the board.”

The mainstream media has made a lot of the happenings but it has been business as usual for us. The focus is to look at the number one position in south India and reiterate our India strategy by reaching out to new markets,” he concludes.

The Hindu team

Arun Anant, CEO,
“The massive response that The Hindu got in social media for its new advertising campaign is an indicator that readers are looking for quality content that the Hindu provides consistently.”

Suresh Srinivasan, vice president
“The TVCs have gone viral on the web. Furthermore, it has been well received by all quarters especially in major metros like Delhi, Mumbai etc. We also want the media planners and buyers to look more at reader connect that the newspaper can provide for investing in them rather than mere numbers and cost per 1000 readers.”

P S Venkat, vice president circulation
“Our value-based model has been  looking good especially with us staying away from the discounting model. This ensures we don’t engage in the game of eroding our price structure. And so, the price delta between us and the competition is almost 1:5.”

K Krishnan, vice president, production
“Technology wise, we are always ahead of our competition with many firsts including first to introduce colour, first press to have an online colour scanning and ink correction system."

K Balaji, managing dircetor of Kasturi & Sons
“It is time to take digital more seriously. In India, print got 47.4 per cent of the advertising pie. Again, digital is estimated to account for around 16 per cent of the worldwide pie, whereas, it is just one-fourth of this at 4 per cent in India.”

This article was published on 20 March 2012 and received 322 views